Telltale Games has had great success with episodic story-based games like The Walking Dead. Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale, told me, “It’s a commitment to making sure the story feels playable. In Call of Duty, you could see a great cutscene that creates a lot of emotion around the characters that you’re with, but then you go and play the mission, and by the time you come back to the story again, that emotional connection is gone. It’s too big of a separation. You can try to carry it through the gameplay experience, but then it’s to the detriment of that gameplay. It’s a hard thing to get both.”

He added, “With Telltale, we just decided to commit to making people care about the characters as much as we could, making the characters feel as real as they could, and then putting the player in compelling situations and making them make choices. We committed to that at the core of the product. That was what the product would be about. Call of Duty is still about being a great action game. It does that very well, but it’s hard to coexist that with strong storytelling in that environment. Our games are for someone who wants to sit down and feel like they’re immersed inside the story in a new and different way.”

Maya Rogers, who took over as CEO from her father Henk Rogers at Blue Planet Software, talked about the 30th anniversary of Tetris. She said, ” For us, having this global brand is what’s kept us alive. In the future, we want to go beyond gaming. We’ve started doing that with a bit of merchandise here and there. We see Tetris as a lifestyle. Every time you’re doing something around the house or driving or walking around, you see Tetris blocks on the walls or something. I want to embrace that idea. We have fans around the world on social media who love Tetris. We want to go beyond gaming – go into stuff like making more Tetris fashion items, stuff that isn’t so obviously gaming-related — but also always keep the games alive. We’re doing this theme called “We All Fit Together” this year. It speaks to the game and how blocks fit together there, but it also speaks to how the game is universal. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak. Everyone loves Tetris.”

Owen Mahoney, chief executive of Nexon, talked about restoring creativity to gaming. He said, “My belief is that we’re coming out of what I’d consider to be five very bad years in the games industry. The bad years started around 2007. There was this false dichotomy in the business. You had the big established publishers – not just in the west, but also in Japan – where they had a hard time understanding what the impact of online would be on their business. Even when they were forward-thinking and pushing into online, they had a hard time learning a new set of skills and how to make a synchronous online game work. To way oversimplify what happened, they put a lot of resources into graphics fidelity.”


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Mahoney also said, “On the other hand, you had a lot of people coming out of the Facebook world and into the mobile world who didn’t care about games at all. They were on record as not giving a damn about gameplay and game quality. The founders of these companies were not game players themselves. We all know who those were. What they never tried to do was ask themselves, “What’s a good game? What inspires me? What’s fun to do?” They might have asked, “What’s addictive?” But that’s different from what’s fun.”

Ted Price, chief executive of Insomniac Games, said he tried to apply his lessons of being a manager to being more hands-off with Sunset Overdrive, the studio’s new Xbox One game.

“The biggest lesson I tried to convey was the importance of delegating creative authority. We have two creative directors on this project who came up with the vision for Sunset Overdrive, Marcus Smith and Drew Murray. From the beginning, I felt it was very important to stay out of the way and not try to make this my vision, but support what they believed in. The team rallied around Marcus and Drew, and their vision and began adding to it. As a result, we have one of most unique games we’ve ever made at Insomniac,” he said.

Price said, “We made a decision to move away from this societal obsession with the apocalypse. We wanted to focus not on a gray, brown, rubble-strewn end times vision but instead make this your awesome apocalypse. An end times where you’re actually having fun, where you don’t have to work that dead-end job anymore, where you don’t have to worry about what you wear or how loud you play your music. You can be yourself and have a blast.”

Chris Roberts, head of Roberts Space Industries, has raised more than $46 million via crowdfunding from more than 400,000 fans for his Star Citizen sci-fi game. He said, “People always ask what it’s like having 400,000-some bosses. My answer is mostly, in the old way of doing it, you always had people you had to tell what you were doing. But I feel that in this case, there’s a lot of people, but they’ve got money down on this game. They love this game so much that they were willing to pay for it long before they can play it. They’re invested parties.”

He said, “A lot of times, in the old publishing model, I used to get frustrated when you’d be dealing with a marketing executive that didn’t really care about the game. They would come at it from, “Oh, I saw this game sold so many copies and it has this feature, so you should have it too.” I’d say, “That feature doesn’t make any sense for our game.” “Well, you need to have it, or we’ll have to put your sales forecast down and cut your budget.” You’d end up compromising stuff in your game to make sales and marketing happy. In this case, we don’t have to. We make the game that we think the community wants, and we get community feedback on it. It’s a fun process.”

Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president of EA Studios, spoke about the need to do new intellectual property, even if a company like EA has lots of franchises.

He said, “You absolutely have to continue to invest in new IP. We showed a glimpse of a new BioWare IP that’s really exciting to me. We showed a completely new IP from Criterion, a very different, unique game. We have a lot of our investment today going to new IP, because I firmly believe that if we stop investing that way, that’s the day we’ve signed our death certificate. We’re going to slowly die that way. That doesn’t mean that we can’t sometimes bring back a game that’s been resting for a while, in case there’s a demand for it. That’s fine. But if you do bring something back, you’re going to have to make sure that it’s relevant, that it pushes the boundaries. You need to come in and lead and not follow with it. We’re trying to do that with something like Battlefront or Mirror’s Edge. But we also have to push quite a bit of our money into new IP.”