Alan Ladd on next-gen game development
Back in March 2011, I had the chance to sit down and talk with the creator of PTF Software, Alan Ladd. An industry figure known for his open, honest and endearing nature – Alan helped create titles such as the award-winning first-person shooter Doomguy. Their casual puzzle series Bog Plop has since gone on to become a runaway iOS fee-to-play success. It’s a studio whose diversity has consistently thrilled both fans and critics alike. With the next-generation of consoles already under way and the next two big hits gearing up, I got back in touch with Alan to see what he expects to happen in the near future.
For the launch of Sony’s and Microsoft’s next consoles, the studio has been working hard on the next entry into their DoomGuy series – DoomGuy: Darkness Begins. A prequel to the eleventh title, this will pit our white male American hero into a world of rebels who must be shot without question. So why not a new IP? “You’ll notice there’s no talk of sequels now. It’s all about the franchise. This helps us to project further sales with a steady consumer base and focus marketing efforts. Creativity costs time and by adopting the franchise mentality we’re able to bring our audience more of the same on an annual basis. We’ve found this to be a very effective business model.”
“It’s all about the franchise”Intuitively picking up on my moment’s hesitation, Alan continued “That doesn’t mean we won’t be launching a new IP. A new console cycle is the most advantageous time to do so. We’ve got something up our sleeve and once the right DLC exclusivity offer is made we’ll be happy to work with either party.”
When asked about this next generation of consoles in general and what it means for PTF Software, Alan was thrilled. “It’s about time. We’ve built games optimised for mid-ranged PCs and sold them at $30. Now we can charge double that for the same product. It’s exciting times.” This brought us neatly onto microtransactions and if they have a real future, or are a fleeting mistake. “They’re most certainly here to say. Liked sliced prepared fruit, microtransactions help consumers who live for convenience. The now and now. Even if it costs more for less in the long term. We’ll support our consumers’ needs no matter the cost (to them).”
One fear is if this will affect the way games are designed. It was a topic I pushed hard on. “Well”, Alan began before PR stepped in and a short but emotionally charged debate occurred off mic. “Well, we’re at a point in the industry now where we can design new content or a helping hand with zero effect to how it affects the game world.” But surely this is impossible. Why would microtransactions be attractive if they didn’t have an effect?
“We’re here to serve our audience” he replied, “and statistics show this is how they want their game worlds to be. The rest of our audience is wilfully passive to it and this gives us room to continually experiment and push the approach deeper into the core of what we do. It’s win-win”. But will this not put people off buying games? Ladd was confident it wouldn’t. “Absolutely not. Through marketing there’s the saturation to compensate for a small minority who don’t want their games altering for the benefits of further consumable items. Majority rules in the marketplace.”
“A natural evolution of our audiences’ habits”He then raised an additional point. “See, this isn’t new behaviour. Free-to-play, iOS titles, preorder incentives, going so far as a recent preorder existing for an unannounced game, downloadable content and smaller downloadable titles that then link in and grant bonuses for the core product are part and parcel of gaming now. This is a natural evolution of our audiences’ habits. The business model is evolving and we believe that our growth’s dependant upon our ability to successfully develop and sell what we’ve done before, and then include elements which are monetized through microtransactions in addition to an up-front fee. To expand the methods by which we can offer these to consumers, including in-game prompts and email reminders”.
Another topic I was interested in was outsourcing. Recent interviews have suggested this practice is increasing three-fold, and examples where it didn’t work out. So what did he think? “It goes deeper than just studios. We have third-parties in the East farming rewards in free-to-play titles and MMOs, and then selling them on at a profit”.
“This then brings funds back into the company so we can invest that into day one DLC as well as store exclusives. When we create a unique weapon for one of our distributors we’ve got to design, build, and balance it. And for DLC we need to bring in consultants to advise on what we can repackage from the core game without compromise. Look at the success of the Mass Effect 3 DLC. It’s a signal to all of us in the industry that this is what people want. If they didn’t it wouldn’t sell.”
“At the end of the day we’ll continue to do what our fans buy. And we love our fans”. With that our interview came to an end. There was a feeling during our time that the imagination and raw energy that the studio is renowned for is fizzling out as costs rise and the market demands more of the same. Security, it seems, will be key in the years to come.