Q&A: Auran CEO Tony Hilliam
Australian developer speaks about working with independent publisher Gamecock, creating Battlestar Galactica for Xbox Live Arcade, and more.
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It's been a big month for Aussie game company Auran. The Brisbane-based developer became one of the first to sign up with Gamecock, inking a deal with the newly created independent publisher to distribute Auran's upcoming PC massively multiplayer player-versus-player game in North America. Auran was also recently revealed to be working on a new Xbox Live Arcade game based on the Battlestar Galactica universe with Sierra Entertainment, which is due for release later this year. GameSpot AU spoke to Auran CEO Tony Hilliam about the Gamecock deal, Fury, and what it's like to work on an Arcade title.
GameSpot AU: Gamecock has announced that it will be distributing your game--Fury--in North America. How did the deal come about?
Tony Hilliam: We were introduced to the guys from Gamecock late last year. We really liked what they were about, their whole concept of allowing developers to maintain ownership of their IP, and just their whole attitude toward promoting games. They're gamers themselves, they're a small organisation, and so they had a lot of appeal to us because we were dealing with the principals rather than someone down the food chain.
GS AU: How long have you been working on Fury now?
TH: More than two years--it's been a labour of love. We're at our alpha stage at the moment. The game is fully playable, it's a lot of fun, but there's still a lot of work to do before we release it.
GS AU: When can we expect Fury to be released?
TH: It's slipped out to Q4 2007 for North America and is close to that date in other territories. Ideally, we'll be looking at a simultaneous release in all Western territories.
GS AU: Who will be distributing the game in other territories?
TH: We're in negotiations with a number of players in other markets--China, Korea, and Europe. In Australasia, we'll be doing it ourselves. We expect to be making some announcements imminently.
GS AU: What advantages are there in going with an independent publisher like Gamecock?
TH: Especially with an online game, our customer base is online. The world is changing. Retail is still very important, but there are much greater opportunities with smaller and more agile publishers to deal more closely with the customer base through the Internet. The necessity for getting the giants behind you is becoming less. It was also the case that these guys--Gamecock--were prepared to take a greater risk with an innovative product like Fury, whereas the big guys are less inclined to do so.
GS AU: What can you tell us about the Battlestar Galactica game you're working on for Xbox Live Arcade?
TH: We've been working on that with Sierra for some time. It's all been very top secret, and they've got a lot of plans to work closely with Universal Pictures to tie it in with various releases of the TV show. I haven't got a lot of news I can let slip about it at this point.
GS AU: How does working on an Arcade title differ from working on a full console title?
TH: It's been a learning curve. The capability of the hardware makes it a lot easier to develop on than online PC games, where you've got a myriad of hardware specs you have to support. From that point of view, it's really nice to be working on Xbox Live. We're trying to bridge the gap a bit. This game is beyond pure arcade--it's not far off a complete title in the end. As long as the game is fun, that's the key. The scope of the game is less important than the amount of fun you get.
GS AU: What else is in the pipeline for Auran?
TH: Our little Trainz projects go from strength to strength. We started that in 2000, and we're up to our fifth edition of that now. We have 250,000 members registered on our online Web site. We're doing a number of spin-off projects from that--we have three different releases coming out this year. We have Trainz Classics, which is some new routes using the Trainz 2006 engine. We've then got Trainz Routes, which are compilations of stuff that the community has created and is available for download--we've just created some hardcopy versions of those. And then there is Trainz Driver, which is just focused on the driving experience. Beyond that we're definitely going to be doing more Xbox Live stuff and potentially branching out in the PlayStation online stuff as well.
GS AU: Are you looking to expand the Auran team in 2007?
TH: We're about 75 employees all up right now. With the Fury team, we're doing a lot of the community-management work ourselves. Community is the key to online games success. So we're really going to be ramping up that side--community support will be the biggest growth area of our business now.
GS AU: Tony Hilliam, thanks for your time.