Talking With Raccoon Logic – AAA to Indie, To Stadia and Back To Indie

Chris Wray

Games Industry Issues, Job Security and Raccoon Logic's First Push

I've already covered some of the problems you can find working with some publishers, but while talking with Reid and Alex, it's interesting to hear more about the issues you can face internally. Issues often affect these companies' output and appear to be a driving factor in what gets produced.

As a follow-up to me stating that everything points towards Tencent being very hands-off any my belief that this seems to be the best method, Alex had this to say:

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I think that's the way to do it, even within studios. Ubisoft used to be quite good at that - once you got going, and greenlit, they weren't micro-managers and they have the studios that can make new IP's. EA is production led and filled with micro-management, and I think that's what stops them making new IP's often enough. It's such a fight to get it through EA, whereas Ubi embraces it more and. It's different styles to different types of development.

I asked how they felt with the move from huge companies, to indie, to another huge company and now back to indie. Both had fascinating perspectives on this, with Alex saying:

The big difference is, at big studios you have more security in terms of funding, job security, and that sort of stuff. You pay it back by being shepherds of someones brands, so even when you emotionally own it, you don't own it. You're making a sequel or you're making a new IP for them, then they'll own it. They're a company, so they have no qualms about reminding you of that, if it gets to that point. They own that, you can be here or not, even if you could make it better.

We like the idea of owning our decisions and succeeding or failing on our own, and being able to make fast decisions. Big companies are just incredibly slow and the bigger they get, the longer they go on, the people that made that company have gone as well so you have more fear and paralysis, and a desire to just say no to everything because it's too risky. It just gets harder and harder to make anything, and we just like making stuff.

Reid followed up by saying:

I have absolutley no data to back this up, but I think working at a big company is the illusion of security, when you think about the amount of layoffs.

I think for us, we'd rather be a small, nimble, agile group. If we succeed, we can make everybody be a part of that and be successful. We fail and succeed by our own decisions, not because someone somewhere had to please shareholders, or there's a new boss and he or she doesn't like a particular game.

So many things come outside of your control, so we'd rather create a sustainable, positive and cool environment where people can do their best work, and not be at someones mercy.

Reid reiterated how he would love to run the data to see if there is a higher chance of being laid off at a giant or an indie because as more news comes out, the larger studios often don't feel secure.

On an interesting note, Alex mentioned how during his time as a creative director at large studios, he found that about fifty per cent of his time was reformatting the same information for different people. This was either to stop people from changing it, block edits, remind people why something was being done, or sell it down the line. Specifically, he stated that it could feel like an "endless debate that sucks the life out of you".

On a positive note leading on from this topic, more information on the development of Journey to the Savage Planet was revealed, as well as how Typhoon Studios was structured and how Raccoon Logic will continue, with Reid saying:

The team is really technical. We always joke that anyone we hire had to be able to do two jobs. At the AAA's, the large studios, you have hyper-specialisation - so you might have the one guy who just does the grass.

At Typhoon, Alex did all the writing and the design, I was doing production, HR and finance. We like people who are generalists, who want to get their hands in multiple things, which we believes it makes you a stronger and more adaptable group.

The cool thing about that is because we structured the company like that, we had no crunch on the first game. It was totally sustainable, which was awesome. We probably didn't say that enough when promoting it, but it was really cool that from start to finish, there was no crazy overtime and we're proud of that.

Alex continued with this topic, linking to what was said earlier, saying:

That all connects back to what we talked about before. The overtime comes from poor planning and/or a lack of consistency of what you're asking for. If, on the design side, I keep changing it, it just keeps adding work. If you allow to plan too much, it puts you behind the eight-ball.

That comes from the big studios too, always having to respond to external interference. If you can't fight it hard enough they will pile more food onto your plate, or they'll lose faith in a feature and make you re-do it. All these sorts of things.

The benefit of it [Typhoon], we were in control of the scope. We could have realistic meetings with people and get in front of it. So we could say we don't need that much of this feature, so don't worry about it, let's cut this early, or there's opportunity here, so let's prioritise that instead of chasing this other thing that isn't working.

When asked directly what they prefer, both expressed they prefer to work for themselves, though they had positives while working for larger companies.

What's First for Raccoon Logic

Whatever the first title is for Raccoon Logic, there are plans for them to experiment and work on various items. A particular question I asked was, "do you think you'll look at branching out, letting people experiment with ideas for smaller games. Make a quick mobile, something like that?".

They had certainly been thinking of that, Alex said:

I love the idea. We were pitching this idea, what we were calling Raccoon Shorts. This idea that between projects we could put something out that's an hour long, that's two-bucks or something.

I really like this idea of everybody doing their own thing and not be so precious about what we put out to market. Almost like if you're a band and occasionally just release a single. I think there's something cool in that. Maybe one of them takes off or people respond really well to it, you could evolve it into something bigger.

No matter what the first game will be, Raccoon Logic is looking to make an inclusive studio that will make games for the fun of making them and ones they're interested in making. Now, they're most certainly not going to be making a flight simulator, Alex really not being a fan of that style of game - much to the chagrin of myself and the PR who set up the interview.

What type of game will they make? Alex had this to say:

We like the wackier genres, so the sci-fi and fantasy, just because most of the team having worked for so many years on games that were either historically set, contemporary, and involving human beings. There's only so much, on the game design side, that you can stretch what human beings can do.

Random Thoughts and Final Takeaway

Beyond Good and Evil

While talking about publishers, I mentioned how Ubisoft used to make or publish practically anything and everything. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Chris Wray: You look at the games they made in the past... I'm still waiting for Beyond Good and Evil 2

Alex Hutchinson: [laughs] you and like those eight other people!

CW: I'm sure there's nine! There must be nine [laughs]

AH: No, I think it's always... The games that amuse me the most are games where there's this feeling there's a big audience waiting for it. Then I'm like, "Why did nobody buy it?" If everybody who purports to be a big fan had bought the first one, we'd be on Beyond Good and Evil 5.

CW: Yeah, that's true. I can't argue with that. Well, I bought it; I even bought a second copy too!

AH: Yep, I bought it too.

I can't disagree here. The sad reality is that so many games in the past have been clamoured for, only to find the audience isn't that large. Even going by SteamSpy, the original Beyond Good and Evil is only owned by between two-hundred to five-hundred thousand. While old, there has been so much talk about the game that you would imagine there'd be a larger number having grabbed it there.

Playing the Dog

I was never aware that the dog in Journey to the Savage Planet is based on the dog of Reid Schneider. Maybe you knew this, but I didn't. I like that dog; it also visited our chat, popping by to say hello and also likely to argue over image rights for the inevitable Journey to the Savage Planet 2.

Thoughts on Stadia

A long-running concern I've had about Stadia was the infrastructure, the network connections required. A fair point by Alex was on the fact that when Netflix and streaming really started, there were natural detractors there. Stadia as a concept is something with great potential and likely closer than we think.

Final Impressions

These are two people who have been in the industry at all levels, working on some of the biggest titles and starting their own company to create a successful indie title in Journey to the Savage Planet. The experience and insight are clear. Having regained their IP, having a level of security from Tencent, Raccoon Logic is a small but very experienced team that I can't help but imagine will result in something good.

Will it be Journey to the Savage Planet 2, will it be a game about Raccoon's, or will it be a fighting game about Pandas hitting each other with trash? Only time will tell, but I'm certainly going to be keeping an eye out and watching the company closely.


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