Kasavin parses press, publisher, developer relations

PAX 2010: Former GameSpot editor-in-chief, Red Alert 3 producer, and 2K Games publishing producer talks about the interaction between the three game-industry factions.

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Who was there: Former GameSpot editor-in-chief, EALA line producer, 2K Games publishing producer, and current Supergiant Games creative director Greg Kasavin.

What he talked about: Greg Kasavin gets around. GameSpot's onetime editorial leader, Kasavin left the games journalism beat after 10 years in 2007 to join Electronic Arts' LA studio, first ushering Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars to the finish line and then contributing to C&C: Red Alert 3's development. With EALA's operations in flux following Red Alert 3's lukewarm reviews, Kasavin left the publisher in 2009 to join 2K Games' publishing arm, overseeing teams that included Yager's Spec Ops: The Line.

Just this week, Kasavin moved on to his new role at startup Supergiant Games, which is developing the action role-playing game Bastion. Nonetheless, he took the time to take the 2010 Penny Arcade Expo stage and recount his experiences in a session titled "Memoirs of a Triple Agent." After a brief rundown of his various roles in the game industry up to this point, Kasavin kicked off his talk by noting that there exists a substantial amount of misconception and animosity between the fields of game journalism, development, and publishing that he'd like to shed light on and hopefully dispel.

GameSpot editor emeritus and newly minted Supergiant Games creative director Greg Kasavin.

Kasavin noted that the game journalism field is often chaotic and intense, and throughout the course of his career at GameSpot, he never quite felt like he had things under control. Offering a quick tutorial on how to break into the games press, he said that working for free by playing games, writing up or filming impressions, and building an audience is the best way to gain the attention of the various outlets.

He also hit upon a theme that stretched throughout his presentation, the idea that the best way to achieve success is by cultivating a reputation of transparency and accountability while exhibiting an intense work ethic. He also noted that it isn't a particularly good idea to simply drop whatever else is going on in life to launch a gaming journalism career, saying, "If you can't juggle the work, then you're probably not a good fit."

As for industry relations, Kasavin said that the press and developers are often on the best of terms between the three factions. This is because of the admiration that the press often feels for the people who make their favorite games, and the appreciation developers have for the attention they get from people who write about their games.

However, this bond can be a cause for concern, he said, due to the possibility for a conflict of interest that exists. Kasavin said that he intentionally segmented himself off from the development community while at GameSpot, because it is much more difficult to give an honest assessment of a game when the writer is friends with the developer. He noted that the press's first responsibility is to its audience, not the development community. Ultimately, this is the best tack to pursue, he said, because the audience will appreciate the press's coverage more, while the development community will respect the principles behind it.

Of course, making friends isn't exactly an easy task for the press, because publishers work diligently to restrict writers' access to those who actually make the games. The motivation behind this mentality, Kasavin said, is that publishers often fear what a developer may say that could reflect poorly or be twisted in such a way to reflect poorly on the game in question.

Supergiant Games' Bastion is expected to be complete next summer. No publisher has been announced for the project yet.

Publishers, he noted, have a love-hate relationship with the press. "They will love you when you give their games 9s and 10s, but in general, the interaction is very tense," he said, emphasizing that publishers often only see this as a business. And because the press's critical opinion can lead to diminished sales, publishers are under a good deal of pressure to manipulate critics into giving the best scores to games.

For the press, the way to approach publisher relations is through a "gentle but firm" attitude, while also standing in a defensible position. It also helps to understand that a publisher's PR department is often under a good deal of stress, as they are often seen as the reason that a game is given high or low marks, regardless of the actual quality of the game.

Kasavin's talk then shifted to his experience working on the development side of things for EALA. He noted that the development scene has long since left its humble beginnings of small teams and small budgets, but the industry as it operates now lacks balance. "People are crunching themselves to death," he said, referencing long work hours without reprieve. He also bemoaned the fact that development teams are getting quite large, and it is very difficult to control the interaction of people on that scale.

But for those who want to break in to game development, he again returned to the concept of initially doing the work for free, taking a game engine such as Unreal or Starcraft II's level editor and simply making levels. He said that building mods and the like is the best way to circumvent the catch-22 scenario of needing experience to land a job in the industry, but needing a job in the industry to get that experience.

"Start doing the work on your own time, and it might work out in the future," he said.

He also noted that the development community often has an antagonistic relationship with the publishing side of the business, a situation that was brought into sharp focus withActivision's Infinity Ward fiasco earlier this year. One reason for this is publishers' decision to enact sweeping layoffs following the completion of a game, a situation that has been all too familiar this summer.

Another reason is the meddlesome nature that many publishers exhibit toward their creative talent. Because development is done on the publisher's dime, they are risk-averse. Also, the importance of every game being a hit means that publishers must spend substantial amounts on marketing. So if a developer asks for more time to increase the quality of a game, a publisher must balance the money it has already spent on hyping the game's release versus the additional time it will remain in development.

Because he spent only about a year on the publishing side, Kasavin offered only a superficial account of his experience at 2K Games. The difference between being a producer on a development level and a producer on a publishing level, he said, is that the publishing side is often overseeing multiple projects at once. He offered a military analogy to illustrate the ideal publishing producer, saying that they best operate as a chopper hovering over a battalion of troops, offering support when needed but largely staying out of the way.

Kasavin closed his presentation by listing the five rules that he has followed and that have helped define his career. First, it is important to empathize with people, and understand why they do what they do. Second, "give a damn" about the results, a point he called the most important. Third, be like Charlie Brown, which is to say, don't act like a hotshot. No one knows everything, and it's important to keep learning.

His fourth and fifth rules, he conceded, are somewhat paradoxical. "Go work, then go home, and then work," he said, saying that becoming a workaholic is an excellent route to accomplishing goals. On the flip side, he said that it is important to make time to not work, whether that be through exploring another medium such as books or movies, or simply taking a walk.

Quote: "Bastion isn't the first game I've poured my heart into, but it's the first game that you'll be able to tell."

Takeaway: Kasavin's extreme work ethic notwithstanding, the secret to his success within the three factions of the games industry has been fueled by a focus on integrity and a devotion to the medium.

Discussion

73 comments
Bgrngod
Bgrngod

I was checking out all the games at PAX in the "Indie" section booth (one screen per game, GREAT area to check out) and stopped to see Bastian for awhile. I spent a bit of time staring at the screen while listening to someone talk about the game, not paying much attention to were it was coming from. After a little bit I realized the voice was really familiar and turned my head a bit to see that Greg K. was standing right next to me doing the talking. For awhile there I fell into that stunned mental trap that other folks must experience when they see movie actors out and about. The fact this game looks absolutely gorgeous is probably what kept me from noticing him sooner. I had no idea he had moved on from the C&C series so it was exciting to come to that realization the this game I was admiring is the pet project of a guy I've got so much respect for. It all kind of clicked "Wow, that makes so much sense." Keep up the good work Greg. I intend to stay up to speed on any info available for Bastion and give it a purchase if things turn out positive.

Sanguis_Malus
Sanguis_Malus

Its hardly surprising that Greg K has been given the opportunity's that have arisen so far. His passion for game reviewing was always evident at Gamespot, he was one of the best game reviewers around at that time. Very articulate and professional with the right touch of humour. Its good to see him getting on well.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

Great to hear from Greg Kasavin. Now with the system slightly changed, Gamespot may never be the same again. The best I heard from him is Star Fox Adventures. Ironically the last Rare game on Gamecube before moving to Microsoft to make games exclusively for Xbox and Xbox360. Good luck on your future Greg!

Cobra5
Cobra5

My girlfriend is trying to get into games journalism, but has had no luck so far. I like that there were a few tips there, but I'd like to hear more on that subject...lol

shani_boy101
shani_boy101

Kasavin was an awesome reviewer, but i'm glad he's doing what he loves now.

blehbeast1234
blehbeast1234

I miss his reviews. He always seemed to be a straight-up guy who wouldn't beat around the bush. And he had a sense of humor? Anyone remember the end of the Red Steel review? I was like whaaa? haha Best of luck Greg.

Goyoshi12
Goyoshi12

Who better to work on games than Kasavin? We miss ya dude.

painpas
painpas

@gamegod I completely agree. Kasavin, Gertsmann and Navaro you can trust their reviews for the most part. Kevin V. is now my defacto here on Gamespot at present. Lars and Mcinnis aswell.

stinkymonkey58
stinkymonkey58

one of the best reviewers gs ever had, really wish he were still here to review some recent games.

gamegod
gamegod

he is only reviewer that i completely trusted

Aidan125
Aidan125

Good luck Greg! A true genuine guy right there.

moxyz1
moxyz1

A great reviewer from the good old days of game-spot, a true gamer. I can remember watching his reveiws for PC games back in the day when i didnt have a gaming PC only a console and his reviews for good games would always make me gutted i didnt have the PC to play them. Now i have a gaming PC & look back at his reviews .

Rakolazagiz
Rakolazagiz

This guy was the best back in the day, really did some great reviews.

Joshywaa
Joshywaa

Greg and i once talked to each other a few times on the forums...every conversation we had was about Fallout 1 & 2. I feel blessed to have spoken to such a handsome fellow:)

TheVGamer
TheVGamer

Greg! I miss that guy SO much, and it's good to see he's making games. If anyone know how to create good games, Greg does.

KirinLime
KirinLime

I remembered always hoping that he'd be the one to review my most anticipated games, as his writings were nearly always 'spot on. His passion for the medium had been apparent in the coverage he did too. It's great to know he's experiencing all sides of gaming and to continue gaining from his insight.

Animatronic64
Animatronic64

Screw him! He gave Metal Gear Solid 3 an 8.7, while giving Perfect Dark Zero a 9. But in all seriousness, I'm just kidding. He was a great reviewer, and even if I did not always agree with the content; it was Greg, and the GiantBomb team that made the heart of GameSpot. Although I do think Kevin is cool, too. As for the rest of the current review team, I honestly can't say the same.

Redsyrup
Redsyrup

What a talented guy to have seen so many sides of the industry.

Death_182
Death_182

Him and Kevin will always be my favorite reviewers on game spot.

SirMordredX
SirMordredX

@tHeHaUnTeD Agreed; he was a real reviewer - as in he could connect with games on the level of a gamer, and on that of a critic while ultimately presenting a professionally analysed review. I love going back to watch his stuff even today; I hope he'll do a one-off special review on a big title at some point.

tHeHaUnTeD
tHeHaUnTeD

Boy, how I miss Greg! He was and always will be my all time favorite game reviewer. I wish him nothing but the best in anything he does.

IAMTHEVIPQUEEN
IAMTHEVIPQUEEN

I can't consider gaming journalists as being part of the "biz"...they simply write and talk about games, but know nothing about creating, designing, or programing games.

Facilitypro
Facilitypro

Good luck at SuperGiant games, Greg. Hopefully they won't fire you like EALA did.

digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

Kasavin is was pretty dope, of the current crop I really like Van Ord, his delivery can be a little prissy but the content is good.

gbrading
gbrading moderator

Ah Greg Kasavin. Long may his name reign!

iBear-
iBear-

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

twztid13
twztid13

greg was the best reviewer gamespot ever had.

LegoAnakin
LegoAnakin

Greg and Jeff were my favorite reviewers. It's pretty cool to see something about him again.

TerrorRizzing
TerrorRizzing

i miss him, I didn't always agree with his reviews... but they were always well done.

King9999
King9999

He had the best video reviews.

placksheep
placksheep

Greg Kasavin was my favorite Gamespot reviewer hands down. Very articulate and knowledgeable about what makes a good game. Working on an RPG is an awesome place for him to be!

rgsniper1
rgsniper1

It is partickalerly specktackaler that he's doing good.

Pandemic-7
Pandemic-7

i never felt cheated with a kasavin review. good things greg!

Facilitypro
Facilitypro

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

I may have not always agreed with him, but Greg always had great reviews. It's good to know he's doing well.

PNOIDSCHIZ
PNOIDSCHIZ

he helped me decide to purchase ninja gaiden for the xbox console. in my opinion greg, jeff, and brad game reviews were worth "listening to", i valued their opinion. congrats on all of your accomplishments greg.

Solid_Azeus
Solid_Azeus

GameSpot's finest ever-Greg Kasavin!

Ninja-Hippo
Ninja-Hippo

Greg was a great reviewer in his gamespot games. Nice to see he's doing well. :)

sonicare
sonicare

Greg Kasavin was certainly one of their best members. His reviews were incredibly well thought out and written. He certainly graded on a hard curve, but that's what used to separate Gamespot from some of the other sites. You knew if he gave a game a good score, you were going to like that game. Now it seems that highly rated games here aren't held to quite the same standards.

archlvt
archlvt

All of gamespot's credibility went down the crapper when Kasavin left. Real shame.

Sphire
Sphire

Been missing Kasavins great reviews. Much better than that VanOrd..

jgartland
jgartland

I always enjoyed Greg's reviews and felt I could always trust them. Many criticized him for his mono tone voice and almost emotionless video reviews but I thought they were excellent. Nowadays it's obvious that reviewers are just reading from an autocue but Greg would actually talk as though you were there and not as if he was presenting a tv programme. He kept it to the point and I always felt much more confident in my purchases having watched them.

starduke
starduke

He's got experience in three, hmm , no four, assuming he actually plays game for fun, pillars of the video game industry. Gamer, Dev, Publisher, and Journalist. I wonder how many people can say that.

IvanKavinski
IvanKavinski

BTW, Isn't it crazy that GameSpot still hasn't ever given a PC game a 10?