To many, Charles Cecil is the most important game developer in the world. As managing director of York developer Revolution Software Cecil was responsible for point and click adventure game classics Beneath a Steel Sky and the hugely successful Broken Sword series, games that still enjoy a loyal and vociferous fan base today. So when the opportunity to interview the gaming legend presented itself at the launch of Raise the Game, a £450,000 campaign which aims to drive growth and innovation in the UK games industry, we jumped head first at the chance. Read on for news on the next Broken Sword, the possibility of a movie and the state of UK games development. Brace yourself, he pulls no punches...
VideoGamer.com: You've talked about the decline in independent UK game development and publishing. To the average gamer is there any effect?
Charles Cecil: Not at all. Actually there probably is, but it's not an enormous one. Culturally, given that most publishers are American, if they're going to take risks they would much rather take risks with American developers. Of that there's no doubt whatsoever. They tend to prefer to use us all the way across the Atlantic more as work for hire. So as developers it has a huge impact because there's an enormous competitive advantage to overseas developers. As far as your readers are concerned all I would say is that they will tend to get new ideas that come from America than new ideas that come more locally, which may or may not be a bad thing. I don't know. You look at Rockstar North and how extraordinarily they've managed to bridge the cultural divide between American culture and it's written by Scottish developers. So from their perspective it doesn't make much difference.
VideoGamer.com: There is a certain identity to British made games...
CC: And GTA which I think is quite extraordinary, it probably had to be done by a British developer because the Americans would have taken themselves much too seriously. The charm and the joy of that game is the fact that it is tongue in cheek. People that attacked it as vigorously as they did in the wider media did so because they haven't got the first clue what it's actually all about. There are a number of games that are really quite offensive and do rightly give us a bad name, but GTA is certainly not one of them.
VideoGamer.com: Do you sometimes lament the fact that the UK games industry has declined so that we're not getting the kind of classic British game that we used to get?
CC: You could say that GTA was a classic British game. I would say that culturally it's absolutely British. But then it is owned by Rockstar, obviously. I think we have in many ways ourselves to blame. Not developers but as a country. If you look at the history of GTA, after DMA was bought by Gremlin they didn't do any more games. And then Gremlin was bought by Funstar, then the rights transferred to Bertelsmann Music Group. GTA was rather an embarrassment in the portfolio. So when it was picked up by Rockstar, do you remember the launch when it was promoted at E3? All the monitors were displaying State of Emergency because they really believed State of Emergency was a great game. In the corner was GTA3. And of course very quickly people realised that State of Emergency really was very one dimensional and there was this extraordinary game. This gem of an idea was completely overlooked by the UK and indeed the European publishers and is now an American IP. We can only blame ourselves.
VideoGamer.com: You've mentioned you can only see around half a dozen GTA 4 style games a year given how much they cost to make. Why do you think this is given the record revenues the industry pulls in?
CC: They are but then you look at the second hand market, you're talking about HMV getting into the second hand market, in the States as well. The market can't be bucked. Games that cost £40, what the second hand market is basically saying is games are too expensive guys, come on wake up. If you were to actually factor in the fact that these games often do get bought but then are recycled many times and when they are recycled it's only the retailer that makes any money, the developer certainly doesn't, then probably the industry is considerably bigger and the opportunities are bigger but we need to find innovative ways of actually accessing it. People shouldn't have to take their game in. They should be proud. I can completely understand why people do take their games in for second hand but people don't do that with music, people don't do that with videos. They tend to keep them in big collections. People don't tend to keep big collections of games.
VideoGamer.com: Why do you think that is?
CC: I think they're too expensive. And, while I'll be very unpopular for saying that because the industry is based on it, I think there's going to be seismic shifts. People will only pay for the landmark releases and the hundred million pounds or dollars, you can only afford a few. You look on IMDB and you look at films, I was looking at a film, I'm a BAFTA judge, that costs $50 million to produce and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars. It didn't even hit a million dollars at the Box Office. Now film can do that. How it can do that I just do not understand. How can you knowingly produce a film that costs $50 million, earn less than a million dollars at Box Office and then do the same thing again and again? Clearly they're doing something with their economics and their accounts that we don't do. We're a much more pragmatic industry. If I write games that don't sell I go bankrupt, it's as simple as that. I don't think TV or film or indeed music have that rigorous accountancy. But that's as an independent. You look at some of these huge projects at some of the publishers, they're obviously funding their own internal development to produce enormous games that then fail, and then losing tens of millions of dollars, it's all a bit screwed up. At some point there's going to have to be a reality check. At that point there's going to be a real shake up between big titles. There's no reason why a game shouldn't sell fairly cheaply, becomes successful and then build up. But with the exception of Assassin's Creed, which sold because it was good there are very few examples of original IPs that... you look at Kane & Lynch for example. I hate to think what revenues they had. Publishers are finding it very difficult to get original IP and then force it into the market. So you're going to have to build up a reputation going forward and those big games are going to be based on sequels. I can't imagine anybody going forward is going to spend $100 million on a new IP without any indication whether it actually works or the market actually wants it.