There are few places in this world where innovative outsourcing business models intersect with sensibilities that find humor in an animated corpse urinating in a public water supply. Stubbs the Zombie developer Wideload Games is one such place, as founder Alex Seropian established the Chicago-based development house in 2004 to work on humorous games developed by a skeleton crew of creative talent with the help of dozens of outside contractors.
Today the company announced another such intersection in the form of Wideload Shorts, a division of the company dedicated specifically to downloadable games for consoles, PCs, and handheld platforms.
"Shorts' games are created by a small core team, but will have creative and technical input from all areas of Wideload," said company president Tom Kang. "Further, Wideload Shorts' and Wideload's larger development teams will work together to leverage their creative assets. For example, a Wideload retail game may include an asset that would be great to spin off into a Shorts game, and vice versa, a Wideload Shorts game could inspire a Wideload Games retail product."
To head up the new division, Wideload has tapped Scott Corley, former president of Red Mercury. At Red Mercury, Corley oversaw the production of games like Acid Solitaire, Acid Freecell, and Acid Spider. Before that he worked for Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based High Voltage Software, where he handled titles like NBA Inside Drive 2000 for the Xbox, Lego Racers for the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and PC, and Paperboy 64 for the Nintendo 64.
GameSpot spoke to Corley today to ask him all about his Shorts.
GameSpot: Is Wideload Shorts going to be focused exclusively on downloadable games?
Scott Corley: Yeah. That's the most likely thing that's going to happen. We don't really have any intention of putting out a retail box product mainly because our business outlook on the smaller games is that we want distribution channels that we can get to quickly and with little hassle and low cost to take that whole inventory risk out of the equation entirely. So that leaves downloadable games as the way to go.
GS: Now, Wideload is known for its humor. Do you think humorous games generally work better in bite-size installments, kind of avoiding the risk of wearing out the premise after 10 or 15 hours?
SC: If you have a joke that's only funny once, is it better as a smaller game? Yeah, but we're looking at the smaller games as not necessarily entirely focused around the humor. The themes that we come up with for these games tend to be pretty funny. Sometimes they're funny just because they're things that haven't been explored yet in games, so they come off as sort of unexpected or surprising.
And the way humor comes through in these short games is really just kind of an artifact of the environment here at Wideload. When we sit around and talk about ideas, a lot of times we end up going down the paths that make us laugh a lot and we don't shy away from that and think, like, "Oh, that doesn't fit." So that kind of gives the overall game a sense of humor about it.
But to say that we're looking to make games that are funny is not really totally right. I don't look at this like a bunch of frustrated comedians looking for a stage to get our jokes out on. It's more like a general sense of humor throughout the games.
GS: The original Wideload development model was an answer to the increasingly complex, expensive process of making AAA retail releases. How are you modifying that so that it suits the small-scale development as well?
SC: The original business model is definitely a response to this problem of needing huge amounts of labor to make one of these games, and the original Wideload model is the realization that the creative part of that is usually centered in this small core of experienced people. And that's what drove that original model.
So then to take that to the short side of things, it's the same approach except that since the Wideload Shorts titles are these smaller bits of original IP that don't have much larger resource requirements, then it's still this small core of creative individuals and the core channel that's making the creative decisions.
We do rely on outside people for additional help when we need it, but I think the ratio of internal efforts to external contractors is there's a heavier emphasis on the internal work, on the Shorts side, simply because of the huge expanse of all this extra stuff that trails along a retail box title is just not there in the Shorts titles.
GS: What's the size of the total development team with contractors for a Wideload Shorts title versus for a regular Wideload title?
SC: That's where you can see the big difference. On a Wideload Shorts title, we'll have one or two [external contractors] doing sound, we'll have a handful of artists. I would say that the max number of external people working on a Shorts title would probably top out at maybe 10 people if you include everybody, whoever had a hand in it, whereas on the larger Wideload titles it could hit 60 or 100 people or whatever. It's an order of magnitude higher for the Wideload retail titles versus Wideload Shorts.
GS: During your time at Red Mercury, did you work at anything more complex than the solitaire-style card games?
SC: Yeah, so there were a handful of Red Mercury titles that didn't actually see the light of day. Red Mercury started kind of accidentally in the solitaire games. This was in 1999, before "casual games" was really a buzzword. And I was coming out of the console market. I had just come off of three large-scale console titles and then took a step back to the Palm.
And the first thing I did was a solitaire game kind of just on a whim. It was a game I never would have even played while I was working on console titles. So I thought the trajectory of my Palm titles would skew very quickly back toward console-style games or at least like side-scrollers or sort of more traditional video games.
But I accidentally stumbled upon this whole market of people out there starving for games who were not being given games. And that's what led to this solitaire streak that Red Mercury had. And that was kind of an exercise in taking a known game and a known style of game and just iterating on that to almost a ludicrous level of polish that really paid off for that market.
Red Mercury also did a multiplayer network wireless game that was like a Baku Baku or like a Puzzle Fighter-style game that played over wireless networks and was intended to play over cell phones. I discovered that on that platform there wasn't really a demand for games that were more core-style games.
And then the other kind of strange thing that happened was the whole wireless revolution that I assumed was going to take place really quickly; it took a long time to happen. So that game is still collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
GS: Wideload is already supporting the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with Hail to the Chimp. Does Wideload Shorts have plans to work on Nintendo's WiiWare service, or even mobile phones?
SC: We absolutely are in love with the idea of WiiWare because it's yet another one of these electronic download services that goes through a real, dedicated game console that has real game controllers. And so we looked at all of the console download channels--Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network and WiiWare--as great matches for the business model that we're trying to do.
We certainly don't rule [mobile phones] out, but I don't think we look at those as a primary channel... It's a crowded field and it's a little bit different. Our games are trying to go after this expanded market and also a lapsed gamer type of player, which you might find on a cell phone, but the consoles with the download channels and also PC downloads are a much better fit than mobile phones right now.
GS: I thought I saw something about handhelds in the press release. So with no retail plans...
SC: Right. How did we get to handhelds?
SC: [Laughs.] That's a good question. When we first had the idea for Wideload Shorts, there was not even a download service for the Nintendo Wii or for the PlayStation 3, and Live Arcade was just getting started. And we started Shorts with the idea that we were sure that this business model is the future. And we think it's the future for all games really, and we're just fortunate to be on what we still think is the leading edge of the downloadable-game model. We didn't have any inside information that WiiWare was going to exist or anything like that. We just felt very confident that it would.
And I would say the same things for the handheld consoles as well. There's been absolutely no indication from anyone that anybody with a handheld console is going to do downloadable games for them. But we'd be very happy if that became available and we think it's just inevitable that the handheld consoles will eventually have downloadable games as a distribution channel.
GS: Okay. The announcement mentioned synergies with Wideload's standard releases. Are there any crossover titles planned at the moment?
SC: Right now, all the titles that we have in development for Wideload Shorts are completely original to Wideload Shorts. But on a regular basis, there are ideas running around. We have the luxury of walking by all of the things that are in development on the Wideload side and glancing at the assets and the things that are going into those games, and a lot of ideas for smaller games using those assets are sparked all the time.
But we think that's a possible outcome for Shorts. It's not something that we feel like we absolutely have to do or something like that. We just keep our eye on that as a definite possibility and another one of those things that we see as likely to happen at some point. But the current titles are all original to Wideload Shorts.
GS: How many projects do you have in development right now?
SC: We have one that's nearing its final stages. The current plan is for that initial title to be available to people to purchase this year. And then there are two other ideas that are in the prototype phase. I guess I should also say that those two that are in the prototype phase are the surviving titles out of a big push to figure out what the next Wideload Shorts title is going to be.
So we try as much as we can to overlap some phases of development. A lot of the initial prototyping and game-design thinking that goes into a title really--for us, anyway--has to take place over a long period of calendar time. Even if we're not putting 40 hours a week in on a particular game, that stuff has to kind of percolate through our mind.
So we try to get those ideas figured out, like, "Okay, this is what we're going to be doing next," but get it working through our brains months before we really are full-time on it. So there are two titles that are in that phase right now where we're working out the gameplay details and whipping up some prototypes. We try to dedicate at least a day a week on future ideas.
GS: Is there anything else you wanted to say about Wideload Shorts?
SC: I've been telling this little anecdote lately about another game developer, and we were talking to them about what Wideload Shorts was doing.
And they were talking amongst themselves and they said, "Yeah, you remember how we used to sit around and think up ideas for games that we wanted to make? These guys are still doing that." And it just kind of made me realize that most developers out there aren't given this opportunity.
And this is Wideload as a whole and also Wideload Shorts. It's a rare opportunity to actually be able to come up with ideas and then implement them as opposed to working for someone else's IP or someone else's vision. And the more we work on our Wideload Shorts stuff, the more we realize that this is for real, like we're actually really having a blast making games that we want to make. So yeah, we're really excited about it.