Ensemble has been talking to edge-online.com about its MMOG plans and how it’s finally cracking the problem of bringing Age of Empires style RTS games to consoles.
The final stop on Next-Gen’s tour of Dallas was Ensemble. One of the best known developers in Dallas has two floors at the top of a terra-cotta colored tower. Inside, it’s built out in an interior design that looks like a space-ship.
As Tony Goodman, CEO of Ensemble Studios explains, "We don’t want it to feel like an office, we want it to feel like a cool place to hang out." And it does. From the lounges throughout, to the theater room with eighty seats, where the team gathers to watch movies, the effect is achieved.
Goodman has just moved from one office to another, and isn’t quite unpacked. On his desk is a copy of the Blue Ocean Strategy. We begin by discussing blue waters and Age of Empires at the start…
At the Time
"Half-way through, there were literally fifty [RTS] games in development. Everybody got the same idea at the same time, to do an RTS game." Computer Gaming World called it: The Year of the RTS. "We were lucky to have survived."
Still, Age of Empires was the only history based RTS at the time. "Even our publisher, back then we were talking to Microsoft, were like ‘Well, history games don’t sell.’ I go, ‘How do you know that?’ ‘Well, because most of the games out are fantasy and science-fiction. That’s what you’ve got to do.’"
Goodman had to convince them that you cannot use comparables for everything. "They didn’t believe it until the game sold."
When Ensemble started the project, they were quite confident. "By the time we’d talked to them and their marketing people enough, they stared to shake our own confidence. ‘Well, maybe this is a bad idea.’"
Goodman chuckles, "Then, when we shipped it, it sold really well. We hit ourselves on the head. ‘Why are we listening to people? We should just listen to our conscience, and our customers, and we’ll be fine.’"
"Our business strategy has been – and this is something I have to preach every week – is not like other people’s business strategy at all," Goodman says. "From the very beginning we’ve just said: we’re going to build a place people enjoy coming to work, and we’re going to let the really good games happen."
"We have layers of strategy on top of that," Goodman admits, "But that’s the hardest thing to pitch to a publisher because they’re always wanting to see some sort of business strategy or hear why we’re doing what we’re doing."
"I’m just trying to get some fertile soil out there," Goodman explains. "I think it’s worked really well. Our retention is high. We’re making fun games. In my mind, that’s the whole point."
"I used to have another company before this, called Ensemble Corporation," says Goodman. "We were a systems consulting firm. And that was my first company out of college. Started it with me and another guy and grew to about two-hundred people. And this company kind of spun-off from that. I jumped into this as my dream job."
"What’s the purpose of getting to your retirement, looking back on a life where you’ve made some money, and a lot of people are really pissed at you?" Goodman asks. "I’m all about the fun. Because if it’s not fun, I’m out of there myself."