Robot lawn mover
When Hollywood tries to get into games, it often doesn’t end well. Sometimes, it doesn’t even start well.
Veteran developer and Turtle Rock Studios founder Mike Booth was well aware of this last year when he accepted a job with director J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot to be the general manager of Bad Robot Games Studio.
“I actually explored this topic pretty thoroughly before I joined Bad Robot, because there haven’t been a whole lot of great success stories with this sort of combination,” Booth tells GamesIndustry.biz in a recent conversation. “This goes way back to when CD-ROMs were brand new and Hollywood and games thought they could merge together, but not a whole lot of exciting things happened there.”
“Making movies and making games is similar. It rhymes, but it’s not the same. And it’s really easy to get those two things confused”
“I think the fundamental problem — in my understanding, at least — is that making movies and making games is similar. It rhymes, but it’s not the same. And it’s really easy to get those two things confused.”
While Booth admits being “a total amateur” when it comes to film, he recognizes that it requires very different creative skill sets.
“[Filmmakers] are folks who are very good about structuring the pacing of the story, how things flow, the character reveals and that sort of thing,” Booth said. “And you just do not have that level of control in a video game, generally. The thing that attracts people to a game is the feeling of agency and that it’s them making decisions and moving things forward.”
Booth’s own career has been focused on cooperative online multiplayer games like Left 4 Dead, which Booth says offer a player-driven narrative. The developers give them goals and throw obstacles in their path, but at the end of the experience, Booth says players can often construct a post-hoc narrative of the experience that is, for them, “just as epic as a blockbuster movie.”
“What attracted me to Bad Robot is that at a high level, I’ve loved J.J.’s movies and the kinds of things he does with adventures, interpersonal relationships, chemistry and all that sort of stuff jives really well with the kind of online multiplayer games I like to make,” Booth says.
Currently, Booth and his team are working on an original intellectual property for Bad Robot, a “full AAA title” on PCs and consoles, with a possible move into mobile as well. And while they’re well aware that there might be opportunities to take it beyond the world of games with the talent and experience of Bad Robot proper, Booth says the first order of business is to get the gameplay right.
“I think we can do things with co-op games that can be super hardcore, but also can be very accessible to a wide audience”
“We’re building a game,” Booth says. “We’re not worried about this being a film or TV show right now. We’re making sure this is an awesome cooperative multiplayer game. However, we’re brainstorming with JJ and Dave [Baronoff, president of Bad Robot Games] and some other folks on the team so they’re in the loop and we get their creativity, their ideas, and as the game matures, it may very well be that someone will see an opportunity to make a TV series, or a film, or shorts for the internet like we did when I was at Valve with Team Fortress 2 and the Meet the Team series.”
Even though Booth’s expertise has been in online multiplayer games, and his first project at Bad Robot is another one, he is leaving the door open to the studio making other projects. Maybe not leaving it open more than a crack, but still keeping the possibility alive.
“If I look at what has driven me throughout my entire career, it has all been online multiplayer,” Booth says. “I just really enjoy the endless possibilities of playing with other people online. I particularly like the cooperative nature of things where you’ve got a group of friends on one team trying to go through an adventure and overcome obstacles together. I think there aren’t enough co-op games out there… I think we can do things with co-op games that can be super hardcore, but also can be very accessible to a wide audience.”
Booth says he’s keen on innovating in the genre, and being at Bad Robot is giving them a chance “to bring different viewpoints and have more diverse stories,” as well as an opportunity to rethink the experience of spectators on the streaming side.
Beyond building the game differently, he’s also hoping to take a new approach to building out the studio, keeping the team as small and efficient as possible, and perhaps leaning on “Hollywood’s patterns of outsourcing.”
“15 years ago, or whenever I founded Turtle Rock, I wasn’t as aware as I am now of the challenges with diversity”
Booth has been through the process of starting a studio before, having founded Turtle Rock, and while there are certainly lessons to take from that experience, not everything that worked then would work the same now.
“I have noticed a change in the industry, and honestly I’ve noticed a change in myself,” Booth says. “15 years ago, or whenever I founded Turtle Rock, I wasn’t as aware as I am now of the challenges with diversity. And that is absolutely a priority at Bad Robot and Bad Robot Game Studios.”
He adds, “This is something that was really brought home to me during my four years at Facebook. Facebook internally was like the UN. There were folks from all over the world, all different backgrounds, different orientations. It was universally wonderful. People brought unique perspectives that were incredibly valuable. When I see people that may push back on this, I just don’t understand. They don’t understand they’re hurting themselves by not including these diverse voices because it represents the actual world, and people who want this entertainment want to see themselves represented.”
One thing Booth says hasn’t changed since the last time starting a studio is the importance of finding the right partner.
“You’re definitely looking for leadership that understands how hard it is and what kind of support you need to make a creative project — something new — from scratch,” Booth says. “[You’re looking] to have the runway to really build the thing out, but also that you have the support to flesh out the team, have the right budget, and then market the thing appropriately to get it in front of people.
“It’s challenging to find a place that can get all of those things at the same time. Often you can get one or two of them, but I think we’re really fortunate with Bad Robot that we have all the right pieces to make something awesome. Now it’s just the trivial bit of making a huge hit game from scratch. That’s all we have to worry about.”