id Software GDC Interview
|Author: Roger LaMarca
Last week during the Game Developers Conference, I had the opportunity to sit down with id Software's Marty Stratton and Steve Nix. Steve recently joined id Software after working as Ritual Entertainment's CEO. Marty has been with id Software for the last seven years as their Director of Business Development, but as recently taken on the role of Executive Producer.
As the new Director of Business Development, Steve Nix is starting a renewed effort to entice companies to use id's technology in their games. It wasn't that long ago when tons of companies were using the Quake III engine to build their blockbuster games. Steve told me that companies know their history with licensing games, and he is sure that with id's technology they will continue to be successful in the licensing field. Marty added that id engines have always been a preferred development platform because of their clean and elegant code written by John Carmack. Marty said that Steve is doing a good job starting their renewed effort and that they have been getting a lot of offerings.
From Marty's experience working at id, he told me that when designing an engine, licenses aren't at the top of Carmack's list when making technology decisions. Carmack designs the engine for what the company itself is working on at the moment. He designs the technology around what the artists and designers want to be able to do inside the game. During DOOM3'sdevelopment, Marty doesn't even recall a single conversation on how the engine would work for licensees. They were just focused on designing the engine in the best way possible for their game.
Steve and Marty both recognized the growing importance of digital distribution, but have no plans of putting the publisher out of the equation any time soon. "The retail channel isn't going away," Marty said, and while a company such as id has the financial means to finance their own projects, they don't have the human resources to manage a retail relationship like a big publisher does. The publisher still adds a ton of value, especially in the marketing of games. "We take a development risk, we fund our own title, and take a financial risk there, and we expect the publisher to come to the table with the marketing risk," Marty said. He believes there is still a tremendous need for publishers and that the biggest misconception with digital distribution is that the publisher can be dropped. "They need someone to at least pay for marketing if they want to have a triple-A title", Marty added. "Most companies still need someone to fund the game's development, and that's a huge role publishers still need to play."
When asked about solutions to combat piracy, they didn't have much to say in terms of new technology. While there isn't a sound technical solution yet to eliminate piracy completely, id will continue to look at the technology available for new solutions. Marty noted that id Software's online CD key authorization system, that has been in use since the inception of QuakeIII, has been a very effective method of stopping piracy. "Despite what people think about it being cracked and there being key generators that work, it hasn't." Enemy Territory: Quake Wars will also contain several other layers of security that will be very beneficial to cut down on piracy. You will have to be online and logged into a system that will track your stats while playing online.
Currently with thirty-two employees, id Software has the largest team the company has ever seen. At the moment, they are currently hiring for even more positions inside the company. Steve told me they want to stay as small as possible, but will hire when they have specific things they are working on that require additional help. Marty stressed the demand needed to create next generation games, complex code, and great animation. "When we feel we have a need, we hire somebody," Marty said. They told me there isn't a set number or limit for the number of employees they would hire, but that staying small is still a part of the company's vision. When I asked Steve, one of the founders of Guildhall, a game development school at Southern Methodist University, he told me that while id usually doesn't hire without a lot of experience, going through a program such as Guildhall really shows that the individual is up for the task of working at a professional company. Brian Harris, now a programmer at id Software, attended Guildhall. He started at the company as an intern during the last eight months of DOOM3's development, later moving on to a full-time position.
Marty, who has served as the Director of Business Development for the past seven years, was asked by id management if he was interested in a new role at the company. He was asked to take over more production responsibilities, along with managing other game titles for the company. Before joining id Software, Marty worked as a producer on id titles at Activision, so this role isn't anything new. Also, over the years, Marty has mixed his business responsibilities with assisting the development team in the production of games. Marty is happy with the choice of Steve to take over his responsibilities saying that "he will be perfect for doing the technology licensing side of things. It's funny coming to an event like this; he knows a lot more people than I do even after being at id for seven years."
While having id Software titles available on consoles isn't anything new, their latest undisclosed project is being developed primarily on the XBOX360 along with simultaneous development on the PC and Playstation3. This is a change from previous titles which have been ported to the console by third-party developers such as Vicarious Visions, in the case of DOOM3. Marty told me, "it's a different mindset to be thinking how people will play the game on the console while using a different controller." With such talented individuals at the company, they are working through the game's console development very efficiently. They believe everyone will be pleasantly surprised when they get a chance to see what they've done with their game on the console. id has had good success with their titles being ported to console systems throughout the years. Both Return To Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War andDOOM3 sold very well on the console. DOOM3's console sales were actually just slightly lower than its PC sale numbers, both combining to a total of 3 million units sold worldwide, making it id's most successful title to date.
When I asked about the idea of making QuakeCon 2007 more like E3 after the announcement of the huge expo's downsizing this year, Marty laughed off the comment. While QuakeCon won't be the next E3, the event is looking to add more exhibitors this year. Marty added that, "we're still talking to a lot of companies and there is a lot of interest." This year's B.Y.O.C. will have 2,700 spots available, a number Marty says "attendees don't want to want to get a lot bigger." The quality of the companies and what they have to offer the event is much more important to id than the total number of companies sponsoring the event. Currently, id Software can't say if their new game will be unveiled at QuakeCon 2007 this August. The event is still too far away for them to have any idea what will be shown.
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