Interviews

Starbreeze CEO: 'I see myself as a janitor more than anything else'

Studio head on Syndicate, Darkness 2 and its unannounced PSN game

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And do you see more publishers, more developers doing that in the future?

I think more developers will do it in the future but, for us being a AAA studio, we have to understand how to utilise the new medium, so to speak, and understand that we have to build a game for the PSN instead of trying to do a big game. I think that's the hardest part for us - to adjust when we're doing the small stuff. Because as a studio, we think big.

We can't be that big when we're making a PSN game. A big game can be anything between 120 to 200 staff, whereas a small project is one tenth of that, so you have to be able to understand how you handle your resources.

But yeah, I love what Avalanche are doing with [top-down PSN game] Renegade Ops . I think that looks really good. The benefit of a small team, as I found out on Bionic Commando Rearmed, is that everyone has ownership. You can sit all ten people in one room, you don't need a whiteboard, project management tools... you hardly need a producer [laughs]. Okay, you need a producer, but you let the creatives run it and have a producer overseeing, making sure you hit goals. That's all. You don't lose a lot of time to nonsense. I think you understand what I mean... [more laughter].

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The biggest team I ever worked with was 167 people. I had to have ten people in the management group, so I had an executive producer, then I had a producer handling the project - but he didn't talk or handle any production questions, so he'd have a little bunch of associate producers who actually handled the teams, and they had a lead... and the lead had 37 people working for him, so he didn't spend any time on the project because he had to manage these people.

But he had to have two seniors... Yeah, you know what I'm getting at. Too much management was necessary, but it's so refreshing to sit in a team where you don't have to have all those different levels. If you work, you see progress and... [pause] I was about to say something secret... [laughs].

Can you be more creative with these smaller passion-projects?
I wouldn't say more creative. Let's say this: if you work for a big studio you do the big games, but you know you're part of a team of 150-200 people. If you work in that company you could end up as the 'eyebrow' guy. Or the 'tree' guy.

And yeah, you work on all these great games, but all you've done is trees, right? In small teams you have to do so much. You're more of an integral part, so I think it brings more fun to it. More fun brings passion, passion brings quality. And quality hopefully brings high scores and good sales. So I think you're more directly involved in what you do.

What happened to the Bourne game?

You have to ask... I can't comment on that.

Was that an EA decision, as opposed to a Starbreeze thing?

I can't even comment on that .

Starbreeze did a great job on The Darkness. How do you feel about the project moving to Digital Extremes?

I think they're doing a fantastic job. I was fortunate to run into the lead designer recently. I'd never met him before. We just walked by their stand at E3 and one of our guys happened to be wearing a Starbreeze shirt and we started talking. They're doing their own thing but I think they're making a great game . What I saw made me happy that they were doing the game. Of course we would have liked to do it but that's just the way the industry is.

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What do you have to do to be a successful developer in 2011?
Be open-minded. And have fun. Of course you have to have a plan, but when it comes down to it you have to have fun. The guys hate me when I talk about it all the time, but I think you've got to have fun coming to work. If you don't, you're not going to do a good job.

Fun creates passion; passion creates quality. That's how I see it. I see myself more as a janitor than anything else. I provide an environment where people can actually do what they're supposed to, and don't have to deal with - again - nonsense.

They have to have something to drink. They have to be able to go to the bathroom. They have to have an environment where they feel comfortable, otherwise they have to think about and deal with that. I think that's the most important job I have. So coming back to what you need to be to be successful... you need to be open-minded to see where the market's going.

I think we're at a crossroads. The market's changed in the last six months more than it has ever done, so you have to be open-minded to see what's out there. And you need to work hard, like any other business, I guess.

Games are becoming very expensive to make, and the gap between the hits and the misses is widening. How do you deal with that as a developer?

It is tough. Every time we come back to our business plan we have to see where we want to be. You have to assess what kind of products you can or can't do. What you should and shouldn't do. The gap between the guys who are going to succeed - their development and market spend is going up - and the middle segment is... I wouldn't say disappearing, but I think it's definitely declining.

Where do you see Starbreeze in the future? It's Syndicate in 2012, and then...?

As I say, we have one project, which is self-financed. And right now, since we're working on Syndicate we can't bring anything else, we can't do anything else. We're a small studio - we don't have the manpower - but we're definitely looking at where to place ourselves when we're done with Syndicate. I can't really say too much about that but yeah, I'm certain that we're here for at least 20 more years.

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