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Feargus Urquhart Interview

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Feargus Urquhart Interview

Game News - posted by Jaesun on Fri 4 November 2011, 19:02:19

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment

Gamespot has an interview with CEO Feargus Urquhart and explains how the Fallout: New Vegas developer stays afloat as an independent studio, why it isn't getting into social gaming, and how it keeps players from renting or selling its games.

GameSpot: Do you think it's getting easier or harder to make it as an independent studio these days?
Feargus Urquhart: I think it depends on your perspective. I think originally you could be an indie developer and not really have to be a business man. And I wouldn't say that I'm a business man, but I have some of the traits that go along with that. And I have had to learn a lot of things about accounting, and taxes, and other things to a point. I think in the past, it was possible to be effective without being really focused on business because the teams were much smaller. If you were eight guys and you made a bunch of money on your previous product, you can go six months without signing a deal. Our burn rate is $1 million a month, so we have to have games all the time. I am not independently wealthy, so I think a lot of it is harder now if you don't understand that you really have to focus on the business side.
GS: What do you think about the success stories in the indie scene like Notch with Minecraft? Is it a matter of the form you take as an independent developer that changes the viability of it now?
FU: I think I would look at it as what is an anomaly and what isn't. For example, Angry Birds. Is that a model or is it an anomaly? Is Minecraft a model or an anomaly? PC Data was one of the original data tracking services that would put out information on the top five games of the previous year, and in trying to figure out all of the similarities between the releases, they couldn't come up with a correlation to why the hits were successful. As it relates to indie successes, it's important that people understand that there is opportunity, and people are going to have those kinds of hits. But on the flip side, the reason we don't do iPhones games is we have all this overhead in people and such, and we have to make a hit for it to be worthwhile. 
GS: You mentioned that the cost of developing AAA games is going up, but publishers are increasingly less likely to fund them externally. Is this causing you to lose sleep at night?
FU: I would say that that is the way it's been for 15 years. Even when I was back at Interplay, they would fund $3 million internal projects, but they wouldn't go over $1.5 million externally. I think part of that comes down to when a publisher goes and signs a contract with an independent developer, the big price tag is all in one place, and someone has to sign that. When it comes to internal projects, that's just man-month rate that is being constantly spent. It's not that the budget isn't there, it's just that it's not like, "Oh crap, we are signing off on $25 million right here." I think that results in two different systems.
GS: You mentioned that it's your job to keep your games from being rentals and re-sells. The market for used games has been around for years as well, but with the ways different people are trying to combat them now, a pretty vocal cross-section of gamers who are vehemently against this has sprung up. How have you dealt with trying to stay conscious of not upsetting your player base, while…
FU: ...With a role-playing game, it is the same thing. We come up with things to make players want to keep on playing it. It was never developed this way, but it's funny how it has become a way to do this. By having a good and evil track, like Knights of the Old Republic II, I can play as a light or dark Jedi. I may play through as a light Jedi, but I know that I could play through as a dark Jedi. So I think, "I'm gonna do that some day." So I put it back on my shelf and I don't take it back to GameStop. 
GS: Is there anything that you would have changed about the way Obsidian has handled DLC?
FU: I wish some of the stuff had come out faster, but there were lots of reasons for that. Overall, I've been happy. The $10 price point for DLC is hard because we see that the average Fallout player spends 30-50 hours with the game, or however many hours, so if we provide one-sixth of that game time in a DLC pack we are fine, and people won't feel negatively about it. If we don't provide eight-ish hours or more, then people feel like, "Why did I pay the $10?" Particularly if it's three-to-five hours. We always felt before that that was a good length since it's more content than your typical movie, and it also changes things in the main game, but that's not the case for many people. That's been the challenge. To make the money worth it, you have to sell a lot of them to make back the development budget at $10.
You can read the full interview here.

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