As news erupted yesterday in the Hollywood reporter yesterday telling of Oddworld Inhabitant’s move away from the core business of games, the games media struggled to work out why.
The suggestion proliferated within the press that Lanning becoming disillusioned with the industry having seen almost all marketing support withdrawn from the firm’s latest offering, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, leading to the closure of the internal development studio at OI.
In this exclusive interview Lanning explains what happened with Electronic Arts and offers a glimpse into the future of one of the best-loved and most intriguing development houses on the planet.
“To be certain, I'm definitely not "distressed" and I'm not "quitting", nor is the recent decisions a result of emotional reactions to the industry or Stranger's release,” states Lanning. "In recent articles, people connected the lack of promotional work from EA to our decision to shut down internal game development and made it sound as though there was an emotional issue driving our decisions. That is not the case, so let's clear it up."
Let’s indeed. So, what happened with Electronic Arts? Some comments sounded rather bitter. Would OI work with them again? Why was the PlayStation 2 version of Stranger canned and how badly does Lanning think the lack of marketing support impacted sales?
“We're not bitter with EA and we never said that we were. EA made the business decision to cut the marketing and advertising budget for Stranger after they found that they couldn't get the PS2 version completed in the time and for the budget they wanted to. That's it, period. Was it disappointing to us? Of course it was. Did it impact sales? Of course it did because you need those budgets to get the word out there and to build retailer confidence. These are just the facts of the business, but they should not be interpreted as emotional issues. Would we work with EA again? Of course we would." So in spite of recent reports and perhaps an eagerness amongst the press to paint a David and Goliath picture, Lanning would work with the world’s biggest third-party publisher on future projects. Surprising? Perhaps not…
And this being the case, would Lanning consider making another videogame in the current climate? If not, does he think there is space for a three-way Hollywood style funding model and would OI be happy with the exposure of that amount of capital?
"I want to point out that we never said we are quitting the game business," bellows Lanning. "What we said is that we are closing down internal game production at the San Luis Obispo studio. We are looking at new models beyond the current publisher/developer model and we want to focus primarily on the IP development for massively multi-media properties. Running an internal development studio is all consuming, and it's proven difficult to achieve other objectives as long as we're producing the entire production in-house. By not sustaining the internal studio, we gain the ability to pursue wider opportunities on various media fronts, including film and television. That's where we're headed and that definitely does not rule out involvement in videogame productions. We also want to help facilitate new financial models for games by helping to connect various forces that are interested in the games sector, but that are as yet not actively participating."
Although details are closely guarded right now, one could envisage Oddworld Inhabitants following in the footsteps of Blackley and Bachus’ somewhat ill-fated Capital Entertainment Group, bringing fresh money and of course fresh interest into the sector.
So games still are on the cards. Of course Lanning will have been privy to consoles that are currently in development. Any news on what we might expect, from both the machines and OI? And has Lanning seen anything on the Revolution from Nintendo?
"We've developed some exciting ideas for next gen and these are definitely aimed at pushing the next-gen potential," he explained. "Yet, building for next gen is going to be much more expensive than building for this gen, and that's part of the reason we are seeking new models for the development process. What's clear when we created these next gen concepts they were equally strong as movie possibilities, and thus we wanted to be able to pursue these options as well. Next-gen IP development, in our opinion, is really Massively Multi-Media Property development, of which games are one outlet. I haven't seen many concrete details on the Nintendo Revolution."