In the wake of Neversoft's recent announcement that the veteran developer is splitting into two teams to work on the juggernaut Tony Hawk franchise and another original title, we pinged Neversoft about the fundamental change that's been made to the company's structure to see how it will affect the Southern California-based developer. Joel Jewett, president of Neversoft Entertainment, answered our questions and offered some insight into the studio's future.
GameSpot: So why the split into two teams?
Joel Jewett: The history is this: Neversoft is now 10 years old, and we really wanted to do something new. But there was no way we wanted someone else to work on the Hawk franchise, since it is sort of our baby. (Well, maybe now it has grown to be our kid.) Anyway, the only choice was to expand the company into two teams. So what we did was create a small mixed team of some senior guys and some of our best junior guys, and we put them onto the new project to lay the groundwork for the new game. And, at the same time, we kept a well-rounded group of guys on Tony Hawk's Underground 2.
Right now we are in a very exciting position as a company. The Hawk franchise is probably stronger than ever (I say this because THUG 2 is almost done, and it's fun as hell), and we are sitting on the makings of a totally new franchise, which we plan to establish and sequel just like we have with the Tony Hawk games.
So right now, all we need are more good developers to come to work with us. We have a really solid system in place here for getting great games on the shelf each year, so it is really just a matter of finding more great people to work into our teams. Making games is really all about the people.
GS: How do you go about shipping a game every year without compromising quality?
JJ: The first thing you need to do is believe you can do it. And then, after you do it once, you really start to see the benefits. The combination of seeing your game on the shelf every Christmas, along with the money that can be made by a team that can consistently pull that off, can make for a very heightened level of motivation. As you build a team, you hire people who understand what it means to lead by example. You hire people who work hard and work focused. Then you support these people with strong leadership--people who can and are willing to make good decisions--and a production staff that understands how to organize tasks and make sure people know what they need to do each morning when they get to work. I think that at this point, if you were to compare notes on the developers who ship quality software on a timely basis, you would find that they all have a strong process in place that includes a solid tool chain, ways of organizing and keeping people on task, and rules to make sure that their games are always in a playable state. Everything is basically accounted for, all the way down to structured work hours. And they focus on making sure they are always making their process better. It's a lot of fun working on a team that knows it can make a great game for Christmas.
GS: Activision announced that you are working on a totally original title--something that is not a sports game--and even went as far as saying it would be the biggest game of next year. What can you tell us about that?
JJ: I can't let too much out of the bag just yet, but I can hit you with a bunch of descriptors: big adventure, big story, major action, period piece, a reality-based new world that players have never seen before, mature rating, adult themes, with some killing thrown in for good measure. The concept for this game was really the impetus to double the size of Neversoft. We knew we could make a killer game out of the concept, so we just had to do it. The game recently went through its green-light assessment at Activision, and everybody is really excited about it.
The New Neversoft Game
GS: Are you worried about bringing out an original title in today's sequel-driven market?
JJ: I think people will be excited for something fresh and new. We know a little bit about fresh and new. We are shipping our sixth Tony Hawk title, THUG 2, this fall, but if you look under the hood of each of those games, you will find they are full of fresh new features. That is why they have done so well.
We sell games to an incredibly sophisticated user group, and you can't fool gamers with a cool box and a big ad campaign (if you do, they won't like it, and they won't forget). The average 6-year-old will tell you if your game sucks in about 30 seconds.
GS: Why do you think so many original intellectual properties fail?
JJ: Games fail when they are not good games. That might seem overly simplified, until you really take a look at what makes a good game, as well as how difficult it is to make one. You have to start with a good concept and a good team; then you have to execute against that concept. Everything has to be top-notch, starting with control and gameplay and working all the way through to your ending cinematics, unlockables, and even cheat codes. Attention to detail from start to finish is critical. In the end, this all comes down to the individuals who are working on the game. If you make a good game based on a good concept, it should not fail. Oh, and did I mention that if you have a good concept that has not been overdone, then you better not mess around for three years making your game--or several other teams will beat you to market.
GS: How are you working to make sure Neversoft's new game avoids these pitfalls?
JJ: Well, first of all, we have a damn good concept that will appeal to hardcore gamers and will then spill over into the mass market. The guys working on the project are great. They were basically handpicked for this project based on their abilities and previous experiences--and because they love this concept. Player control already feels great, and we are well on our way to creating a world that makes the player feel like he or she has just been taken to an amazing place in history. Basing the game on history is key. People enjoy a certain degree of reality; then you turn it up a notch or two. We also focus-test our games here at Neversoft every week and have spent a number of months working with a screenwriter so that we can tell an epic story.
I am pretty damned excited about this one. I think it's going to be huge. The groundwork is all in place, so all we need to do now is continue to hire the remainder of the team and execute on our plan. So if you are out there reading this and want the opportunity to work on something new, fresh, and a little bit violent, give us a call.
GS: Thanks for your time, Joel.