Q&A: Perry sounds off on IP, Wii, and ESRB

Shiny founder and freshly minted MMO designer answers follow-up questions to his Austin Game Developers Conference appearance.

Last week, Dave Perry helped close out the Austin Game Developers Conference with an on-stage Q&A session conducted by GDC director Jamil Moledina. In the hour-long discussion, the Shiny founder retraced his career, from his earliest games to Top Secret, one of six massively multiplayer online role-playing games he's currently working on for Acclaim.

Dave Perry, in your face.

After his session, Perry sat down with GameSpot for a follow-up interview delving deeper into some of the issues already touched upon, and exploring a few more for the first time. Over the course of half an hour, Perry talked about the increasingly high-stakes world of game development, and how upstart developers can get a foothold. He also candidly discussed his own views, explaining how Nintendo's success could bode ill for the rest of the industry, and how close Shiny came to a "Hot Coffee" scalding of its own.

GameSpot: Early on in your AGDC session, you said there used to be no problem with meeting your game design idols and then just talking to them all day at trade shows. That accessibility isn't there in the industry right now, but the developers that do have name recognition are held up as celebrities a bit more. Are we better or worse for the trade-off?

Dave Perry: I personally think [accessibility] is a good thing because it's very inspirational, so I wish it were there more. With blogs there is some accessibility. If you like David Jaffe's games, you can get to him through his blog. It's not a perfect model right now for [meeting respected developers], but it certainly is inspirational when you realize they're just normal people. They're just people who like games and worked really hard and did something interesting.

GS: In your session, Jamil mentioned always being afforded some level of creative control in your games. At the same time, you worked on a slew of licensed titles. How did you wind up with control over games when they were based entirely on someone else's IP?

DP: That's a strange one, and the answer is trust. They believe you know what you're doing, and they don't want to get involved in every little detail, so they generally will just say, "OK, sounds good!" In certain cases they'll have some opinion. With The Matrix, they really had very clear opinions on what they wanted. They said we were going to start in a post office. And we were like, "Post office? How are we going to make a post office fun?" But it's not negotiable. To some extent, that becomes a challenge.

GS: As games have gotten to be a bigger business, are companies getting more hands-on about how their brands are represented?

DP: My experience has been they're very much taking it seriously. Most of the time companies have interactive producers now, so there's someone there from the game industry who plays a lot of games and isn't going to swallow any bulls***. It's not like the old days.

GS: You've dealt with people expanding their intellectual property (IP) into games, and with Earthworm Jim, you handled expanding your game IP into the rest of the world. Did that look at the other end of the process make you understand the problems and concerns of the IP holder a little better?

DP: It actually is quite difficult to let other people take something you love that belongs to your team and go and start tweaking it. We had all kinds of issues with Earthworm Jim where things got done and we just didn't like it. The Halloween masks had a pointy head and made you look like an idiot. But the momentum gets going and you can't control every little detail unless you have a gigantic licensing department, which we didn't have.

It is interesting that if you're going to keep controlling this stuff, you're going to have to start staffing up to keep doing it, and that's dangerous because you can't predict what you're going to build that's going to need it. Otherwise the department's going to be just twiddling their thumbs wondering where the next license is for them to work with.

GS: One of your side projects is Game Investors, a company specifically set up to help developers find funding for their projects. Is that problem of getting start-up costs becoming even more acute for developers, or is it easier to get funding now than it was when you were starting up?

DP: It's probably 100 times harder, maybe 1,000. It's amazing to me how many people pull it off, because it's so difficult to get that funding.

GS: Is it getting any easier with things like Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and the casual scene taking off?

DP: Yeah, that's helping a lot. It's helping small indie teams get visible because they can post a demo and the publisher might spot that. But that's always been there. There have always been ways to get your game seen.

GS: The industry's really starting to embrace alternate means of distribution. Do you think it will ever embrace alternate forms of funding for projects?

DP: I think you're going to see all kinds of models. There's going to be the standard model you have today, with the publishers funding the games. But with the lower development costs of smaller games, you're going to have some developers pay for it themselves. If [your studio] goes to Quebec, they will pick up certain of your costs. You'll have microfinancing, which means you'll get a large group of people to put small amounts in together, which is something the Internet will make successful.

Then you'll also get the wealthy people. There are some very wealthy individuals in the world where the money doesn't matter. So if I said, "Would you like to make a video game starring your son and it'll cost $1 million," they'd think it was the coolest thing. Another one is doing two projects simultaneously. So you take the funding project, which isn't what you want to make, but you do it because it funds your engine development, which is needed for the game you want to make. I have friends doing that.

GS: You talked a bit about believing your own hype giving you the opportunity to make games that probably shouldn't have been made and the belief that you could get away with it. What brought you back down to earth?

DP: At the end of the day, it's all about sales, right? That decides everything because that's the gamers voting with their pocketbooks. It is the games business, so if you want to keep funded and keep going, you have to have the lightning strike every single time. And it gets tough to do. ... To really pull it off these days, you have to blow people away. You have to do a BioShock or something for everyone to agree it's a high-quality piece of software. ... You have to really, really care now to get into a big title from scratch. You have to be excited by the idea. So I think that's probably where I'm at now. Unless the idea really grabs me and I think it's just fantastic, I don't know if I'm going to give it three or four years of my life.

That's why it's worked out really well for me [at Acclaim]. Currently I'm just learning about the MMO market and I'm trying to absorb as much information as fast as possible. At the same time, our 2Moons game is already a hit. It's a profitable title, we have 500,000 downloads...

GS: Is Bots profitable?

DP: I believe so. To my knowledge, every Acclaim title so far has made money. It's been interesting. It could have been an absolute black hole for money, but it hasn't turned out to be that way. There's no risk they're going to go away.

GS: You mentioned the Wii as a disruptive innovation in the gaming industry, and Jamil drew a parallel to digital cameras essentially making old Polaroids all but obsolete. Do you think traditional games are actually going to be hurt by the Wii's success?

DP: To carry the analogy forward, I think if Nintendo keeps innovating this way and nobody else does, it could spell doom and gloom for [those who don't innovate]. They're reacting. They're not just sitting back. The concern was price as well. Prices were very high, but they're realizing that and they're trying to get the prices down. They're also adding on more and more features, like the EyeToy, the Xbox Vision camera, that keyboard so you can type on the controller...

But nobody's going to be able to respond to it this time around. The question is what happens next time around. Are they going to ignore [the Wii] like it never happened and just keep the arms race going? Or are they going to try to play the Nintendo game, which is to go for the mass market? That's going to be where the answer happens. If Nintendo somehow keeps going in this direction--if they innovate yet again and surprise us all again--that could be bad. That could be very unhealthy for everybody else.

GS: You said the ESRB gave you flak for a lesbian kiss in Enter the Matrix when you were trying to get a T rating. Did you have any other issues with the ESRB when you were working on console games?

DP: Not really. It's not a fun job dealing with the ESRB because they make you expose everything in the game. Being a game developer, when I heard what happened with Take-Two, I understood exactly how that went down.

GS: When you say "what happened to Take-Two," is that Hot Coffee, Oblivion, or Manhunt 2?

DP: Yeah, I know, god. It's Hot Coffee. [The ESRB] is very clear, it's not gray. They want to see anything in the game that could have any questionable content to it at all, and they want it all on video so they can sit down and watch it. And it's very difficult doing all the paperwork and preparing everything... It's clear that whoever filled the forms out didn't know. It's a simple mistake to make. The developer put something in the game.

I caught a developer doing that once at Shiny. He was doing artwork on packages in the post office for Enter the Matrix. Because he knew we couldn't see what the text said on the packages because it was just a blurry blob, he was putting swear words on the packages. And he was absolutely getting away with it.

Then we started doing the PC title, where everything was [higher resolution]. I was like, "Dude, what the hell do you think you're doing?" And he'd forgotten all about it, which is even worse. He did it as a joke and then forgot. So if we were filling out the forms, we would never have known to fill that out. In that situation, you can see how the mistakes could happen. We did ship OK, but it's the kind of scenario where I can see this happening quite often where somebody's joking around and they wind up getting caught because of it.

GS: Why doesn't Acclaim have its games rated?

DP: The games I'm involved in are not sold at retail. It's something they'll probably end up having to do, but right now we're just superclear on what the game is. With 2Moons, it says all over that it's for adults only. We're trying to be as clear as we can possibly be... Applying to the ESRB and going through all that stuff wouldn't help. We're not trying to slip it through. It's really necessary when you want to be lower than you are, because then you have to work out trying to be a Teen. I'm not trying to be a Teen.

GS: If you're really up front and really clear with the consumers about it, what pressures will eventually force you to get rated?

DP: We will end up doing it, just out of support for the ratings system. At some point I'll probably say to Acclaim, "Please get this done." I can't really justify it right now. If we wake up the next morning and we have a little "M" on our site, it's not going to make any difference.

GS: Legislators in this country have been trying to regulate games for more than a decade now. While their efforts consistently get overturned, games like Manhunt 2 seem to come out at a pretty steady clip to reignite the debate. Do publishers and developers have any obligations when it comes to resolving this issue for the industry as a whole?

DP: That's a really good question. I just think of all media as the same. Anything you want to write or draw, you're free to do so. If there's a market for it, great. If there's not a market for it, it's because you chose to do something that people don't want. ... You can be as controversial as you want to be, but none of the retailers will touch it with a pole. There will be no distribution. Effectively, it kills itself.

So there's a line, and the line is very much determined by the retailers deciding this is acceptable or not acceptable. And they make the decision based on the rating that the game carries. So the system works. The fact that they pay attention to the ratings is actually very important. That's why when an AO-rated title comes along, it's a dead game. It may be a cult hit on eBay, but it's not going to sell 5 million copies or anything.

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43 comments
magusat999
magusat999

David Perry is a real down to earth person, a real guy. He actually wrote me while he was inflight, and gave me some great advice about getting into the video game industry (years and years ago). I was and am a nobody and here he was responding personally to me at the time when he was one of the hottest game developers. We need more people like him in the industry.

DarkTempler1
DarkTempler1

Nice interview! I really enjoyed the fact that David Perry almost had his own Hot Coffee, I think thats hilarious it starts as a funny inside joke and ends up sorta being public with the ESRB. :)

Brother_Boney
Brother_Boney

GrimBee: "www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwkJSMFdhTI" Wow. You really went off topic on that one. That's not Dave Perry the Shiny founder. Also, you people need to learn how to read. He never said innovation in itself is bad. He simply stated that if other companies are not keeping up with the innovation, they will loose the market. It is the not being innovative that he says will mean doom.

Chintastic
Chintastic

Wii for the wiin! I like my 360 to!............poor, poor sony.......

capitalthoughts
capitalthoughts

Actually, I think the Wii is the only system to own for now. The PS3 is at lowest price 500 dollars and it can't even run Madden 08 at 60 fps? And the X360 was constructed poorly, system crashes and what have you. It is funny how the fanboy dubbed "True Next-Gen Systems" only speak for an overpriced underpowered paper weight and a system that will burn out and crash on you.

LINKloco
LINKloco

lol @ the swear words written on the boxes.

Dolacide
Dolacide

So we should just keep things the same, because as of right now it's working, man he shouldn't be using toilet paper he should be using leaves, it works right.

mariomusicmaker
mariomusicmaker

ohh this guy makes me laugh! Earth Worm Jim is the only good game i have ever seen from shiny. YET HE SAYS INOVATION IS A BAD THING HAHAHAHAHAH?!!

KingChainz31684
KingChainz31684

Nintendo needs to keep innovating other wise all i would play is with my PC. I am very excited about the 32 player online multilplayer going to the wii in MOH heroes hopefully they can finally figure out a way to keep game magics and stuff from hacking through everything and its mother. If Nintendo went to just going straight graphics they would still win me over with the mass amounts of great first party games and now with the taking of online seriously something that really killed the GC. I think they should keep going with what thye got with innovation I mean to me i am finally playing games on a console that can truely compete with my computer gaming and when they have 3 or 4 more solid online games which i assure you they will before march of next year i think specially with MOH heroes coming out in november. Madden is cool it is getting better too. I had some lagg issues at first but not in my past several games. I am very excited about what nintendo has done change things up other than graphics. make consoles as great as they used to be prior to computers being accesible gaming units

Liquid_Snake
Liquid_Snake

nintendo is innovating, but they aren't doing any of the things the other companies are. this is good for nintendo and us, most people end up wanting to own 2 current gen consoles. but until nintendo has superb online capabilities and graphics(which believe it or not adds ALOT to a games gameplay and overall value), it will never be the ONLY console around.

wargraymon
wargraymon

sorry, wasn't paying attention, to the article, when i saw the word shiny i just looked for the words earthworm jim. wonder when they're putting that up for download.

Rect_Pola
Rect_Pola

I do admit that I doubt Nintendo needs to innovate further for the next console. Not like Perry's "it would be bad for the industry" crap, but because they could do perfectly fine either way. At the moment, refining the Wii mechanics and offerings with new technology is just as appealling as a completely new concept. Especially in Nintendo's hands, I worry more about what the rest of the industry will create trying to innovate. Frankly, I'll take what Nintendo gives me and probably like it. Say what you will of their markert performance in N64 and GC, but their personal efforts have never disappointed. Unlike some developers I gotta back Grimbee on this. I don't care for Perry's perspective at all. But as long as he makes crap, I don't have to worry about his influence on the course of gaming.

bonafasios
bonafasios

This guy thinks innovation is a bad thing. Thats why the last good game he did was 11 years ago.

MSG-Deathscythe
MSG-Deathscythe

@ grimbee: "dave perry is the uwe boll of the game industry." so funny yet so true.

flickds
flickds

Is it just me, or is pretty much any story involving Dave Perry from any source always coupled with a glamor shot of the dude?

mattcake
mattcake

I personally think the wii taking this different route is a fantastic thing for games and console development and one of the biggest steps forward for many years. MS and Sony would be fools to not react with some kind of similar technology themselves, and be honest, who doesnt want [much enhanced] wii style control innovation with the crunch power of the xbox and ps3? I think we are one step away from sticking those little white balls all over our bodies before we play :D

GrimBee
GrimBee

"Would you like to make a video game starring your son and it'll cost $1 million," ... Looks like the industry would be ruined by Mr Perry - NOT the Wii. I really can't stand Dave Perry. Since when has he made an honest game out of his own ambitions - and not from some liscence that does the rest of the work? Dave Perry is the Uwe Boll of the game industry. You don't see Miyamoto "blogging" off his ideas and cashing in on other peoples marketing do you? Miyamoto has made success from his own ideas and abilities and passion for games. Perry has made success from other people's ideas... he treats the industry like he's some Game-Pimp... Well - None of the games he is backing are remotely interesting to me, and - ironically - I prefer the sound of a lot of Nintendo games right now. he just wants to make money first - and then make a good game later. And things like XBLA having its own software to make games, and the wii being a "simple" console to develop for and also offering games on the virtual console (nintendo mentioned that it wasn't JUST for VC games) - developers with small budgets can make good use of that. Developers don't NEED to suck up, brown-nose and basically change their idea to suit an investor like Dave Perry does. Looks like Dave Perry should sit and have a chat with Chris Sawyer for a while (with some Transport Tycoon music playing in the background). Finally -- "At the end of the day, it's all about sales, right?" So it's definately not about GAMES for this guy... Which is why Nintendo are at the top of their game - its all about the GAMES. You wouldn't see Nintendogs on the charts because of some investors or clever advertising. Its about releasing the right kind of product at the right time. Nintendo can't ruin the industry with what they are doing because WE ARE BUYING IT. If its going crap - Then WE DON'T BUY IT! This is why next-gen consoles are different each year. Nintendo's next console in a few years could be greatly different from the wii - and they also could have the wii on the shelves at the same time... Offering TWO kinds of gaming machines. Nintendo - if anything, has diversified the games industry so more developers can make more content, and exist properly on a platform. Imagine if all handhelds had powerful 3d processors and GPU's, imagine if ALL consoles had super graphics... Where would Phoenix Wright and even Okami be then? Dead last, thats what. When developers have small budgets - its going to end up being exactly like the movie industry. Because everyone expects actors we all know - concepts we have all seen and effects costing $100,000,000... And anything else was to be done i it would be shoved straight to DVD. I hate this guy's impression on the games industry. its all about playing games. And when you see a console generalize and become a commercial succcess - you will see guys like Dave Perry, fronting crappy disposable games with big liscences. It doesn't work like that at all. TALENTED DEVELOPERS make good games, not talented MARKETING MANAGERS... If Dave Perry owned Retro Studios - he would get Samus Aran naked in one scene to make more profits on sale - he would then take out the wii remote controls because he could make the game "cross platform" to make more cash... and then he would take out the music, and put in some music created by some billionaires kid "for the funding"... Sorry guys, this guy just irritates me... And finally - check this out - Dave Perry LOSING IT with Nintendo :D Enjoy! www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwkJSMFdhTI

milnet
milnet

kca89, he is not implying it is a bad thing that Nintendo innovated. He is stating that if MS, Sony and Nintendo don't all follow the same route, then the one's not innovating are going to be left behind. I infact like it like this right now. You have the Wii's innovative games and the 360's and PS3's more conventional games. I get the best of both worlds. I do agree with Perry though, if Nintendo innovate further, and MS and Sony don't follow suit, Nintendo is going to create a big gap in the gaming industry and that is not the greatest thing we need at the moment. The other side is that I think it is about time that a company innovates like this and can only hope that MS and Sony follow suit to an extent. If only we had Wii's innovation with PS3's power it would be fantastic.

roryk666
roryk666

dp what have you done for us really? matrix mmo crap! hes done nothing note worthy since earthworm jim 2 on snes and genesis seriously? stop chatting about what games you like to play and make a good one you idiot!

kca89
kca89

"All he said was that developers will have to chose the Wii and be innovative or the Xbox and PS route and make the same old type of games. If Nintendo continues being innovative they won't be able to make the same game on all 3 systems." You do realize many developers are having issues on games that are both on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well don't you? Why do you think so many games coming out release on one system first, then another the next? If anything, everyone should praise Nintendo. This generation Nintendo is introducing more people to gaming and that in general equals more customers for all gaming companies in the future. Nintendo - 1, The guy interviewed - 0.

Jebril
Jebril

The 360 is selling very well, there will always be a good part of the gaming market that DONT want the Wii as their only console or at all.

Dr_Corndog
Dr_Corndog

"If Nintendo somehow keeps going in this direction--if they innovate yet again and surprise us all again--that could be bad. That could be very unhealthy for everybody else." If the other companies don't change to keep up with Nintendo? Yeah, that's the way it works in any industry. Companies respond to what their competitors do, companies try to outdo one another. It's called competition, and it's good for whatever industry you're talking about.

Konfusion
Konfusion

lol, he's somehow managing to make Nintendo's innovation sound negative. You gotta respect that! It's funny IMO, yet he does make a serious point. They won't be able to respond to it (let's get real; it's been almost one year for the late consoles, two for the 360), however are they going to for the next gen? I mean, SONY did manage to add in -- "copy" -- motion sensing in the last minute, but if they want to dish out good systems for next-gen, they're going to start working on them in MAX one year, so... it's a scary thought indeed.

gforce007_basic
gforce007_basic

The last time Dave Perry made a good game was.......? GameSpot shouldn't waste their time interviewing a bum like him.

retrofraction12
retrofraction12

wow I hate the ESRB, they really suck at rating games. THEY DON'T EVEN PLAY THEM, THEY WACH MOVIES OF THE GAME AND RATE IT ACCORDINGLY.

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

lamprey263 "Jeez, why doesn't anyone just come out and say the ESRB lacks the equivalent of the NC17 rating?" The ESRB lacks the equivalent of the NC17 rating. There now it makes no difference until we get everyone in the world to understand that. And parents don't read these websites so when their kids say oh mom its only a bit of blood and a few bad words not even the "f" word. Parents shrug and go ok Buddie if it makes you happy sure you can have it. And the ESRB chugs on with its good yet not good enough rating system.

pridex
pridex

DP: "If Nintendo somehow keeps going in this direction--if they innovate yet again and surprise us all again--that could be bad. That could be very unhealthy for everybody else." This should be fun... So i guess innovation is not hardcore. That was for those hardcore fanboys.

Enigma2K99
Enigma2K99

MrSickVisionz, there is no set rule saying that others HAVE to follow in Ninrtendo's footsteps. I'm a firm believer of the idea that if a game kicks all kinds of @55, it'll sell no matter what you do.

rjs927
rjs927

MangyForestCat- First of all he never said that the Wii sucked, second of all the N64 was a great system and Third of all taking those out of play was that necessary to say. Also FYI all systems "die" when the next system or 2 comes out. The Psone is dead because of the PS2+3, the N64 is dead because of the GCN and Wii. All he said was that developers will have to chose the Wii and be innovative or the Xbox and PS route and make the same old type of games. If Nintendo continues being innovative they won't be able to make the same game on all 3 systems.

Enigma2K99
Enigma2K99

What right does he have to even open his fat mouth?!?!? His last game was a flop... and looking past that, what was the last thing he was known for... Earthworm Jim... and do you know how long ago that was?!?!? They even screwed up a GBA port!!! Hey, Perry, howbout you go do something worthwile and EARN the right to talk about other people... and take MangyForestCat with you. You two wouldn't know innovation if it bit you in the arse.

MrSickVisionz
MrSickVisionz

By no means is this guy insulting Nintendo. When you read what he says, he litters his statements with phrases like, "if Nintendo keeps innovating this way and nobody else does, it could spell doom and gloom for [those who don't innovate." He's seeing for those afraid to truly innovate, Nintendo will cause problems. Its more insulting people who don't innovate than nintendo.

MangyForestCat
MangyForestCat

I agree... the Wii sucks... I hope it will eventually die like every single Nintendo console since the Virtual Boy...

thaneb
thaneb

Why the big fuss over this guy? He's no innovator... 1) He's didn't make any great title (see: Matrix). 2) He didn't develope any note-worthy tech. So he sounds off @ the industry; again, he's no Epic. Valve, Konami, Squaresoft big head in which their statements can shake videogaming fans and the 3 console makers. I know David quit Shiney (sp) to do something on his own but there's been no results. His boyish looks and silly statements w/out a new good game (hence, influence) to back him makes his words pretty much weightess...

lamprey263
lamprey263

Jeez, why doesn't anyone just come out and say the ESRB lacks the equivalent of the NC17 rating?

FlaminDeath
FlaminDeath

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

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

It's odd, it sounds to me like he's upset that Nintendo brought innovation to the table. Like he would prefer they told everyone in advance so that the other two could beat Nintendo down at their own game or something. Personally, if the gaming industry stood still and only improved graphics, people will get bored. Innovations like the wii are necessary for the advancement of the entire industry, and yes, they will do great this round, and next round sony and ms will have motion control in teir controllers too. That's the general nature of this industry.

7thRonin
7thRonin

nah its going to be like 95 once again...

7thRonin
7thRonin

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

miltown
miltown

Anyway about the Wii thing which is important, he made a point. If Sony nor Microsoft can't match Nintendo's innovation, it's going be a situation where we, the gamers, are going to flock to Nintendo. You may say that "I'm keeping my PS3 or Xbox 360 or PS4 or Xbox 3" but better believe that Nintendo will have HD next generation and if they had something completely new to the gaming scene and do a better job with online (although Microsoft has that in the bag) then, well the other two companies might have to close up shop because they're not doing anything to help make gaming fun. With things becoming too realistic, it would make it seem that the fun factor is dying down.

miltown
miltown

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