We don't often hear about a lot of success stories from developers who are detached from that awful, awful life-sucking machine known as the publisher. In this case, however, Oddworld Inhabitant's Lorne Lanning wasn't going to be another victim of EA's long list of chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out-developers, and when approached for acquisition by EA he told them "F*ck you very much."
Gameindustry.biz has a great write-up on the very interesting Lanning and the journey from being a dependent developer relying on publisher funds to becoming their own micro-managed publisher in a very divisive and hostile gaming landscape.
What's more is that Lorne wants to get back to making new games in the Oddworld universe but he wants to do so while owning the brand rights, while doing it on the terms of the development team and doing so publisher-free...
"On the micro-publisher level it's very simple. We fund our own products," ... "We weren't able to do that in the boxed product days, we're only able to do that in the digital distribution landscape.
Lanning explains that by going digital the company is able to cut out ALL the middle-men and reap majority of the profits for themselves. They won't be using the money to buy Ferrari's, though. Instead, the money will be going back into the development cycle to make bigger and better games.
Oddworld Inhabitant's main goal is to eventually self-fund their own $30 million dollar blockbuster. That is something I would be interested in seeing, given that most AAA titles are all focus-group-tested corporate wallflowers made to look pretty for shareholders while usually being shallow and forgettable on the actual game mechanic front. A dev who has a large amount of funds to make whatever kind of game they want without publisher oversight is kind of a dream come true for both the developers and the gamers.
According to Lanning...
"Right now it's 100 per cent ours. We're testing those waters and every time it's proving successful. And then with JAW, everything they've done is true to the brand. With Abe's Odyssey they wanted to make it better. With Stranger's Wrath HD that was a bigger bet. Financially it was a bigger bet and it paid off. All that money now has gone back into new titles."
They've taken up this mantle of self-funding to avoid what happened during their tenure with EA where Stranger's Wrath didn't fare too well due to EA cutting promotional and marketing budgets for the game and then canceling the PS2 port, which really hurt the dev studio big time. According to Lorne, EA allegedly used this underhanded tactic to step in and acquire a fledging Oddworld Inhabitants and take control of the brand rights, something they've done with countless other IP over the years.
After Stranger's Wrath tanked EA came to the studio to acquire them and that's when Oddworld Inhabitants took to the defense, with Lorne saying...
“When you say that to us we go 'fuck you very much', quite frankly. That's not a sustainable model, that's a hostile acquisition," ... "That's why we had to strive to get independent. Rather than get into bed with someone we knew was a horrible bed partner we said 'let's stay virgins for longer'.”
I'm so glad these guys could see what EA was all about. Lorne even brought up Bobby “Project Icebreaker” Kotick's recent escapades to avoid paying royalties to the former Infinity Ward employees, that was reason enough for Oddworld to steer clear of bigger publishers who will screw everyone over for the almighty dollar.
Lorne also pointed to the crappy deals most developers are locked into where they're screwed no matter what and how publishers take advantage of the financial leverage to either take control of everything or kick the studio to the curb, sort of like that rock and hard place where Bungie is locked right now with Activision, where it almost looks impossible for them to come out on top.
Oddworld Inhabitant's main goal for now is to do the HD remakes, release their older titles, build up an audience again, re-connect with gamers and establish trust, raise capital with their self-publishing venture and then eventually start funding new projects for the digital landscape.
I love this final quote by Lanning, where he says...
"If fans heard me vent and were just like "you're a pussy, you're a complainer". You know what, you don't know the half of it. I don't mean to be condescending to fans it's just true. The real dirty shit we can't talk about because there's laws and all-powerful leaders."
No sir, you aren't a complainer you're just speaking on behalf of all the disgruntled devs, core gamers and passionate fans who want to see the gaming industry return to its former glory. Thanks for telling it like it is.
You can learn more about Lorne and the rest of the team over at their Official Website.