Q&A: Massimo Guarini talks about the need to pursue new ideas, working with Suda-51 and Shinji Mikami, disappointing sales, and his new studio, Ovosonico.
When Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned launched in June, industry prognosticators could have backed up an argument for the game as a hit or a flop.
As a violent third-person shooter, the game was firmly ensconced in a popular genre. With a development team boasting the talents of Shinji Mikami, Suda-51, and Akira Yamaoka, Shadows of the Damned's pedigree was beyond reproach. Even the reviews were largely glowing.
On the other hand, Shadows of the Damned was a single-player game in an increasingly multiplayer-focused console market. It was a new intellectual property late in a generation's life span. With gameplay systems built around severed (but still braying) goat heads and sushi lamps--not to mention a predilection for anatomical jokes--its sensibilities were quirky, to say the least. And on top of that (or perhaps because of it), Shadows of the Damned was not aggressively marketed to mainstream audiences.
Whatever the reasons, Shadows of the Damned sales were disappointing. Earlier this month, the game's director, Massimo Guarini, revealed he was leaving Grasshopper to start up his own studio. GameSpot caught up with Guarini recently to ask him about Shadows of the Damned, his new studio Ovosonico, and some of the bigger-picture issues facing the game industry.
GameSpot: Why did you leave Grasshopper?
Massimo Guarini: My decision [to leave] Grasshopper has nothing to do with the low initial sales numbers of Shadows of the Damned. On the contrary, I would like to take this occasion to confirm I'm still in very good relationships with both Grasshopper and Electronic Arts. Leaving Grasshopper has just been a consequence of some events and private reasons that led me and my family to consider moving back to our country.
GS: What can you tell us about Ovosonico?
MG: Big changes in life happen for a reason, and this huge change in my life gave me the opportunity to review my plans and invest on something challenging like going independent. Ovosonico is steadily based on a very precise and strong vision. The entertainment business is rapidly changing into a blurred virtual space of different arts and disciplines converging together. Ovosonico, thanks to the interdisciplinary experience of its members, embraces this convergence and goes with the flow.
Making games is good, but creating real entertainment brands is even better, both in terms of revenue and creative expression. We understand the big limits of the old, traditional triple-A business model, and rather than opposing ourselves to the change, we embrace it, we take inspiration from it, coming out with new ideas. Ovosonico is definitely not the typical game development studio you would expect to see. I'd rather say it's what every game studio should become in the [near] future in order to stay in the business. It might sound like a bold statement, but we truly see this happening in front of our eyes.
Ovosonico will deal with games production for new platforms, as well as music productions and even movies, eventually blending all these elements in a single entertainment product. I want to keep the studio small, reactive, fresh, incredibly efficient, and quick. Those qualities will allow us to ride the changes as protagonists, rather than drowning in them. I am glad to have this rare opportunity to contribute in a proactive way to the growth of our industry, but most importantly to give players all around the world that fresh wave of oxygen they've been asking for a long time.
GS: What did you think of the critical reception to Shadows of the Damned? Were there certain aspects you were surprised got as much attention as they did?
MG: I was positively surprised when I noticed that almost everybody understood the tone of the game and approached it with the right spirit. To be honest, I was initially worried about what kind of critical reception such a different and crazy game could get. We had an incredibly good time creating it, writing the cheesy jokes, planning every single detail to match the B-movie/grindhouse style we wanted. That's probably why people and reviewers themselves got it. When you have genuine fun creating something, failure is very rare.
I was also positively surprised noticing how critics considered not taking itself too seriously like a big strength point of the game. I still receive many messages from fans and gamers all around the world, and it's quite amazing to see how this game has managed to engage people, putting a smile on everybody's face and making everyone feel refreshed. I am very happy about this. As a creator, this is the biggest reward I can get.
GS: What kind of commercial reception did you expect Shadows of the Damned to get?
MG: Quite frankly, I've never expected Shadows of the Damned to be a million-copies seller. We knew we were creating a niche title targeting a specific market. However, I definitely expected to see bigger figures than the ones I can see now.
GS: What do you think are the biggest reasons for that?
MG: Shadows of the Damned had a very long gestation. Before I joined Grasshopper, the game had already been in production for about 16 months. Original IPs developed with the traditional business model represent a huge risk and require big investments for appropriate promotion. Unfortunately, because of our excessively long development schedule, we couldn't get a big enough promotion budget to reach out to players in an effective way. Too many people didn't even know about the game's existence, but when friends and word of mouth dragged them in, they simply loved it.
GS: Working on this project with Suda-51, Shinji Mikami, and Akira Yamaoka, it seems like there would have been a lot of experienced people with a lot of concrete ideas about game development. How would you handle differences in opinion? Was it as "punk rock" as the rest of Grasshopper's image?
MG: Handling differences in opinions was not punk rock at all. Actually, we needed a very structured and organized approach in order to properly manage all the feedback coming from the volcanic minds of Suda, Mikami, and Yamaoka. Given the amount of big personalities involved in this project, the risk of turning the whole development into a real disaster featuring stylistic incoherence was really around the corner. Suda-51 was well aware of the risk and, in order to properly manage all the feedback, gave me the power, as the director of the game, to evaluate every request form them and decide whether to implement those in the game or not. This proved out to be a very efficient way for me to keep control over the project, but saying sometimes "no" to Mikami was really a scary experience. That was definitely punk rock. Even death metal.
GS: How bad are the prospects for single-player-only games right now?
MG: In my opinion, single-player-only games are nowhere close to being doomed. The problem rather lies in how they're produced, through which channels they're sold, and at which price points. I can't see in any way a single-player experience being less engaging or interesting because of the absence of multiplayer. Instead, I can definitely see how players who pay 60 or 70 bucks for a game can be quite sensitive to the lack of additional features that can justify their investment.
Once again, the business model must evolve. We're still selling at incredibly high price points because we're still operating like we were five years ago, with just higher production costs. Instead of changing our perspectives, we're still struggling to pack games with features, extras, bonuses, achievements, in order to barely justify that price tag, which is given by excessively high development and licensing costs. We must learn our lesson from the huge, epic failure the music industry is still suffering nowadays for not being able to adapt to the digital revolution.
GS: How do you think the difficulty of launching new intellectual property today will impact the industry tomorrow?
MG: The difficulty of launching new intellectual properties today is the obvious sign an era is ending. We are approaching the end of a cycle. On the contrary, the ability of launching new intellectual properties will actually be the industry of tomorrow. There is no market in the world that I am aware of that can survive without the constant injection of fresh, new products.
GS: You've developed games around the world now. What do you see as the big differences between Western and Japanese development? What are the differences between the Western and Japanese audiences?
MG: Based on my experiences, Japanese development tends to be characterized by a creative overwhelming chaos, where productions are often driven by a tyrannical single creative mind and development practices tend to be quite old-fashioned and, at times, extremely inefficient. On the other hand, Western development is generally characterized by an efficient, well organized, risk-averse sort of democracy; actual creativity and strong vision get diluted, if not sometimes completely lost, in endless brainstorming sessions driven mainly by market analysis rather than creators.
I believe Japanese and Western development are deeply complementary. They both have strengths and weaknesses. Having had the great opportunity of working in Europe, North America, and Japan, I do believe that Ovosonico could be this rare and unique occasion for taking the very best from every development culture and blending it to give birth to an extremely competitive and unique reality.
SOTD is a wonderful game. when i saw that those three masterminds were working on it, i followed it closely and haven't regretted my purchase. i have still yet to see a commercial or anything bearing its name where people can learn of it. disappointing, when the game is well worth the price tag and definitely worth the promotion.
With so many good games, some are bound to slip through the cracks. And true, I never saw a single ad for Shadows of the Damned. Hate to say it but, I will wait for the price drop then pick it up.
"Disappointing sales". lol probably because there was almost no marketing to speak of. The only people that bought this game were hardcore gamers and casual walkins who took a chance.
The only thing I hate the most about multiplayer is the fact that there are so many games that could have made real fun multiplayer coop campaigns instead of competitive modes. Competitive modes seem to bring out the worst in people sometimes. On top of that there are too many damn first person shooters out there. I want to see more variety like in the good old days.
Multiplayer is a great option to have as long as it is done correctly. However, every game in the world doesn't have to have it. I just rented Shadows of the Damned today and I have to say the game is pretty darn good. Sometimes a good single player game is what people really need to relax and enjoy fine gaming.
If i am reminiscing the games i have played up till today, i would normally remember games like ff series minus the mmo, elder scrolls, fallout, res4, persona, tomb raider, gow etc. Notice how none of them are massively concentrated on multiplayer. I have nothing against multiplayers or anything. But the fact for me remains that nothing touches your soul like a great single player campaign, that awesome story that amazing journey. Doesnt that give you the chills??
I don't like it when people use the word "future" like that. There's nothing definite at all about that. I'll play good games no matter if they're sequels or new IPs.
I have no idea where you are drawing your more multiplayer focused market idea from. Since statistically the best games sell because of great single player campaigns rather than multiplayer. (not saying multiplayer doesn't sell, just that the market isn't multiplayer focused) Just because every publisher is trying to shove multiplayer down our throats, most of which aren't even remember able like FEAR 3, Battlefield 3 or COD. What sells is what people want. More people want a great single player (Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Final Fantasy) rather than great multiplayer since that market is filled by COD, Halo, Resistance, and Battlefield. In fact Multiplayer focus is one of the many things that ruined Bioshock 2 and ruitnely is said to take away resources that could have been used on single player. I think the best words come from the Bioshock infinity team, "we won't do multiplayer unless we can offer something significant to it" Approximation. In other words people buy good multiplayer, not tacked on multiplayer. We also could delve into the different market focuses of the various markets from shooter, to RPG, and so on but ether way the Multiplayer focused market statement is just crap.
the game was hardly promoted the Gamestop on my base didn't even promote preorders for this game...having played it I actually like it a lot.
I'm a pretty hardcore gamer, but I hadn't heard of this game until a week before it came out, and i didn't know what KIND of game it was until after it was already out (and I had blown my game budget for the month).. The problem was more one of awareness than any failing in the development or quality of the game, and for god's sake don't blame it on a lack of multiplayer, because there's plenty of games without multiplayer doing just fine.
I don't like MP in every game. If it's fun only then I'll play otherwise an hour or two would be sufficient for me. I know how creators are adding lame multi player in every second game or every 2 of 3 games nowadays Many people with money problems, casual players or kids tend to go for game with MP, so simply developers need lame MP and it's not going to change. The major reason for this game to be flop wasn't the lack of MP but BAD ADVERTISEMENT. Many people didn't knew about the game at all, it wasn't seen in any mags or gaming sites + The trailers were terrible . I personally do remember watching crappy trailers which would have turned away even me but I only sticked because of Shinji Mikami and glad I did. The same happened with Vanquish, was one HELL OF A GAME too
@megakick How on earth is this dated? Some reasons would help, it plays well, looks great and offers some crazy action I've been missing out on, unlike duke which is another fps reaching back to its roots for someting it thinks we'd want... Reasons or your opinion is invalid.
I bought Shadows of the Damned the day it came out and don't regret it whatsoever. I'm on my 3rd playthrough now, tryin' to platinum it. Well worth $60 in my opinion.
Im so upset that I bought F.E.A.R3 instead of this game.F.E.A.R.3 was so disappointing to me.Anybody want to trade?haha
its sad that an awesome game like this ended up not selling well but some other mediocre and worse crap does. anyone who has actually played this game knows what im talking about. even though this was a very solid game, chances are that they probably wont make another game in this series. its tragic because so many creative minds came together and worked so well on this but just because it didnt sell well they probably wont feel a strong need to collaborate again. seriously, nice job guys, better luck next time, dont let this discourage you for the possibility of future collaborations, you guys work well together.
lame statement waiting for diablo 3 and Ep3 than new IP sequels and new IP both are imp for the gaming ind not just new IP but every year sequel should be stop
I'll just wait till it goes down @ least 2 30 bucks. Then i'll pick it up. There r way 2 many games i want 2 play. Shadows is 1 of them but i have 2 pick & choose where my money goes. & there r other titles that will get my money b4 Shadows. But i will eventually play it.
It is because the game suffers DNS - Duke Nukem Syndrome. Its when a game is in production for so long it becomes dated b4 release. Should have been released on the PS2/ XBOX.
@dmdavenport, I'm with you... I was one of the real people that bought the game too, and the aiming and graphics ARE awful... everyone that I know that played hates it as well, which is telling me that there are a lot of fibbers saying they played it when they really didn't... The game is nothing like what I expected... dumb unfunny jokes.
This game was awesome, hope there's gonna be a sequel real soon I like me killing some more of those demon heads!
Usually a companie on good sells, they don't try the amazing for fear of losing money. Its the first time someone said to create new things onstead of update the old ones.
At first i thought Shadow of the Damned would suck but something got me to buy it, and i didn't regret. Great game with a good story, nice gameplay and really funny. I think games that lack multiplayer are losing space in market recently and that is bad, of course it increases highly the game's life time but still the story makes up for it in some cases. I'm pretty sure a lot of us played Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo, and those are considered by a lot of people the consoles with the best games ever and any of those had online. Even Playstation 2 had a lot of masterpieces that didn't have multiplayer and we still loved it so i think we should learn to live without MP in every game.
I tried to like this game, but second rate graphics and ridiculously bad targeting forced me to give up on it.
Shadows of the Damned was a great game. I agree that the first time I saw it, I thought it was going to suck. Then when I saw who was making it, I changed my mind completely. It's a shame that game creators and producers are often unknown. The pedigree was huge for this game and I know they made a point of marketing the creators but no one seems to care about who makes the game. It's a shame that the game didn't sell well since I think almost anyone can play this game and enjoy it.
Shadow of the Damned was a slap in the face for everyone who likes good gameplay. The game just is no fun to play, I recomment watching the cutscenes on youtube, if you are interested in this. DMD plays like a ps2 3rd person shooter and not a good one!
Sounds like he wants his company to be like Marvelous Entertainment. Though I cant imagine how he could do that and still keep it small. And I don't think I ever heard someone sum up the western development ideal so well. That marketing over creativity bit is why so many games end up as a very similar sum of its parts.
"We understand the big limits of the old, traditional triple-A business model, and rather than opposing ourselves to the change, we embrace it, we take inspiration from it, coming out with new ideas." Let's hope this attitude spreads through the gaming industry like pink eye and lice at summer camp.
First, I want to say that I bought SotD and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just a shame so many people need to see advertising before they'll consider buying a game. If that weren't the case, SotD would've probably performed better at retail. That and give gamers a shake and tell them it's okay to try something different every once in a while. Second, I thought the comparison with the music industry was a bit harsh. Albums, CD players and iPods don't have the same type of security and protection that games and consoles do. It's much easier to copy music and play copied music than it is to play pirated games.
The reason why the sales were low is because they didn't make enough copies of the game. The day after the game was released I went to my nearest gamestop to purchase the game only to find out that it was sold out there and at the other nearest gamestops. I had to got to a gamestop that was very far from my apt in order to get a copy. People were buying it. It's just that there were not that many copies in the stores.
I have been interested in the game but the only reason I didn't buy it yet is the price. $60 for a brand new game without multiplayer is a little steep for me. Especially if it is a new IP. When you look on the shelf you see all the other established titles with mulitplayer for the same price. Don't get me wrong multiplayer isn't everything in a game but for $60 they could have at least offered some additional levels in the form of DLC for free. That would have at least expanded on the life of the game in my console.
Maybe the game isn't selling simply because nobody is selling it! Aside from Walmart and a few specialty stores, I can't find the game for sale anywhere.
What happened to the days of just replaying games for fun? I still do that and have done it with DMD.
Fandango_Letho i believe you are 100% correct,i myself was a day 1 buyer right up until i read there was zero of what you mention,now it sits on my rental list with the exact same fate as Vanquish.
Hey, he wants to do more new IPs. That's totally cool with me. Sequel after sequel can get pretty boring. Just look at Call of Duty and soon to be Halo. I heard Shadows of the Damned was a lot like Resident Evil 4, though. I do hope that's not his idea of "new."
[quote="Gamespot"]On the other hand, Shadows of the Damned was a single-player game in an increasingly multiplayer-focused console market.[/quote] Statements like this are worrisome. Not everyone wants multiplayer shoehorned into their games. It also suggests rather incorrectly that having either will be an important part in a game's success.
The sole thing that killed Shadow of the Damned was the fact there was no New Game + / Unlockables. If Shadow of the Damned had some form of replay value, like most SP games these days, it would still be on my shelf.
Single player only games are fine, but when you don't even add a new game+ option then your game becomes nothing but a rental
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