December 27, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless
[A little while back, Gamasutra and Game Developer's Brandon Sheffield chatted to Oddworld's Lorne Lanning about his company reboot and bringing classic Oddworld-ian titles to Steam - and here's the delightfully pleasant result.]
Oddworld Inhabitants has been largely off the radar for the past few years, having publicly departed from the mainstream games industry following the release of 2005's Stranger's Wrath.
But reports from earlier this year suggest the company is getting back to game development.
The studio followed that up by releasing its first two games -- 1997's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and the followup Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus -- to Steam and now CD Projekt's Good Old Games.
In addition, Oddworld Inhabitants got a new president, Brash CCO Larry Shapiro, last month, as part of a plan to "break the model of where games are today in a unique and entertaining way."
Gamasutra recently caught up with co-founder and creative director Lorne Lanning to discuss the decision to publish via Steam, the freedom of digital distribution, and the future of Oddworld:
Why go with Steam and GOG at this stage?
Lorne Lanning: We’ve long been big believers in the digital distribution promise, but only with Steam did we see the manifestation offered through a model that worked best for us.
The “us" in our case is passionate creators that own their own IP and are looking for reasonably fair terms in getting to the customer. Comparatively, it’s night and day from the retail environment.
Not to sound like an advertisement, but the following is true: With Steam, not only are the distribution terms fair and the delivery system reliable, but they have the world's largest network for digitally delivering big data games.
It's a robust and easy-to-monitor system [that] has been built by brilliant minds that have taken the time to envision, invest, and also work out the kinks. Steam is indicative of the digitally distributed landscape that is inevitably going to be the de facto content distribution model for all electronic entertainment.
When you compare the cost of digital distribution to conventional channels, it’s a hard decision not to make. It's also obvious to us that people will be buying games at the same place they are increasingly buying the rest of the consumer goods in their lives -- which is, of course, on the internet.
We have all come to expect that whatever we want can be bought easily through the internet, so anything that is selling outside of the internet is often through an old-school -- and soon to be outdated -- model. Physical distribution is endangered for many reasons, but most importantly, the cost of bringing physical goods to physical locations is killing it at the moment.
If we look at it globally, we’re witnessing unsustainable increases in the cost of distribution of all consumer goods due to our increasing energy prices.
There’s petrochemical manufacturing for the DVD jewel cases, fuel for the container ships bringing goods over seas, trains and trucks taking games to the retail shelf, forklifts in the warehouse, paper for the hint guides, labor, facilities, etcetera.
Every one of these costs has increased, and will continue to, but with Steam, these costs no longer exist. And that’s great, because none of those [distribution costs] has ever brought any additional value to the actual gameplay experience, but has doubled the price of a game by the time it hits the shelf.
What is your benchmark of success for digital distribution of older titles like this?
LL: The beautiful thing is that if you own your library and your games were high-quality and originally on PC, then you really can’t go wrong.
Our measurement of success is no different than everyone else's; it is relative to our financial investment and overall risk. Considering that we own the Oddworld library and the initial games on Steam were already ours, our current investment was next to nothing.
With an investment of next to nothing, we’re still able to reach the global gaming audience with titles that are ten years old. We even see them get a little time on Steams top ten sales list.
What’s incredible is that with zero dollars in marketing, zero advertising, zero manufacturing, and zero licensing fees to console manufactures, we are happy with the sales.
That’s a lot of reduced financial risk we didn’t have to take on or have held against our returns. It’s the breath of fresh air we’ve been waiting for and, quite frankly, Valve is doing it right.
As for how we feel about the Oddworld titles that are currently on Steam, we couldn’t be more thrilled. For us, it's not only a venture, but it's a learning experience.
Not only are we able to witness how a robust digitally-distributed business behaves, which is huge to us at this juncture, but its also exciting to design towards because its an entirely new creative business paradigm to be explored.
The basic assumptions toward what constitutes competent game design shift dramatically once you begin to explore how to best maximize and grow a digitally-distributed universe.
What’s going on with Oddworld these days? Anything outside of games? We've heard hints.
LL: We’ve got the Citizen Siege film in development. And we now have an even better idea of why they call it "development hell."(laughs)
We’ve still got secrecy around another "Hollywood meets gaming" project that we’re very excited about, and while it's taken us a while, we’re also working on something new for Oddworld.
We still don’t want to get into any details on at this time but from my previous answers you’ll likely have an idea for where all this is heading.
Now that more casual and adventure-style games are making something of a comeback on PC and DS, do you have any plans to revisit the older style of Oddworld games?
LL: We're open to exploring how to best maximize our existing library, but haven't been focused on creating huge story games with 40 hours of linear gameplay recently.
We’ve been focused on a slightly different chemistry that we believe will prove appealing to gamers and Oddworld fans alike, but it's a big risk because it's way outside the box.
And that excites us. In some ways it will be very alien to Western gaming, but it's in this direction that we believe the excitement will be. Hopefully, not too much longer.