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Q&A: Surreal's Alan Patmore

After being bought out by Midway, the Surreal cofounder talks about why the move from indie shop to internal studio was an offer he couldn't refuse.


"We just want to make great games" is a sentiment heard round the globe from designers, developers, coders, and even the occasional suit. But in the current climate of game development, where a triple A product can easily run up bills into the millions, staying solvent can be a superhuman challenge.

For that reason, among others, more and more independent development studios are finding the endgame of selling their shop to a deep-pocketed publisher a darn attractive alternative.

Recently, and as part of the quarterly disclosure required of publicly held companies, Midway announced it had acquired The Suffering's developer, Surreal Software.

GameSpot spoke with a Surreal cofounder Alan Patmore to assess the situation from his perspective.

GameSpot: What's the story from inside the deal? What did Surreal gain from selling itself to Midway?

Alan Patmore: We developed a great working relationship with Midway during the development of The Suffering and feel that partnering with them will allow us to increase the quality of our titles by providing us with additional resources--and by allowing us to leverage their resources and expertise. It's that simple. We just want to make great games and feel that the acquisition will help us accomplish this goal.

GS: What were the costs? Not literal, but costs to independence, to attitude, to spirit, if any.

AP: One of the main goals when structuring this deal was to keep Surreal...Surreal. It was important for us (both Midway and Surreal) to maintain the creative culture that we have spent years building. The goal is to keep the acquisition as transparent as possible to the employees, while gaining the benefits of joining a larger organization. So far, it's kind of weird, because it feels pretty much exactly the same.

GS: What new freedoms do you acquire now that you are an owned studio?

AP: I think the biggest freedom has been to eliminate the stress associated with being financially reliant on publishers. We can hire the people we need to hire, as long as we maintain the project budgets. This is where I insert a shameless plug: For a list of current job openings, visit our Web site.

GS: What new games are being discussed?

AP: Suffice it to say, we are working on some very innovative titles.

GS: Midway's been picking up a lot of business and creative talent of late. Is there a plan for Surreal staff to start mingling and sharing strategy with that staff?

AP: Both Midway and Surreal will be working closely to share resources, if the net result means better games.

GS: Are there any games in the pipeline already promised to other publishers that you'll need to complete?

AP: Nope.

GS: What's the studio's reaction been to sales and reviews of The Suffering?

AP: The sales have been strong, and the reviews have been positive. Everybody on the team is extremely proud of the work they did on The Suffering.

GS: What does the deal mean for Surreal's cofounders? Do they all stay with the company?

AP: All of the founders signed three-year employment contracts. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the goal of the deal was to keep the culture and identity of Surreal [unchanged].

GS: Any changes to staffing upcoming? Or to the location of the company? You folks moving to Chicago or San Diego anytime soon?

AP: We are hiring more people, but otherwise, nothing has substantively changed at Surreal.

GS: How does the deal with Midway affect your agreements, if any, with other publishers?

AP: It doesn't. At the time of the acquisition, we had finished work on all titles associated with our other partners.

GS: What sort of discussions took place, internally, leading up to the agreement?

AP: Obviously, the biggest question that came up was: "Do we want to sell the company?" After several long discussions, we came to the conclusion that the acquisition was the best thing for Surreal. One of the deciding factors was that Midway was reinventing itself, and we felt part of this change. Midway's upcoming lineup is very impressive, and we felt that Surreal could contribute to Midway's success.

GS: What's the feeling like inside the studio, among staff?

AP: Very positive. Again, it's strange, because, in a way, it feels the same as it did premerger.

GS: Personally, what does the deal mean to you?

AP: I can now focus 100 percent on our games. Before the acquisition--in the back of my mind--I was always worried about the next deal.

GS: Any regrets?

AP: Not yet. But ask me again in a year or so.

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