A brave new Oddworld: Lanning speaks out

[Hosted by ComputerAndVideoGames.com]

Date: 27/04/2005

Interviewer: Graeme Boyd

Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20070112093900/http://computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=117845

EA, development pressures, and what’s next for Oddworld: Lorne Lanning talks candidly about his decision to expand into film and television

It was the kind of news Oddworld fans had nightmares about: Lorne Lanning, co-founder and creative director at Oddworld Inhabitants, recently announced that he was shutting down the company’s internal game development unit and moving into the field of film and television production.

The news shocked the industry and stunned gamers, but the signs were already there. Back in December of last year we interviewed Lanning (catch up here) and he suggested that he wasn’t entirely happy with the current relationship between independent developers and big-money publishers.

We caught up with Lanning in the aftermath of his announcement to find out what the future holds for Oddworld Inhabitants and the Oddworld universe itself. As you’ll see there are casualties of the move – namely Oddworld Fangus, the proposed Xbox-exclusive next installment in the series – but there are also plans for more quality Oddworld output in the realms of games, movie and television.

Oddworld Inhabitants has gone multi-medium. Coutesy of Lorne Lanning, here’s your guide to this brave new Oddworld.

CVG: Lorne, You mentioned to CVG.com in December that you wanted to go back to movies/video but you thought games still deserved a shot. What finally pushed you over the edge?

Lorne Lanning: When Sherry McKenna and I started the company, we always perceived it as a property development company. As a property development company you look at the economic spectrum for the various outlets of entertainment media (games, film/TV, networked media) and you should weigh your skills and strengths into the areas that you have the most likely ability to birth successful new IPs [Intellectual Properties]. Ultimately, higher costs and greater risks to production are deterrents to innovation and the creation of new IPs.

Today, it’s clear that other media sectors are growing less expensive in production while at the same time significantly increasing the quality of their content output (CG film and TV for example). Meanwhile, console games are growing substantially more expensive, yet at the same time marginally increasing in the quality of the output. Unlike movies, television, and networked media, each new generation of consoles starts with an installed base of zero, yet a higher price tag is needed for production, which means the potential returns are less and the contractual conditions are less attractive for most independent developers moving into the next generation.

If you’re a developer who is capable of delivering on multiple mediums, then you see how new possibilities are emerging with the times, especially if your skills and experiences can help you to transcend multiple mediums.

CVG: You’ve been very vocal about your displeasure at EA’s handling of Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath. What aspects of EA’s attitude to the title disappointed you the most?

Lorne Lanning: Why is it that when a developer identifies a reality issue related to a games performance it constitutes the developer being “very vocal” against a publisher? If you’re an independent developer today and you, in the course of an article, objectively identify why a publisher chose not to support your title with marketing and advertising dollars does that makes you “very vocal”!? No, that’s drama being attached where some people want to see it. Things are what they are and one doesn’t have to be emotional or attacking about it to objectively state how it is.

CVG: Do you think Stranger’s Wrath’s poor sales figures are directly related to the EA situation?

Lorne Lanning: It’s certainly a factor.

CVG: You’ve expressed you disappointment at the lack of original content coming out of the games industry. In your opinion, why is this happening?

Lorne Lanning: Raising budgets, technological challenges, fewer winners in the marketplace… all of this compound against the limited shelf space that exists for games at retail. Add in that there is (predominately) only one shot at retail to sell games within the first two weeks of launch, and you’ve got an increasingly conservative publishing climate.

We’ve all witnessed in information media, music, and book publishing that so long as the availability to the public is determined by limited physical shelf space, then we see fewer choices delivered to the public through increasingly narrowing windows of time, and you inevitably see fewer successes. The means to break the trend lies in digital distribution.

CVG: Did you and the staff at Oddworld Inhabitants feel like you were fighting the trend of ‘safe’ but dull videogame production?

Lorne Lanning: We didn’t feel that we were fighting the trend, as much as we were creating what we believed in. As the industry moves forward, it’s evident that the odds are decreasing in terms of the flavours of content one will be able to get financed for a game. This will remain the trend so long as publishers are doing the entire financing of projects, development environments continue to create increasing cost conditions, and retail is the primary outlet.

CVG: Do you worry that other independent developers or original thinkers in the industry will follow your lead, further depleting videogaming of innovative thought?

Lorne Lanning: I don’t know. It’s hard to believe that we’d be that influential. If we created a hit movie that was a big box office success, well, then maybe you might see a trend. Yet, there should be no illusions that television and film projects are any easier to get a greenlight on. However, there is a greater range of production budgets, an increasing appetite for quality CG, and multiple outlets for sale to the public. Ultimately, the most attractive properties are those that can transcend the greatest number of delivery systems in the realm of entertainment.

CVG: The next Oddworld game, Fangus, seemed to be shaping up nicely. What’s the status of this project given your decision? Will it still appear as a videogame or has it been canned?

Lorne Lanning: It was shaping up nicely, but it was still an Xbox-only title. If you look at this coming Xmas, most of the press and gamer attention will be on Xbox2 and we felt that an Xbox only title, without live play, would likely not succeed at retail regardless of how good it may turn out.

CVG: You also spoke to us last December about plans for a ‘politically controversial’ game set apart from the Oddworld universe, which you called Citizen Siege. Have plans for a videogame been shelved, and do you intend to flesh out these ideas in your new ventures?

Lorne Lanning: No comment.

CVG: You’ve decided to concentrate on CG movie and TV production. Why?

Lorne Lanning: We’re concentrating on the properties. Rapidly changing economics and emerging opportunities over the landscape of entertainment media are rapidly creating new and exciting possible models, in addition to games. Ultimately, the creation of universes that are MMMP (Massively Multi Media Properties) are going to be the strong players, and properties of this nature have been and will continue to be our focus. The key is to launch in the medium which is most capable of delivering to the largest audience, with the most reasonable budgets per quality of content, and with the greatest chances of success, and also to focus on development and financing models outside of the current developer/publisher model.

CVG: What does the movie/TV/video industry offer that videogaming doesn’t?

Lorne Lanning: Much larger audiences with a much wider variety in appetites.

CVG: Will you transpose the Oddworld universe to your new endeavours?

Lorne Lanning: The Oddworld Universe was always created with the intent of being delivered across several forms of media. When you consider that we own the publishing rights to critically acclaimed IP’s, that we are experienced talents in film/TV EFX production, as well as proven game creators, then you’re looking at a lot of opportunities in today’s brave new world.

CVG: You told us about your desire to create strong brands that people would return to because of your reputation, like Image Comics. Do you think this will be a more achievable goal in your new sphere?

Lorne Lanning: If you create a strong brand, then people will return to it until you screw it up. Yet, with games, there are a lot of reasons that you may see declining sales for a brand, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand is not capable of reaching a far greater audience. When you look at the trends today, you do see that industry sales are reflecting a continually narrower range in content than other forms of media.

CVG: Do you have plans to return to the games industry in time?

Lorne Lanning: We are only leaving behind the model of the independent internal developer. The current model between publishers and developers is broken. Yet, the properties that we have created, and will continue to create, are designed to be viable games as well as viable movies and television and there are a lot of production companies that will need viable content. “Content” is the name of the game in entertainment media. So…

CVG: Will the company name remain the same?

Lorne Lanning: Yes.

CVG: And are you taking all your staff with you?

Lorne Lanning: No, we shut down the internal development company.

CVG: So what’s next for Oddworld Inhabitants in the immediate future? Are there any projects you’ve already begun or are desperate to get started on?

Lorne Lanning: We’re not commenting on any specifics at this time.

CVG: We’ll look forward to hearing about them when you’re ready to reveal them.

Lorne Lanning: You bet. Thanks for the support.