Cliff Bleszinski is taking a break from game development, but he's certainly not leaving the industry. With his days as design director at Epic Games behind him, the man who helped introduce Gears of War and the cover system to gaming is thinking about his next project and talking to publishers who can help him bring a transmedia universe to life.
"Video games are like a religion; you want to get people tattooing your little logo on their body so they'll get somebody else interested in it too." --Cliff Bleszinski
Bleszinski recently gave the keynote address at the East Coast Games Conference in his current home town of Raleigh, North Carolina, then took some time to chat with us about some of the current events in gaming and what he's working now.
Game On: What role do you think Kickstarter opens up for big-name developers to go straight to their fans?
Cliff Bleszinski: There are multiple types of Kickstarters out there; we could do a whole separate interview about Kickstarter, but there are definitely some that feel like a developer's last shot of staying afloat. I find it disheartening when I see developers that have done so well for so many years turn to Kickstarter in a last-ditch attempt; it's almost like, "We can't keep our doors open, let's go to Kickstarter."
If it works for you, great, but it makes me sad that Kickstarter campaigns can be seen as a sign of desperation, as opposed to confidence.
I think the reason a lot of developers turn [to Kickstarter] is because nobody can give you millions of dollars without any strings attached. It's like you talk to the publisher and they're going to want to own the IP, they're going to want to control the marketing. My whole point about Kickstarter is that it's not just about the money. You get a built-in community and you get free marketing and PR stories out of it.
That said, it's starting to feel like now, when you talk about going to Kickstarter, you almost hear people's eyes rolling. I'm wondering what's next; there's gotta be some other way to do [game Kickstarters] where--and I don't have an answer--it doesn't feel like just a last-ditch Hail Mary for developers.
What's it been like jumping into the blogging space with Dude Huge Speaks?
CB: It's amazing. My thing is, I'm in a unique position where I've made my share of games over 20 years, and a lot of them have been in the "alpha shooter dude" genre. So when I speak up against the anger some male gamers have against female gamers I am told by a lot of feminist friends that that was a very important move, because my audience listens to me.
I also think I have the ability to speak up and make counterpoints, because gamers loves dogpiling on anything that they deem to be bad--like the whole "EA is evil" thing. I had to speak up because, no, EA is not evil. EA is a business. EA just happens to package their products in a manner where it feels like players are paying a late registration fee as opposed to an early registration discount.
And then you see Peter Moore, who's the most stand-up guy in the industry, make a statement that basically says "Look, we're not perfect. We're learning." I think this Internet bullying thing is really out of control; look at the whole Adam Orth thing and his comments about a potentially always online system. It's like it's fun to try and get a guy fired.
Like you never talked shit on Twitter? You've never said anything inappropriate? It doesn't matter if someone represents a company; we all screw up.
You've been involved with Hollywood when it came to trying to get the Gears of War movie made, and the buzz in the industry is all about transmedia. How important is it to have a single game versus an intellectual property that can transcend games, movies, television and comics?
CB: Now it's more important than ever, because when you look at the AAA Hollywood space--I'm not talking about indie films here--look at Pacific Rim. I guarantee that was developed with a game and a toy line in mind. Forget about the potential products and the money you can make off of any single product; now it's all about mindshare.
Now, more than ever, you have more and more things vying for your attention. It's insane. Am I going to go watch a movie, am I going to play a game, am I going to tweet on Twitter, am I going to be on my iPad? Am I just sitting there talking about Game of Thrones in forums for days or talking about my theories behind Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite? There are so many more possibilities, so it's more important now to have that kind of cross-platform experience.
That's why some of the publishers I've been talking to are the larger ones who can leverage that sort of thing. For example, you know EA was working on Dragon Age Redemption before Dragon Age 2 came out because it helps keep that mindshare and keeps fans in your universe. I said at PAX East that video games are like a religion; you want to get people tattooing your little logo on their body so they're going to get somebody else interested in it too.
How do you see your love of pop culture influencing your next game project?
CB: Whatever I do next will probably be a result of everything that I have loved my entire life. It's the whole Slumdog Millionaire thing, where I want all of those life experiences to lead to the right answers for the show.
Whatever I come up with next will probably be some crazy mash-up of influences, the result of my being into Shogun Warriors, Transformers, Thunder Cats, and all those Saturday mornings with sugar cereal in front of the TV.
Look at Ken Levine: he's looking into historical and literary references to make Bioshock Infinite and I'm glad he's doing that, because I'll be over here in pop culture land doing what I do. It's kind of more Michael Bay as opposed to Christopher Nolan, sure, but we can all strive to be smarter with what we do and be more open as we learn and get better.