With an episode of ‚Bone‘ already released and ‚CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder‘ as well as a new ‚Sam & Max‘ in the pipeline, Telltale Games looks like a company which could really take adventure gaming one step forward. We talked to the team about its work, how the first episode of ‚Bone‘ was received and their current projects.
Let’s start with a few questions regarding Bone: A few months have passed since the release of the first episode and the reviews range from great to disappointing. How satisfied are you yourself? What was good about the first episode of Bone and what was bad?
In general Telltale, will always make games that people either love or hate. I think that is the result of innovating and trying new things. There is nothing safe or garaunteed about releasing a game like Bone in the current gaming environment. That said, we know that we can improve on Out From Boneville. It is our very first episodic title, and the beginning of an evolving process. The Great Cow Race will allow us to quickly build on the experience from the first episode, and that is part of the master plan. I am very proud of Bone Out From Boneville because it succeeded and pushed the envelope in a few ways including character acting, interactive story telling, and accessibility to a broader market.
Right after the release of Bone, there were many discussions about the game’s length and its price. Don’t you think that 20 $ is a bit too much for a game that can be completed in about two hours by an experienced player?
If you look at the online space, $20 is the norm for games that have much lower production values. Obviously there is an optimal balance between production values, length of experience and price and that is something that varies by gaming segment. Our goal is to hit the right mix with these key factors. If you think about it, there has been a general complaint about the declining quality of adventure games. Part of that results from the economics of a consumer demanded lower price point. Quality isn’t cheap. That being said, our goal is to find a pricing strategy that makes gamers feel good about their purchase.
You’ve just announced a CD version of Bone. Is that kind of a compromise to those player’s who don’t want to download games or had a CD version always been planned?
Its another way to get the product to the consumer, especially those consumers on dial up. We also loaded up the CD with extras including the soundtrack, videos and other fun content.
Has Bone met your expectations so far in terms of sales?
We would like it if it sold more copies, but this is part of the evolution as well. Publishing online is in its infancy. As we continue to sell products online, our distribution channel becomes more robust.
Will future episodes of Bone refer to earlier episodes as a reward to long-time players or does every episode stand on its own?
We are executing the entire epic story one piece at a time. Jeff Smith created it in such as way that you can enter the story at any time, and it all ties together in the end.
One of the projects you are currently working on is CSI: Dimensions of Murder. Since CSI is the most-watched show on TV and expectations are high, how do you deal with that project? How is it different from Bone or Sam & Max?
There is a lot of history behind CSI and there are three games to use as a roadmap. The mechanics for the first games were built to introduce fans of the show to gaming with as little frustration as possible. Since it was also built for mass hardware, it was pre-rendered and has a result lost the immersion that gamers are looking for.
Ubisoft decided now was the time to bring the series into 3D and chose Telltale as the company to do that. It’s been very cool taking the mechanics that have been evolved through the previous games and bringing them to a 3D world. What we have found from focus groups is a much deeper level of immersion that works for both gamers and casual players. Again we are always looking at ways to innovate and improve storytelling in games, interactivity shouldn’t be limited to shooting a gun or jumping up and down.
Interestingly enough, CSI (or almost every crime show for that matter) feels like an adventure: The characters looks for evidence, talk to a bunch of different people, combine items. Nevertheless, most adventures don’t sell while the TV shows do great. How do you explain that? Is the audience so different?
You are exactly right as far as the gameplay is concerned and we agree. As far as sales, CSI sells pretty well relative to other PC games and very well in comparison to other adventure games. The sales curve for CSI games has been much longer than your typical blockbuster game. This speaks to the different mindsets of the audiences. Fans of the show aren’t waiting every day to go get the game, like a fan of Half Life 2 might be, but if they see it on the shelf they will buy it. It’s a similar sales curve to adventure games in general and this is part of the reason adventure games have a hard time holding shelf space. At this point, retailers understand this sales curve for something like Nancy Drew and as a result, they can hold their spot.
Compared to Sam & Max and Bone, CSI aims at a different kind of player, I’d guess – the casual gamer instead of the hardcore gamer. How does that influence the development?
Every publisher of games is looking to hit a larger market then the hard core gamer market.
The hard core gamers are expensive to please, and there is incredible competition for that one segment. We feel the similarities between Bone, Sam and Max and CSI — great characters and stories — will allow us to cultivate an audience that is unique to Telltale and includes the mass audience. We continue to look for licenses that have break out potential and we continue to evolve our gameplay to meet the needs of the audience.
Adventure games in general obviously need a bigger fanbase to become more successful again. What’s your idea of how to get more people playing adventure games?
Evolve adventure games, make them interactive experiences in immersive worlds. The beauty of CSI is it starts with a mystery to solve, your actions are very focused on solving the case and seeing the story unfold. Along the way Telltale creates characters that are fun to interact with. In the Telltale CSI game, you will find yourself really suspecting a character on a personal level and we feel that is a huge accomplishment. Our mantra is create characters that you don’t want to shoot, or at least if you do shoot them, have a good reason! Check out Telltale Texas Hold ’em to see our virtual personality in action.
Finally, what can we expect from Telltale Games this year except the new Bone episode? How far are CSI and Sam & Max into development? And are you working on any other projects besides those?
CSI and The Great Cow Race will be out within the next few months, and you will definitely see Sam and Max before the end of the year. We may slide in some casual virtual personality games as well.
Thanks for the talk!