Be sure to check out Part 1 of the interview HERE, in which Thomas Grip talks crafting a psychological horror game and more. Here, he speaks about the nuances of game development.
Here’s the scenario:
You’ve been looking forward to a game since you first saw its reveal trailer at E3. As soon as you could, you preordered the game on Steam, through Amazon, or at Best Buy or GameStop. After patiently waiting for months, the day has come, some seemingly random Tuesday in October. You go to pick the game up, likely paying between $20 and $60 for it. As consumers, we don’t think much about why games release when they do, or about how much they cost.
According to Thomas Grip, creative director at Frictional Games, who tomorrow will release SOMA, an incredible amount of work and effort go into pricing one’s game and choosing a date.
“There’s tons of thoughts that go into it,” he begins, “one thing is, how much do we need to recoup the expenses we’ve had? Another thing, in pure capitalist terms, is what is the maximum amount of money that we can make from the game? How much can we make people pay for the game?”
“As a silly example, if only two people would purchase the game, but they would purchase it at a billion dollars each, we would price the game at a billion dollars because that would be the most revenue.”
“Then you need to think about what price will feel best for the consumers. For instance, we could take $40 for SOMA perhaps, but some might feel left out; they’re going to have negative thoughts because the price is so high. ‘I can’t afford this. Stupid Frictional Games,’ they’ll think. You’d be earning yourself bad will.”
“The other thing is that if you price it too high, people will expect too much, and enjoy it less. However, if you price too low, they may enjoy it less as well. There are experiments where people pay for expensive chocolate; they’re going to think the chocolate tastes better because it’s more expensive. That sort of rules out why you don’t want to price your game at one dollar, people will think less of it.”
“For SOMA, a $30 price felt right. Our main explanation for this is that Amnesia was priced at $20, and SOMA is at least thirty percent longer than Amnesia, with much higher production values, to boot.”
Similarly, careful considerations are made when choosing a release date. “You don’t want to clash with other releases that are similar to yours,” Grip says. “I wouldn’t have wanted to release on the same date as Alien Isolation or Until Dawn.”
“Then,” he continues, “you want to make sure you can have the project up and running by the date you set. It’s not easy, because you’re going to make a better game the longer you develop it. You also never know what kind of shit will pop up, because something always goes wrong.”
Grip explains that you must also consider when consumers will be more likely to purchase your game. Since SOMA is a horror game, perhaps releasing in the summer wouldn’t be the best idea, as it is still bright outside. Maybe releasing in the fall, when it starts to get darker outside, is a better option.
“Finally, sometimes you just want the game out because you’re tired of it not being released. I would have a hard time releasing SOMA any later. I’m confident we’ve put together a solid product, though I’m a bit unhappy we’ve had to stress so much these past few weeks. Maybe the schedule could have been a bit different to prevent that, although hindsight is always 20/20.”
“I need to get this game out of my system,” Grip says. “Every day that it is not released takes an emotional toll on me, and I just want the thing out after 5 years. SOMA must come out on the 22nd of September. We have thought a few times over the last 18 months that we had a release date, but we kept postponing it.”
“It got to a point that I thought, ‘Oh no, I need to go on vacation knowing the game is not out.’ I think people can underestimate how influential just wanting to get your game out there can be in terms of choosing a release date, especially for an indie release.”
Oftentimes during development of a game, an idea for a new game pops up. Maybe even more than one idea. “In the best of world,” says Grip, “we’re already building prototypes of these idea with a small subsection of the team long before the initial games’ release. We’re not currently doing that, but if you can, it’s ideal to start work on your next game the day after you release.”
“Yes, your team needs a bit of rest, but preferably you’ll have someone who’s already rested. Of course, this is not always possible, but it is ideal.”
Just as consumers often do not see development as developers do, they don’t play games like developers either. “I think that as a developer, what stands out the most is bugs,” says Grip. “When you’re making a game, you prime your brain to see bugs, which is a valuable skill. As a player, you’re going to have the best experience by seeing past the bugs; I’d even argue that players’ brains are wired to not notice bugs, other than game breaking bugs, at all.”
“I think back to my childhood, and I cannot remember a single bug from a single game. These were C64 games – not the best-made games in the world. You had crappy development environments, programming in assembly, no testing departments, and I can’t remember a single bug. Nor can I remember bugs from old PlayStation games, anything. There had to have been bugs, I just can’t remember them.”
“You especially see this in artists. Artists don’t look for bugs as much as geometry stuff. We had a game artist play SOMA a few months back, and he was constantly on about, ‘You’re not using enough edge loops in this model, it looks a bit square.’ He was upset by it. But as an artist, you prime your brain to notice these things. When I was researching for Amnesia, I drew a lot of the game’s concept art, and one of the things I studying a lot of was chairs from the 18th century. Suddenly, I was aware of how these things were made, and I looked at every chair I saw and thought, ‘What nice lines there,’ or ‘Oh, that looks a bit off.’
“Then, there’s other things we think about, such as ‘Wow, they solved that problem this way,’ especially if you had something similar in your game. One thing I coded a lot on, and struggled with, was ladder climbing. It was constantly a pain in the ass. I’ll never look at another game with ladder climbing the same way again. Summing up, it’s in the details.”
Clearly, game developers and the consumers who purchase their games are often not on the same level. They see and play games differently, and that’s okay.
SOMA will release on the PlayStation Store and Steam tomorrow, September 22nd, for $30.