We admit that the opening of a new studio is not the most terribly exciting event under the sun, but that news becomes decidedly more intriguing when said studio dedicates itself to a single market, or in the case of British developer Kuju's newly opened doublesix studio, a single distribution channel.
With a moniker always referred to in lowercase, we expected doublesix to be quietly reserved regarding its plans, which include developing titles exclusively in the downloadable space for Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, WiiWare and the PC. What we found, however, was a studio that is enthusiastic about its positioning in this young, but rapidly growing segment of the video game industry. To find out more, we managed to speak with doublesix studio head James Brooksby on a number of topics, including the price of downloadable games today and in the future, the importance of platform exclusives in the digital space, and of course, where the team likes to eat.
The founding of doublesix represents the third effort by Kuju recently to establish branches specializing in specific gameplay disciplines, with Zoe Mode focusing on casual games and the rebranded Chemistry studio looking to Epic's Unreal Engine as its chief creative driver. What is the benefit of creating these sorts of specialist studios?
The benefits of creating studios with their own brands, identity and specialties are twofold. Firstly, it creates strong focus within the studios. We all know what games we will be working on and where we are going with our studios grand plan. Secondly, the outside world -- publishers and potential recruits -- all know more clearly who we are and what our genre, platform or technology specialty is.
True, but it seems like this sort of design could easily typecast a studio into developing similar games or gravitate towards reproducing titles cut from a similar mould time and again. How does doublesix plan to promote creativity while keeping the team focused on the idea of creating simple, fun downloadable games?
I'd love to show you the variety of games that we are making and plan to make in the future, it would be very hard to accuse them of being cut from the same mould. As gamers ourselves, and as strong believers in "variety is the spice of life," we no more want to build the same games repeatedly, as you want to play them. As for promoting creativity, we have excellent teams with creativity pouring out of their souls, especially when they get let off the leash, which is often due to the beauty of the small focused team model.
So why downloadable games exclusively, and why now?
doublesix is focused on games over digital distribution. This is a new and exciting area of the industry to be in, it is the future after all! The reason we chose to do this now, is that the platforms are now ready for us. XBLA, PSN, Wiiware, PC and soon more; this amount of platforms and the markets that they cover make doublesix a viable development and business proposition.
You've said that your name, doublesix, reflects the studio's aim to create games that are both addictive and easy to return to time and again. Should we take away from this that your radar is targeted at casual or more party-style games rather than more complex experiences, say role-playing games for instance?
doublesix is all about creating games that will draw you back for more. "Have another go" is our motto. People use casual to mean many things at the moment, we will make games that are nearer to what is currently understood as "casual", but we are also making gamer's games. We are also making games in genres that people would have only considered for boxed products in the past. We don't believe that any genre or play type can only exist in a box.
So, given the nature of the types of games you say doublesix is primed to develop, is the studio able to work on multiple projects at once, maybe sharing development resources between projects being developed in parallel?
doublesix has several teams working on multiple projects on multiple platforms and each team is working towards as much shared technology and shared resource as possible to maximize efficiency. Our game concepts are not limited by a desire to share, but most can and will benefit from the central technology we have built.
Speaking of teams, there is a good deal of experience as doublesix already with downloadable titles, such as with the PSN release Nucleus. Is this what you believe makes your company uniquely positioned to succeed in this space?
Some of the guys at the doublesix studio really cut [their] teeth on Nucleus for PSN. The PSN service was in its infancy and so the TRCs (Technical Requirements Checklists) were in their early stages and firmware updates seemed to be happening every day. It was quite challenging.
The team did learn a great deal about the PS3, how to do things and importantly how to do it right next time. In game terms, we learned a good deal about what the market likes and dislikes in this space, although I think that will change frequently in the near future. At least with short turnarounds we can react to market forces.
As downloadables are so new to the console space, particularly when compared to the PC, many gamers have been forced to play roles not unlike guinea pigs as companies test the waters of digital delivery. I think this is best seen in the way of pricing of downloadable games and content, as studios continue to look for that coveted 'sweet spot' of value for all parties. As both a new company, and one committed to this new breed of games, what is your take on this topic, and how will you go about determining the prices carried by your downloadable titles?
The pricing of games over digital distribution is fixed on some platforms, set by some publishers and only on some occasions under our influence. We only wish to charge what is reasonable for our games, so where we do have an influence we will push for a price that is right for the amount of content the gamer will receive. At present the prices seem reasonable, but I think that we are going to see more and more expensive DD titles, but they will be worth it!
Is it your intent to release each of your projects on each platform supported, or do you plan to produce platform exclusives?
Doublesix will create both multiplatform titles and platform exclusives.
Is there even a benefit to having exclusives for digitally distributed games? I can see controls sometimes factoring into the equation, but beyond that it would seem that, if possible, the more platforms a game is released on, the better.
Some platform exclusives will be down to the publishing partner we are working with, for example Sony, and some will be down to the controls as you say. On the whole, multiplatform is best, but only if the game will sell on that platform.
Of the platforms you support, the only one that is not commercially available right now is Nintendo's WiiWare. What has your impression been like of this service so far?
It is too early to comment on this at present apart from to say that it will be fun!
Can you comment on how you feel it compares to Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network? Or even the PC?
Again, it is way too early to comment. Each platform has its pros and cons. We will have to wait and see.
Of all of these services, which is the easiest, in your opinion, to develop for? Which is the most challenging?
The PC is going to win as the easiest to develop for and the 360 and PS3 are the toughest. Between the 360 and the PS3 it's a tough call as it is all about the technology used, the team you have combined with the challenges of the game you are making.
Finally, I'm interested in knowing if doublesix plans to focus primarily on original properties, or could the studio also look to licensed IP for its titles? Maybe even developing downloadable titles based on other Kuju-developed properties such as Battalion Wars, something which no doubt would get a good deal of fan traction over WiiWare.
Battalion Wars is a Nintendo owned property, so that would be up to them to decide where it goes next. doublesix plans to work on original IP, licensed IP and also work with publisher owned IP that is looking for further channels to explore. We are excited about all these opportunities as we have the opportunity to explore them in perhaps new and innovative ways.
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today on doublesix. Before we let you go, I'm curious -- when the team is takes a break from creating the the next big thing in downloadable fun, where is group's favorite lunch spot – and we promise not to stalk you?
Hmm. We have moved to the very, very centre of Guildford so we now are spoilt for choice, but Wagamama is proving to be pretty popular right now as its about 10m away!