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Dice 2013: Thatgamecompany was bankrupt when they shipped Journey

TheOddOne

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Jan 13, 2008
38,638
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Netherlands
Wat.







Some early concept art and the design doc:

Update:

Journey and the search for emotional gaming
Journey is a game of catharsis, a hero's journey. A game that spurred emotional emails from fans and nearly destroyed the company that made it.

Speaking at the 2013 DICE summit, thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen said that Journey started out as a simple idea in 2006: catharsis.

Chen had grown disenchanted with how emotionally simplistic and repetitive most games were. Games often served to fulfill the emotional needs of a younger male audience, giving them a sense of empowerment and freedom. But Chen said thatgamecompany was created to deliver emotional experiences, specifically to deliver catharsis through emotional play.

Earlier in the day, Chen told Polygon that the first game the group created while at USC's Interactive Media Program was inspired by that idea.

"Each game we worked on were based on psychological theories and three act structures," he said. "Our goal is to touch people and help people reach a cathartic moment."

Each of their creations, he said at the time, took a different approach to achieving that moment.

Cloud pursued a sense of calm. Flower was about love. Journey, he said, was about the connection people form with one another in their journey through life.

During his talk, Chen said that it was after flow and Flower that he decided to try to tackle the problem of online gaming and use that to pursue a cathartic moment empowered by those interpersonal connections.

In trying to identify that emotion that he called "connection," Chen said he did some market research. That's when he ran into the astronauts, two men who described to him the experiences of the people who traveled to the moon and back.

One told him how changed those few were, they were more spiritual and more philosophical. The reason, Chen came to believe, was because while on the moon they were freed from distraction and left more emotionally charged and introspective.

That notion helped shape some of the design of Journey. Chen returned to his ideas for the game and worked to strip away as many distractions as possible in order to create a focused experience.

"There is no HUD," he said. "It is a very simple. There is no lobby."

Thatgamecompany then stretched that pure visual experience over the game's levels, designed to loosely follow not just a three act structure, but the monomyth. The idea, he said, is that the journey of Journey has to include a peak, a valley and then a cathartic-delivering final moment.

Chen said the company played around with different forms of multiplayer gaming before settling on a system that allowed players to game together anonymously, but still somehow form a connection with one another through their shared experiences.

After the first year of development, Journey's basic structure and look was sound, but neither were where thatgamecompany wanted them to be. After the second year the game was visually ready, but Chen said the valleys and peaks of their journey were too shallow to deliver any sort of emotional connection to gamers.

The studio decided to spend another year on the game, burning through the reserves of their money as they worked out the kinks of their game and tweaked the experience.

"A lot of people weren't paid," he said. "We also went bankrupt as a company."

The experience left Chen wondering whether Journey was worth it's own journey. The answer, he said, came in the 824 emails the company received after the game was released. Many were very personal, very emotional letters to the developer.

Update 2:

Journey wins out at 16th annual DICE awards
Wrapping up the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Thatgamecompany's Journey picked up eight awards, including Game Of The Year at the DICE Awards, in a banner night for the evocative downloadable PlayStation Network title.

Hosted by The Nerdist's Chris Hardwick at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel, the show also saw four awards go to Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, another standout game from 2012, as Gabe Newell was inducted into the AIAS' Hall Of Fame.

Although Journey didn't avoid its share of jokes from host Hardwick - he said the title gives gamers valuable experience in "going outside and meeting people," it received a standing ovation as the now-split team picked up the Game Of The Year gong at the end of the night.

In accepting, Kellee Santiago called out Sony's Shuhei Yoshida for giving the team a start out of USC, and TGC's current mainstay Jenova Chen said "tough times" birthed the game. (In fact, it was so delayed that the company essentially became bankrupt directly after shipping it.)

An emotional Robin Hunicke ended that final acceptance speech by saying simply: "Journey connects people across cultural, gender boundaries, age - and the games of the future will kick Journey's ass!'


Earlier in the evening, Infocom veteran Steve Meretzky had given out the Pioneer award to Infocom co-founders Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, praising interactive fiction's amazing "one on one dialog with the author".

Accepting and talking directly to the audience, Lebling said simply: "You're keeping the flame alive... thank you so much, everyone." And later in the acceptance speech, Marc Blank quipped that the early '80s text adventure pioneers were "Neanderthals", and therefore today's games must contain "between 2 and 3 percent of [Infocom's] DNA."

Elsewhere, ex-Epic head Mike Capps gave out the Hall Of Fame award to Newell, giving the Valve co-founder massive credit, and noting wryly: "you need to be a bit crazy to push the industry that far & that fast."

Newell, onstage to a standing ovation, kept his remarks brief, following appearances in two other longer lectures at DICE, simply saying that "it's all about collaboration" and crediting the team at Valve.

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Casual Game of the Year: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Outstanding Innovation in Gaming: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Outstanding Achievement in Online Gameplay: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)

Game of the Year: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
 

badcrumble

Member
May 12, 2006
26,793
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Journey got delayed a lot and seems to have ballooned a bit during development, so that's no huge surprise. Good on them for putting out a great game, though, and for (presumably) making a good amount of money back.
 

benny_a

extra source of jiggaflops
Apr 25, 2009
17,350
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Good timing.

Wish Sony had a similar policy towards published indie games like Microsoft does.

Timed exclusive, then ports allowed.
Depending on the contracts, they do have that.

Pub Fund games regularly turn up on other places.
 

RoboPlato

I'd be in the dick
Oct 29, 2006
42,984
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Holy shit. I guess it was all or nothing when they released the game then. Glad it did well.
 

fvng

Member
Sep 25, 2012
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Good timing.

Wish Sony had a similar policy towards published indie games like Microsoft does.

Timed exclusive, then ports allowed.

Gotta respective business hustle.

I still don't see Shadow Complex on Steam


. Jenova told me last year in an interview it was looking at signing a new deal with a new publishing partner soon (at the time) and that they were aiming to show the new TGC game within the year (it didn't happen).

It's amazing that Sony dropped the ball on acquiring them. Or maybe TGC resisted their advances.
 

jaypah

Member
Nov 1, 2006
11,062
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Holy shit. I guess it was all or nothing when they released the game then. Glad it did well.

me too. I bought it, played it in one sitting and will never play it again. I still feel like I totally got my moneys worth.
 

benny_a

extra source of jiggaflops
Apr 25, 2009
17,350
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Sony owns the IPs
They do in this case.

I replied to this:
Wish Sony had a similar policy towards published indie games like Microsoft does.

And unless we're right now uncovering major breaches in contracts by Drinkbox, Q-Games, Die Gute Fabrik & Hello Games, I'm right.
 

Pie and Beans

Look for me on the local news, I'll be the guy arrested for trying to burn down a Nintendo exec's house.
Apr 23, 2010
13,063
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Leaving the Sony nest seems even more fucking insane now if this was true. This is the problem with arthouse studios I guess.

Haha, feels like this is the topic for people to spit hot GAF GOTY revenge-venom.
 

benny_a

extra source of jiggaflops
Apr 25, 2009
17,350
1
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Please expand on this
All of these independent companies have in the past released, or are in the process of releasing games that were previously only available on PlayStation.
 

Jintor

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Oct 22, 2009
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I wonder what the sales figures for Journey look like and if they benefited or suffered long-term from being trapped in the Sony wheel-house. (Thumbs were talking about this on this week's cast)
 

Kaako

Felium Defensor
May 20, 2007
25,625
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Yes
apod.nasa.gov
God damn this makes me sad like no other. Absolutely loved Fl0wer and Journey. I wish the company was still together and making games for the PS4. I wish all of them the best of luck in their endeavors.
 

JWong

Banned
Sep 15, 2009
13,365
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Well, Sony wasn't paying their salaries. They probably just dumped a lump sum agreed by both parties.

ThatGameCompany would have most likely made commission on Journey's success as payment usually means you make a return on the investment before making profit.

I would guess that they're doing fine financially at the moment. I hope so anyway.

being trapped in the Sony wheel-house

Seriously? A lot of studios would love to be in the same position of complete creative control.
 

alr1ght

bish gets all the credit :)
Sep 25, 2005
55,613
6
1,440
I wonder what the sales figures for Journey look like and if they benefited or suffered long-term from being trapped in the Sony wheel-house. (Thumbs were talking about this on this week's cast)

Well Sony Santa Monica developed a large portion of the game.
 

darkside31337

Tomodachi wa Mahou
May 31, 2011
34,803
1
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That email is amazing.

Such a great game, one of the most emotional and enjoyable experiences I've ever had playing games.
 

benny_a

extra source of jiggaflops
Apr 25, 2009
17,350
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Well Sony Santa Monica developed a large portion of the game.
Did that also come out of DICE or where is that information from?
I know that SSM helped out, but I just assumed it was like with The Unfinished Swan where they had one dedicated person plus random people helping out over the project's lifecycle.
 

BlackLagoon

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Dec 15, 2012
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It's amazing that Sony dropped the ball on acquiring them. Or maybe TGC resisted their advances.
Yeah, one shouldn't assume all companies want to be bought. Also a lot of thatgamecompany's key people left after Journey, so for better or worse, it's not exactly the same company any more.
 

fvng

Member
Sep 25, 2012
6,075
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All of these independent companies have in the past released, or are in the process of releasing games that were previously only available on PlayStation.

Ah I had no idea pixel junk games were coming to Windows
 

Clear

Deer/Dur
Feb 2, 2009
11,755
6,152
1,245
Speaking of MS and Indie-games, kinda surprised them discontinuing XNA hasn't gotten more coverage; evidently no Indies on the new XBox.

And as for TGC being bankrupt at ship-time... nothing strange about it. When a team is "funded" its typically an advance on royalties that won't be recouped until months after release. Its a fixed sum to cover costs on the project, not a stipend to keep the contractor afloat - this is why there are so many layoffs/closures shortly after shipping.

Without a paying project to maintain continuity, you have all the burn-rate expenses built up over the course of development and no income to cover it.