Jamie King was one of the co-founders of Rockstar Games and is the now the president of 4mm Games, the studio that's developing Def Jam Rapstar. We caught up with the man himself to talk about inter-console rivalry, naughty words, and the political power of hip-hop.
Q: It's been a year since I ran into you at gamecom. What's been the biggest development with Def Jam Rapstar over the past year? What are you most proud of?
Jamie King: I would say aesthetically I'm very proud of it - it's come very close to our original vision. I think getting in the range of music… I'm very proud of that. I forget, and then I scroll through the song select and I think, "Oh, this is actually good!" And then there's the community. I can’t quite I'm proud of that yet as it hasn't gone live. It's very daunting, there's a lot that can go wrong, and at the same time this will our first time putting the game out on a live server. It was very challenging to think about the meta game, the community and hosting content. How do I actually have gaming experiences online, how do we have a promoter role, how do we have a performer role, do we let people be a fan - and the underlying dynamics that allow the stuff on top. It took quite a lot to work out and it's very challenging, so we will be very proud - if everything goes right and the servers don't fall over!
Q: Yeah, I'd imagine that's a big deal.
JK: It is. And then there's also the marriage between the Xbox and the PlayStation, in terms of the community. There's a very fine line between what we're allowed to do… [and what we're not.]
Q: Is there crossover between the two?
JK: Well, they sort of sit side-by-side. There's still got to be that differentiation, because the two platform holders like the separation. I think we're really on the tightrope.
Q: Is that a shame? I know it's nothing you have any control over…
JK: I think we would always feel like it is, from a consumer point of view. We understand from their perspective why, they have their own walled gardens. But I think looking at the way things are going, all barriers are being torn down. I think the way we've done it is very elegant, in the sense that they still have their own identity, we're still falling in line with their standards, but at the same time it's more of a "this is the console crowd" [feel]. We're giving them the chance to kind of come together and be as close as possible.
Q: So does that mean you're shying away from the idea of platform exclusive content?
JK: No, I'd always be interested in that. Neither one has come and asked specifically. I'm sure everyone's waiting for the game to come out, see the take community take hold, and then I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the opportunities we've conceived start appearing.
Q: But you think exclusive content is fair game? It's the kind of thing that annoys a lot of gamers.
JK: Well, I think it's good to have your loyalties. I'm a Chelsea fan, but I'm also a Giants fan in New York! I think it’s good to have your tribe and your crew that you sign allegiance to. I am curious to see… I'd love to see the Xbox crowd and the PlayStation crowd throwing down. Like, beyond "We've got our crew and we're in America!" or "We like this stuff!", to be actually console-to-console. That would be brilliant.
Q: Is there a way you can arrange that?
JK: I don't know, I suppose inadvertently. It'll be interesting to see if we can start going in to the metrics on… "The Xbox 360 crowd are on 81. What are you going to do about it?"
Q: Obviously a big part of this game's appeal is going to lie with the online communities and people uploading their own freestyle tracks. How is the moderation going to work? A lot of rappers like to insult their rivals or cover fairly controversial subjects, so how much of that are you going to allow?
JK: I fundamentally believe that our audience and community are very good at self-policing, and extreme behaviour would not be construed as valuable, and would quickly fall by the wayside. We obviously have a moderation process in terms of content that is uploaded - it's moderated before it then comes back down to the communities. I think we do need some wacky behaviour. We all want to see, "Oh my God, that guy's crazy!". I think people who are extreme in terms of explicit language, or derogatory viewpoints and commentary that wider society deems unacceptable, will very quickly lose traction should they slip through the moderation. And then you as a user have the option to block or complain about stuff. And I do believe that our wider community will be very quick to stamp out inexcusable behaviour - extreme political views, that kind of thing. I think excessive or gratuitous use of crude, offensive language never gets anyone very far these days, and what comes through in freestyle is wit and smarts and wordplay. The bigger the community… it's absolutely certain that you'll get extreme ends of behaviour. And I'm sure that snippets of that will come through and there'll be comments on it, but I really don’t think it'll last for very long. And at that point, if that's happening, it means we've got a very good-sized community, who I would expect to say "That's at the margins; that's not what we're about."