Microsoft announced today that it has signed a publishing deal with Big Huge Games, a studio started early this year by several former members of Firaxis who were involved in the development of Civilization II, Alpha Centauri, and Colonization. Big Huge Games, based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, is now in the early stages of developing a strategy game that will eventually be one of several published by Microsoft. As a part of the deal, Microsoft made a minority stake in the developer and is underwriting the development costs of the first game.
To get an inside perspective on the deal, we spoke with Brian Reynolds, founder of Big Huge Games, and Ed Fries, vice president of the Microsoft Games Division.
GameSpot: Tell us a little about how this deal came about.
Brian Reynolds: I've known Ed for several years now, and when I left Firaxis at the end of last year and decided I was going to set something new up, it seemed perfectly logical to give Ed a call.
From the perspective of a small developer like Big Huge, I think Microsoft is an ideal publishing partner for a number of reasons. They share our ideal of competing at the top of the industry. We have a particular game we want to do, sort of our dream game, and to do a game like this takes resources, time, and a publisher that believes in us enough to trust us in that.
GS: Can you tell us about your vision for this upcoming game?
BR: Well, our cool, exciting game - we're not ready to talk about it yet. [laughs]
GS: What is your timeline for developing this game?
BR: We're saying, as a highly approximate guess, that 2002 would be a logical time to finish a game we've started fairly recently. In the broadest terms, if you look at my background, you see strategy games, so we're probably going to be there.
GS: Ed, can you tell us how this deal fits into the Microsoft Game Division's long-term strategy? Is this a multiple-title deal?
Ed Fries: It is a multiple-title deal, and it really fits with what I've been trying to do, which is to go out and find the very best developers and find ways to team up with them and give them the time and the resources to do their very best work. It started with Chris Roberts and Digital Anvil, Bruce Shelley at Ensemble, Chris Taylor at Gas Powered Games, and Alex Garden at Relic. There are not too many designers of the caliber of Brian Reynolds, so the chance to sign him up and be a part of our team is very exciting.
So about how this will work - we've made a minority equity investment in Big Huge Games and are funding the development of the next title.
GS: Do you think we'll see Big Huge games on the Xbox at some point?
BR: As presently conceived, we're working on a PC title. There's no reason we wouldn't think about doing an Xbox title or an Xbox port in the future, but we think that, for the type of strategy game that we're doing, the PC is the right platform for it.
GS: How large is the staff at Big Huge currently?
BR: I think we have ten people on staff right now, and we've announced plans to grow somewhat larger than that, mid-20s or so. At present, we're working on one title, but that doesn't mean that we won't work on more in the future.
GS: This is actually the second studio you've been involved in founding, Brian. How has this been a different process from starting Firaxis?
BR: Well, I have the experience of the past to draw on in a certain sense. This time it's a little more centered on my particular dream for the game I want to create.
GS: Brian, Ed, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.