中西方工作室合作面臨的風險:成品毫無吸引力

原文作者:Brendan Sinclair 譯者:Megan Shieh

Red Accent工作室的Greg Gobbi說,西方和中國的開發者可以合作創造出具有全球吸引力的遊戲,但它需要的是協同合作,而不是妥協。

90年代末,Greg Gobbi是育碧公司的一名製作人,作品是《雷曼2:勝利大逃亡》。該作原先是針對PC平臺開發的,後來移植到了各種平臺上,其中包括最初的PlayStation。而這個移植項目也是育碧上海分公司的首個項目,Greg告訴GamesIndustry.biz,那是他第一次與中國團隊合作。

Greg說:“當時會受到業內各方的關注不僅僅因爲這是個移植項目,同時也是中國遊戲行業的開端,因此那個團隊裏只有部分成員是來自中國的,我認爲應該有30-40%的成員是從國外請回來培訓和管理這個中國團隊的。當時中國開發團隊的優勢實力主要集中在工程學方面。但是我們可以看到,年復一年,團隊中的外國開發者越來越少,中國開發者卻變得越來越多,而且中國的專業知識從工程技術逐漸延伸到了美術和遊戲設計。”

Greg說,隨着時間的推移,中國的開發領域在很大程度上解決了可能存在的任何技術差距。在盈利模式等領域,中國設計師擁有的專業知識超越了許多西方開發中心。如今,Greg不再將中國視爲一個提供廉價勞動力的地方,而是一個與西方開發商合作的理想型創作中心。
這就是Red Accent工作室背後的想法,Greg於2014年與同事Julien Bares在上海和舊金山共同創建了該工作室。

Galaxy Trucker(from itunes.apple.com)

Galaxy Trucker(from itunes.apple.com)

Greg說:“我們的目標是實現真正的合作,將西方和中國的影響力結合起來,帶入到我們的遊戲設計中,從而吸引全球玩家。我們的模式真的不是‘在加州設計,在中國開發’,而是“在兩個地方設計”,可以說是思想的融合,然後把遊戲開發出來,最終向全球受衆推廣。

“大多數的公司都選擇在西方設計遊戲,然後再在中國開發遊戲中的某些部分,因爲從歷史的角度上來說,在中國開發遊戲相對比較便宜。現在也還是比較便宜,但成本也是越來越高了,尤其是在上海開發的話。另一方面,中國本土的大公司會在中國設計遊戲,但在向國外輸出產品方面卻面臨挑戰。因此我們向投資者提出的承諾是,在中國創作適合全球受衆的遊戲,這些遊戲可以出口到世界各地。”

剛剛成立的工作室從一開始就採取中西方合作的方式,這種做法並不常見,而Greg也明白Red Accent的戰略優勢可能成爲它的弱點。

Greg說:“我們的目標是設計具有全球性吸引力的遊戲,而這麼做的風險在於成品可能會太過中立,沒有足夠的個性,因而不存在任何吸引力。”

“防止這種情況發生的最好方法是:弄清楚誰在遊戲的最初設計上擁有領導地位。這是兩個團隊之間的合作努力,但它不應該是一個妥協。如果這是一種妥協,那麼你做出來的東西真的會卡在中間,既無趣又沒有個性,因爲人們會接受將自己不喜歡的東西加到遊戲裏去,然後不把自己喜歡的東西加進去。如果清楚誰有領導能力,領導能力強的團隊就會做出正確的判斷,而其他團隊則會強化這些內容。每個人都應該有發言權,但不是每個人都有投票權。”

幸運的是,Greg和Julien在國際開發方面有着豐富的經驗。20年前,他們倆在育碧的巴黎分公司首次見面,當時Greg在育碧的蒙特利爾分公司擔任編輯部門的執行副總裁,而Julien則在育碧的上海分公司擔任製作人。2005年,Greg跳槽到了Take-Two Interactive,在那裏他加入了2K遊戲品牌的創立執行團隊。不久之後Julien也加入了Take-Two,擔任2K中國工作室的總經理,負責與西方的2K工作室合作製作各種項目,比如《生化奇兵2》、《特殊行動:一線生機》、《幽浮:未知敵人》。八年後,他們渴望做些新的事情。

Greg解釋說:“我們倆都已經40歲了,在這個年紀你會遇到所謂的“中年危機”,開始對未來感到迷茫,然後問自己“我們現在該怎麼辦?”。有些人會選擇更換他們的人生伴侶,但是我們仍然深愛着我們的妻子,所以這個方法行不通。我們已經在大公司工作了快20年了,因此我們要麼是選擇再在大公司裏做個10年,要麼就是嘗試一些不同的東西。這時,自主創業的想法吸引了我們。”

他補充說:“我住在硅谷,周圍全都是自己開公司的人。如果你不這樣做的話,感覺就像是小區裏的一個怪人,因此社交壓力也是我選擇創業的原因之一。”

Greg說,當時他和Julien在移動遊戲領域看到了一個創造性的契機。遊戲機業務似乎越來越多地被續集所主宰,因此他們認爲,跳入移動領域將是一項更有趣的創新活動。大概一年多以前,他們將業務範圍擴展到了虛擬現實(VR)遊戲。

Greg說:“我們做的是3D即時手遊,開發的流程、使用的工具和專業知識與VR遊戲都是一樣的,因此我知道我們可以做VR遊戲。我們想要先嚐試一個小項目,然後從那裏開始。”

是不是一個“小型”項目很難說,Red Accent的第一個VR項目改編自同名兒童讀物《小王子》。他們正在以章節的形式開發這款遊戲,該工作室目前已經自己籌集到了第一個章節的資金,現在正在爲剩下的五個章節尋求資金。目前玩家可以在世界各地的少數VR體驗館裏體驗到這款遊戲。一旦六個章節全部開發完畢,該工作室計劃將其在PC和VR遊戲機商店中上線。Greg說,《小王子VR》也有可能在移動VR平臺上線,但是目前該領域過於碎片化,所以暫時還不能板上釘釘。

雖然《小王子VR》是Red Accent工作室迄今爲止最受關注的項目,但該工作室的焦點並沒有完全轉向VR。去年,該工作室測試發行了一款F2P手遊,除了盈利模式之外,它的各個方面都得到了良好的評價並且達到了不錯的指標。Red Accent最終選擇放棄這款遊戲,但它會把從這個項目中學習到的經驗教訓帶入到下一款F2P手遊中,新作有望在明年年初推出,從而給該工作室的作品目錄增添一些多樣性。

Greg指出:“去年有很多的中國公司都在做VR遊戲,他們中的很多人都失敗了。”

我們問Greg:“你認爲這些人失敗的原因是否和公司的成立方式,或VR市場的健康程度有關?”他表示,兩者都起到了一定的影響。

接着解釋道:“兩年前,VR市場非常令人興奮,投資者也很多。在中國出現了很多私人投資的小型VR遊戲公司。結果VR市場的擴張沒有預期的那麼快,對於內容創作者來說,這是一個非常具有挑戰性的市場。但是你必須想辦法克服這些困難,而我認爲,這涉及到了上述小公司可能缺乏的管理技能。”

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In the late ’90s, Greg Gobbi was a producer with Ubisoft working on Rayman 2: The Great Escape. The game was created for PC, and then ported to various platforms, among them the original PlayStation. That particular adaptation would be the first project to come out of Ubisoft Shanghai, and as Gobbi told GamesIndustry.biz, it was his first co-production with a Chinese team.

“What was striking at the time was not only it was a port, but it was really the beginning of the industry in China,” Gobbi said. “So the team there was only partially made of Chinese developers. I believe the ratio was maybe 30-40% people coming from abroad to train and manage a reduced Chinese team. The strength of the Chinese team at the time was mostly in engineering.

And what we saw was that year after year, the ratio of foreign developers to Chinese developers leaned more and more to Chinese people on the team, but the expertise in China extended from mostly engineering to art to game design, and then on that team, in my opinion, creative direction and storytelling.”

As the years have gone by, the Chinese development scene has largely addressed whatever skills gaps it might have had, Gobbi said. And in areas like monetization, there’s more expertise among Chinese designers than you could expect to find in many Western development hubs. These days, Gobbi sees China not as a place to have inexpensive employees handling the grunt work, but as a creative hub ideal for collaboration with Western developers.

That’s the idea behind Red Accent Studios, which Gobbi co-founded in Shanghai and San Francisco with long-time colleague Julien Bares in 2014.

“In our case, the promise was to really work together, mixing Western influence and Chinese influence in the design of our games in order to be appealing to a global audience,” Gobbi said.

“It’s really not ‘Designed in California and developed in China.’ That’s not the model. The model is ‘Designed in both locations,’ with a melding of minds so to speak, and then developed, and then marketed to a global audience.

“Most companies design in the West, and have some development power in China, because historically it was cheaper to develop in China. It’s still cheaper, but it’s getting more and more expensive, especially when you develop in Shanghai. On the other hand, there are a number of big game companies in China that design games in China, but have challenges exporting their creations outside of China. So the promise we pitched to our investors was to have global games that originate from China, that can export around the world.”

It’s not an especially common approach to start a development studio with Western and Chinese studios collaborating from the get-go, and Gobbi understands Red Accent’s strategic strength could also wind up being its weakness.

“The opportunity is to have a game with a global appeal, and the risk is to have no appeal at all, to be in the middle of everything and not have a strong enough personality,” Gobbi said.

“The biggest tool to prevent that from happening is to be clear on who has the leadership over the initial design of the game. It’s a collaborative effort between the two teams, but it should not be a compromise. If it is a compromise, you really get into this middle, uninteresting thing where people compromise on what they don’t like and don’t put in what they like. If it’s clear who has the leadership, the team who has the leadership makes the correct call, and those are enriched by the other teams. Everybody has a voice, but not everybody has a vote.”

Fortunately, Gobbi and Bares have plenty of prior experience with international development. Gobbi and Bares first met at Ubisoft in Paris 20 years ago, with Gobbi finding his way to an executive VP of editorial position at Ubisoft Montreal while Bares settled in as a producer at Ubisoft Shanghai. In 2005, Gobbi jumped to Take-Two Interactive, where he joined the executive team starting up the 2K Games label. Soon after, Bares joined Take-Two to be general manager of the 2K China studio, working with a variety of Western 2K Games studios on projects like BioShock 2, Spec Ops: The Line, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Eight years later, they got the itch to do something new.

“We both turned 40,” Gobbi explained, “and you have this kind of mid-life crisis, saying, ‘What should I do now with my life?’ Some people change their life companions, but I believe we were still both in love with our wives, so that was not an option. We had been with big companies for nearly 20 years and two cycles of game platforms. The options were to either do another cycle at a big company, or to try something different. The appeal of entrepreneurship got us.”

He added, “I also live in Silicon Valley, and you’re surrounded by people who start companies. And at some point, if you don’t do it, you’re kind of like an oddity within the community, so there was a social pressure to start working for myself as well.”

At the time, Gobbi said he and Bares saw a creative opportunity in mobile games. The console business seemed increasingly dominated by sequels, so they figured a jump into mobile would be a more interesting venture, creatively. A little over a year ago, that focus expanded to include virtual reality.

“In our case, the games we are making in mobile are in real-time 3D, and using the exact same pipeline and tools and expertise as you need to do a VR game,” Gobbi said. “So we knew our team could do it, and we wanted to try a small project to start and go from there.”

While its status as “small” is debatable, Red Accent’s first VR project is an adaptation of the cherished children’s book The Little Prince. The studio is developing it in episodic fashion, having already self-funded the first episode and now in pursuit of funding for the remaining five planned episodes. At the moment, it’s available exclusively in a handful of VR arcades around the world, with plans to release it on PC and console VR storefronts once all six chapters are complete. Gobbi said mobile VR platforms are also a possibility, but right now the field is too fragmented for that to be a slam dunk decision.

While The Little Prince is Red Accent’s highest profile project to date, it hasn’t shifted gears entirely to VR. It had a free-to-play mobile game in soft launch last year that drew good reviews and promising metrics on every front but monetization. The studio scrapped that game, but is putting some of the lessons from it toward a new free-to-play mobile game it expects to launch early next year, lending some welcome diversity to its catalog of games.

“There were tons of game companies doing VR last year [in China],” Gobbi noted. “A lot of them failed.”

When asked if that says more about how those companies were set up or the health of the VR market, Gobbi suggested it’s a bit of both.

“There was huge excitement in the VR market two years ago, and lots of investors,” he said. “There are a lot of private investors in small companies in China. And then the market expansion didn’t happen as fast or as much as what was anticipated, and it’s a very challenging market for content creators to make money in at the moment. But you have to find a way to make it work, and that does involve some management skills that maybe some of those small companies lacked.” (Source: gamesindustry.biz  )