Rockstar: Make Good Games and the Money Will Follow

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Rockstar: Make Good Games and the Money Will Follow

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Rockstar's philosophy is to concentrate on creativity and let the income flow from there.

Dan and Sam Houser founded Rockstar in New York City in 1998 and after arguably creating new genre of open-world style games with Grand Theft Auto III in 2001, the company quickly became a household name. The Housers rarely speak to the gaming press in the U.S., so it is doubly interesting when one of them gives an interview to discuss the philosophy that has allowed Rockstar to expand to ten different studios all over the world. Dan Houser spoke with Japanese magazine Famitsu about his start in the game business, what Rockstar does well, and why they are not making a military FPS any time soon.

"I'm going to be 38 years old soon, but people my age, the first games we played were the likes of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. I was particularly addicted to Space Invaders and Galaxian," he said of the first games he played.

Why has Rockstar been so successful? "We didn't rely on testimonials in a business textbook to do what we've done," he said. "I think we succeeded precisely because we didn't concentrate on profit. The focus of my effort has been to make good games first and let the results come naturally after that. If we make the sort of games we want to play, then we believe people are going to buy them."

The rest of Western game publishing is fixated on first person shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty, but that's a genre Rockstar has so far avoided. "We're deliberately avoiding that right now," Houser said. "It's in our DNA to avoid doing what other companies are doing.

"I suppose you could say that Max Payne 3 is something close to an FPS, but there are really unique aspects to the setting and gameplay there, too, not just in the story. You have to have originality in your games; you have to have some kind of interesting message. You could say that the goal of Rockstar is to have the players really feel what we're trying to do."

Rockstar's success rate has been pretty good the last ten years so Houser must be doing something right. Max Payne 3 may be a departure from the noir aesthetic of the series, and L.A. Noire wasn't the knockout I expected, but in general I know that I can expect a quality title from every game bearing the Rockstar logo.

Source: Famitsu via 1up

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At lease Rockstar has the right idea, lets hope they follow through with Max Payne 3.

They have been kinda meh since San Andreas, but all that says to me is they are due for another spectacular game, so as long as they stick to that philosophy I'll buy their games

Edit: When I say "meh" I mean I thought some games were terrible, and others great, I did not mean they were all average at best

"And also fuck the original platform that made your games known."

I approve of this message. Let all game companies make games worth buying and we gamers will buy them. I can understand the corporate side of it (no money=no games), but I think making quality games should be priority one. Priority two should be making the money to make the quality games.

I do like this message he's trying to say, but some games that are original and deserve to get more popular... well... aren't. Too bad that it has to be this way, but it's true.

He's right, though, about a good game being a must in order to stay relevant in the long-term. Rockstar, Valve, Naughty Dog, Bioware, Insomniac, and more wouldn't be anywhere near where they are now if they cared solely about the profits.

I guess the trick is to balance creativity and making something new with staying just inside of people's expectations to make enough money to do your next game.

Yeaaah, except I skipped buying LA Noire, and I won't be buying GTA V. They've gone into "realism" and that's not what I play games for. I have, however, ordered Saints Row 3. Rockstar seems to have forgotten that the intent of the game is to be fun and engaging for the gamer. You can have the next best thing to Shakespeare, but that won't make it a great game.

GTA IV was the game that got me to buy a PS3, but I didn't even finish it until the PSN went down earlier this year. I loved San Andreas. So even though I recognize that GTA IV had better mechanics, and a lot of interesting side bits (such as tv, internet and radio DJs/talk shows), the main storyline left me bored and unamused. I played GTA to insert *myself* into an unrealistic world, and not to learn about a character's semi-realistic world. I spent the latter half of the game skipping every single cut-scene (of which there were many). Even Red Dead Redemption didn't get huge love from me until the Undead Nightmare pack (and not because of the introduction of zombies, but because of how ridiculous and over-the-top it was).

Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

Abedeus:
"And also fuck the original platform that made your games known."

I have a lot of time for Rockstar I think I've bought every game of theirs since the first GTA (with the exception of the Tabe tennis One)

This is a start but not 100% accurate; Take Cover Studios for example, they made a three radically original games each gamwe being lovingly crafted and having unique stlyes. They folded up financially due to lack of sales, or should i say were folded up by capcom. Look at the unfortunate career of Tim Schafer and the misshandling of the launch of Psychonaughts, the closing of lucasarts "Actually making something presentable" division.

Quality alone is not an assurance of money, GTA has become so popular due to stellar marketing both in terms of visibility and pitch-level. Not to mention all the free controversy publicity the game has recived over the years. GTA IV had a hype machine behind it akin to that of Halo 3, it had one of the most high-profile build ups in gaming history.

BUT many games have become reliant on marketing alone and some publishers, the biggest two, have become reliant of churning of content, bullshit DLC, price gouging, consumer and developer bullying, IP theft and missuse and generally bastardry to survive. Quality it seems comes a distant last.

To truely succeed in the gaming industry you need a great games backed by at least good marketing. Word of mouth and consumer buzz can sometimes bring you rewards, i mean look at indie hits like Wrold of Goo, The Bastion or more word of mouth based hits like The Witcher or the balzing sucess of STALKER but there is no guarentee i am afraid of a great game gaining enough critical mass to became a massive hit or even turn a decent profit.

Furioso:
They have been kinda meh since San Andreas, but all that says to me is they are due for another spectacular game, so as long as they stick to that philosophy I'll buy their games

-Grand Theft Auto IV
-Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
-Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
-Red Dead Redemption
-Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
-The Warriors
-Bully
-Manhunts
-Midnight Club Series

All just "meh" games? Those are games that they developed, not published. That list is much larger. I'd say that they're doing better than "meh". While most aren't my cup of tea, I still can recognize a quality game.

Abedeus:
"And also fuck the original platform that made your games known."

I hate to break it to you but Rockstar has not been fucking consoles over at all.

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

They risked 100 million dollars on gta 4
and they did the same with red dead redemption
that's 2 risks of 100 million dollar in a row tell me who else has done that
let me help you
NONE!

Abedeus:
"And also fuck the original platform that made your games known."

You mean the PC?

Rockstar are awesome because they know how to make a good game, they know how to make it sell, and they know how to take bloody risks...

RedEyesBlackGamer:
Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

Hey don't forget about:
Beyond Good and Evil
Grim Fandango
Mad World
Okami
Psychonauts
Shenmue
System Shock 1 and 2
Baten Kaitos
Eternal Darkness
*cough*Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars*cough*
and countless others!

Rockstar found a formula that works and stuck with it. If getting to live out your fantasy of shooting gangstas and smearing hookers on the pavement after getting head was a niche market[1], they'd be complaining about how their "vision" isn't understood by the masses.

Don't get me wrong, their games ARE good, but at this point the true statement is more "make popular games and the money will follow". Plenty of GOOD games have driven their studios bankrupt.

Unless Rockstar is actually developing a sequel to the universally critically acclaimed but commercially flaccid Chinatown Wars? Then I'll believe that their only aim is to make good games and that the money just happens to pour in.

[1] I know there's more to these games, some of them have been quite good

RedEyesBlackGamer:
Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

The ICO/Shadow of the Colossus collection topped the sales charts for about two weeks, knocking Gears 3 off the top.

As for Persona 4, well the fact that we got a forth game in a series kind of proves that the series turns a large enough profit for them to keep bringing them to the US.

Same with all of Atlus's games actually. They don't ignite the charts true, but they turn a profit.

Irridium:

RedEyesBlackGamer:
Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

The ICO/Shadow of the Colossus collection topped the sales charts for about two weeks, knocking Gears 3 off the top.

As for Persona 4, well the fact that we got a forth game in a series kind of proves that the series turns a large enough profit for them to keep bringing them to the US.

Same with all of Atlus's games actually. They don't ignite the charts true, but they turn a profit.

Aaaaand you ruined my post. My point still stands. The original SoC didn't sell well at all if I remember correctly. And see the above post. Besides, "sell well" for Atlus means around 40k in sales. Not the millions that the big boys make.

Huh, the best way to get people to buy your games is to make the games good...

anyone else kinda sad that Rockstar feels it actually needs to explain this to some people.

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

Not what they said at all.

What they said was they want to avoid what other people are doing.

Other people are making warfare FPS games so they avoid them.

"And that's why we started shitting all over PCs ever since GTA 4."

Abedeus:
"And also fuck the original platform that made your games known."

I suppose this is true, but I don't think the Amiga, Commodore or Atari ST really hold a large share of the market these days.

Great1 I'm happy for yeah Rockstar, but could you please take the time to fine-tune the controls on your next game?

rolfwesselius:

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

They risked 100 million dollars on gta 4
and they did the same with red dead redemption
that's 2 risks of 100 million dollar in a row tell me who else has done that
let me help you
NONE!

What the hell are you talking about 'risk'. There's nothing risky about releasing endless sequels with a tried and tested formula. Red Dead Redemption is just GTA on horses. A terribly overrated game.

Rawne1980:

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

Not what they said at all.

What they said was they want to avoid what other people are doing.

Other people are making warfare FPS games so they avoid them.

They are criticizing other studios for making the same old games. As in, they are criticizing the studios that release nothing but 'warfare FPS' games. It's hypocritical because Rockstar have been cashing in on GTA games and their ilk (RDR, Bully, all very similar games to GTA.)

Bottom line is, there is nothing 'creative' about 80% of Rockstar's releases.

Making good games in order to make money, and NOT just milking your franchise endlessly by releasing the same thing over and over again?

Mother of god, somebody stop these crazy bastards.

RedEyesBlackGamer:

Irridium:

RedEyesBlackGamer:
Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

The ICO/Shadow of the Colossus collection topped the sales charts for about two weeks, knocking Gears 3 off the top.

As for Persona 4, well the fact that we got a forth game in a series kind of proves that the series turns a large enough profit for them to keep bringing them to the US.

Same with all of Atlus's games actually. They don't ignite the charts true, but they turn a profit.

Aaaaand you ruined my post. My point still stands. The original SoC didn't sell well at all if I remember correctly. And see the above post. Besides, "sell well" for Atlus means around 40k in sales. Not the millions that the big boys make.

True, it didn't sell well when it first came out. Same with ICO. However, I'm willing to bet that's because nobody, not even Sony, made any noise about them then. This time, ICO/Shadow of the Colossus had a rather large cult-following that's been talking about how great these games are for years. As a result, more and more people kept hearing about them and how great they are, and I'm willing to be gladly picked up the HD collection to see what all the hubbub was all about.

Same with Demon's Souls/Dark Souls. Demon's Souls came out with 300,000 in the first few months. Didn't have much marketing or talk about it, but as time went on, more people bought it, and talked about it. I'm willing to bet Dark Souls sold better thanks to the success of Demon's Souls, the marketing push it's gotten (I've seen commercials for this game everywhere to the point of annoyance), and because of how much everyone's talking about it.

With Persona, it's been a while since 4. I wouldn't be surprised if Persona 5 sells very well thanks to the amount of love it gets on the internet. You don't see as many people talk about it like with Shadow of the Colossus/ICO or Demon's Souls, but those who do talk about it love it, and say as much. Over time, that build, more people play it, talk about it, and get it heard.

I suppose the overall point I'm trying to make here is for publishers to put resources behind new and interesting products. A good example is Assassin's Creed. Ubisoft marketed that quite a bit, and it became one of the best, if not the best, of their franchises.

Almost every new IP and original game that flounders is because there's barely any marketing support from the publisher. It also doesn't help that they put it in the holiday release period against all the huge AAA sequels.

Give a new, interesting IP a marketing push, release it at a time where there isn't much coming out(like, say, summer), and see if it doesn't turn a profit. Sony/Activision did this with Infamous/Prototype, and both sold well enough to warrant sequels. Both released at close to the same time as well.

You also mentioned Beyond Good and Evil. That came out the same time as Prince of Persia. Both were new IP's, but one was marketed more. Which one sold very well and went on to become a franchise?

Also, Catherine recently passed 500,000 copies sold worldwide a month or so ago.

There are markets for new, unique, odd, and niche games and/or IP's. You just need make noise about them so people know that they're coming out. No, they won't make millions, but they will turn a profit. And who knows, if you stick with one long enough, put resources behind it and really push it, it might just become the multi-million dollar franchise you want it to be.

You also mention the above post. Damn near all those games had either very little or no marketing push behind them.

Beyond Good and Evil - covered that
Grim Fandango - now a classic and one of the most talked about point-and-click adventure games. If Lucasarts put it on Steam and/or GoG they'd make a very large, easy profit. Not sure if let down by marketing since it came out in the 90's when I didn't have
Mad World - Wasn't marketed much at all. Game was also pretty "meh", so there's that.
Okami - Classic talked about all the time and loved by almost all who play it. Let down by marketing.
Psychonaughts - Barely marketed.
Shenmue - This one's a case of a budget that gets wildly out of control. Still, if it were given an HD re-release or released on PSN/XBLA I'm sure it'd see great sales like Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure.
System Shock 1 and 2 - These are actually the most requested games to be added to GoG. If they were added, they'd sell stupidly well. Much like Planescape: Torment. Again though, came out in the 90's like Grim Fandango, not too sure what kind of marketing push it got. Don't expect it to be much.
Baten Kaitos - I'm definitely chalking this one up to bad marketing since this is the first time I've ever heard of it. After reading a bit about it, I really wish I did know about it.
Eternal Darkness - Frequently talked about classic that didn't get much marketing. I don't see a discussion about gamecube or horror games where this one doesn't come up.

Yeah, almost all had lousy or no marketing. Grim Fandango and the System Shock games actually were successful though, since back then you didn't need to sell as much to turn a profit. And if they were released on GoG and/or Steam, they'd make huge amounts of money thanks to the insane amounts of praise you hear for them all over the internet.

Wow, that was way more text than I intended...

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

I would be hard-pressed to call what Rockstar has done with the GTA series "a cash-in." Do they make a ridiculous amount of money with each release? Yes, but at the same time, they don't release a new one at the same time every year. When they do release one, It's been after a couple years, and they generally contain enough unique content and creative mechanics to remain distinct but familiar.

Rockstar puts an incredible amount of hard work into making high quality games and building consumer trust. I can hardly think of an instance where I've felt cheated out of my money by purchasing one of their products. The same cannot be said about certain other publishers.

This trust thing is important because while I won't be purchasing "Half-of-a-Roster Update 2011" or "Multiplayer 18" or even "This Game Again?: Bucharest 1972", I'll gladly throw my money at anything with an R* badge. Unless they screw us over with GTA V, but I doubt it.

EDIT: Now that I'm thinking about it, I would probably purchase that last one if it existed. haha

It's almost like, if you make people want your game, they will more likely buy it, or something.

RedEyesBlackGamer:
Not true. Make a good game that has broad appeal and the money will follow. Persona 4 and Shadow of the Colossus are examples of good games that didn't have broad appeal and they made meager profits.

For the love of God yes. Good games are one thing, but to make them sell, you need something everyone wants.

Still, Rockstar makes those games.

PeePantz:

Furioso:
They have been kinda meh since San Andreas, but all that says to me is they are due for another spectacular game, so as long as they stick to that philosophy I'll buy their games

-Grand Theft Auto IV
-Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
-Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
-Red Dead Redemption
-Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
-The Warriors
-Bully
-Manhunts
-Midnight Club Series

All just "meh" games? Those are games that they developed, not published. That list is much larger. I'd say that they're doing better than "meh". While most aren't my cup of tea, I still can recognize a quality game.

I hated IV, thought Lost and Damned and Ballad was good, loved RDR and UN, never heard of the warriors, hated bully, hated manhunt, hated midnight club, so for me, that seems pretty meh

Irridium:
snip

Games becoming "cult classics" or "late bloomers" is nice and all if the developer is still afloat, but a lot of times the IP is abandoned because it didn't sell well. Baten Kaitos, for example, will probably never get another game because of low sales, so it's not like no damage is done. I'll agree it's less of an issue now though, since most "underrated classics" can be re-released digitally with great ease and can possibly re-kindle a franchise.

It seems like "Make good games that have decent marketing" rather than just "make good games" is the winning formula. Unfortunately, (correct me if I'm wrong) you need a fair amount of money (or a deal with a good publisher) to do decent marketing in the first place, right? Either way it seems like there's a lot more to selling well than just "making what you like and making it well". Actually the fact that BAD games sell well with decent marketing (HELLO DUKE) really just emphasizes how important marketing is.

Either be one of the big boys that crushes less marketed releases, find good marketing, or avoid competing with established franchises at all costs, I guess?

Also I'd like to hear your opinion on Chinatown Wars, which had quality, solid marketing, and a strong IP backing it up. I sort of consider its low sales as a fluke. Maybe GTA lovers just don't own DSes.

TheRealJLars:

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

I would be hard-pressed to call what Rockstar has done with the GTA series "a cash-in." Do they make a ridiculous amount of money with each release? Yes, but at the same time, they don't release a new one at the same time every year. When they do release one, It's been after a couple years, and they generally contain enough unique content and creative mechanics to remain distinct but familiar.

Rockstar puts an incredible amount of hard work into making high quality games and building consumer trust. I can hardly think of an instance where I've felt cheated out of my money by purchasing one of their products. The same cannot be said about certain other publishers.

This trust thing is important because while I won't be purchasing "Half-of-a-Roster Update 2011" or "Multiplayer 18" or even "This Game Again?: Bucharest 1972", I'll gladly throw my money at anything with an R* badge. Unless they screw us over with GTA V, but I doubt it.

EDIT: Now that I'm thinking about it, I would probably purchase that last one if it existed. haha

I wonder if we've played the same games? Since GTA 3, the series has not developed in any sense of the word. It's just more of the same. Most of the new 'mechanics', if you can call them that, are universally derided. E.G. HEY COUSIN, WANT TO GO BOWLING?

Rockstar are a mainstream developer making mainstream, high-profit games. It's unhelpful at best, and downright insulting at worst for them to sit on their high horses and tell the rest of the industry 'HAY, Y U NO MAKE GUD GAMES?'

Yosharian:

rolfwesselius:

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

They risked 100 million dollars on gta 4
and they did the same with red dead redemption
that's 2 risks of 100 million dollar in a row tell me who else has done that
let me help you
NONE!

What the hell are you talking about 'risk'. There's nothing risky about releasing endless sequels with a tried and tested formula. Red Dead Redemption is just GTA on horses. A terribly overrated game.

Rawne1980:

Yosharian:
What bullshit... Rockstar makes endless GTA sequels, they have no fucking right to criticise others for making cash-in games.

Not what they said at all.

What they said was they want to avoid what other people are doing.

Other people are making warfare FPS games so they avoid them.

They are criticizing other studios for making the same old games. As in, they are criticizing the studios that release nothing but 'warfare FPS' games. It's hypocritical because Rockstar have been cashing in on GTA games and their ilk (RDR, Bully, all very similar games to GTA.)

Bottom line is, there is nothing 'creative' about 80% of Rockstar's releases.

I think you are completely missing Rockstar's point here.
They are not saying that each game will be a unique snowflake of absolute originality.
They are saying that they come up with their own formulas, instead of copying the market leader.

The GTA series may seem similar to previous iterations, but of course that is the case.
It is a series, after all.
The point is that they were the ones that began the whole sandbox/crime formula and is therefore their creativity.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the overall statement- this quote:

"It's in our DNA to avoid doing what other companies are doing.

Is an outright lie. GTA games have been keeping on top of the sandbox heap specifically because they've taken all the best elements from their competitors- the open 3D style and mini-map of Driver, the wanted circle from Scarface, the GPS route plotter from Saint's Row, cover mechanics from the entire 3PS genre, etc etc.

I'm glad they run with the good ideas the gaming community has come up with, but they shouldn't start getting delusions that everything was their idea. That's a very, very dangerous path to tread.

*in comes GTA:Vice city and his pal Bully*
see? there's our proof Rockstar is creative
*in comes GTA: San Andreas*.
...we got some new developers from Activision, the COD team.
*in comes GTA IV*
we think it's creative.

Personally, I think Rockstar are suffering from the citizen kane syndrome. I liked Rockstar back then than I do today.

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