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id Software - Todd Hollenshead Q&A

by Matt Mefford on Feb. 25, 2006 @ 5:00 a.m. PST

In this interview, Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software, pulls no punches and speaks in a refreshingly straightforward manner, with none of the sugar-coating or PR "fluff" that pervades our industry nowadays. Read on, my fellow gamer, and see what Todd has to say about the future of gaming, the industry at large today, and some newly divulged tidbits on their plans for the year…

id Software has always been one of the few studios to constantly keep an eye on, not just when they are releasing titles, mind you, but also when they are seemingly quiet. id's willingness to speak to the fans (as well as their accessibility above and beyond the normal press junkets) has put them at the top of my list.

WorthPlaying: With QUAKE 4 now released on both the PC and Xbox 360, do you feel you have met your expectations in terms of making a game that fans love?

Todd Hollenshead: The single player experience for both versions was extremely polished out of the box and a very well integrated continuation of the QUAKE II storyline. We love the world and fiction we set up with QUAKE II and will continue to expand on that even further with Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars. So I believe the game delivered there immediately.

There have been a few issues on the multiplayer side we've been working on with Raven since the game was released. The game worked well in general, but there were a few issues that were discovered after the release that needed to get fixed. There have also been quite a number of tweaks that we've been working on to refine the experience. Some of those are subtle enough that it's close to being beyond our ability to detect at id and relies on getting the game out into the hands of the "pros" out there on the 'Net and getting feedback and making changes based on that. With the 1.1 Beta we just released, we think we have addressed nearly everything here. Ultimately, it will be the game players that determine how much they love any game, but the first feedback I've seen from the 1.1 Beta makes me believe QUAKE 4 is there.

We have even more stuff in store for QUAKE 4 over the next few months with new free maps and even some new game modes we've been playing at id but aren't quite ready to go just yet.

WP: 2006 is looking to be the year of the RPG & MMORPG. With highly anticipated titles like Neverwinter Nights 2, Elder Scrolls 4, Titan Quest, a WoW Expansion, and even WoW for the Xbox, it seems like first-person shooters may take a backseat for the first time since 2003. Valve has already hinted at moving away from first-person shooters, and adopting a monthly fee-based service (like MMORPGs). In light of the above, will id be looking to develop games in other genres, or possibly create a hybrid FPS?

TH: The FPS genre is always expanding and changing. I certainly consider ET:QW to be an FPS, but it has a ton of other elements that aren't "straight FPS." I'm a huge fan of Wolf: ET (along with a ton of other people) so I'm really looking forward to that game coming out this year. It looks like there may be some other excellent FPS games coming out, such as Prey, maybe DNF, another Unreal franchise game, HL2 expansions, maybe Halo 3.

Personally, I'm a bigger fan of shooters than RPGs and I just don't have the time to devote to playing MMORPGs. For fans of those types of games, it does sound like a very exciting year. Although I'm not really sure if anything this year is going to top the anticipation for the initial WOW release. That is one huge game.

WP: The next two games slated for release using the DOOM 3 engine are Prey (Developer: 3D Realms) and Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars (Developer: Splash Damage). Have any other developers recently licensed the engine, and can we expect to see any of them in 2006?

TH: Technically, Prey is being developed under a license with Take Two, and ET:QW is a project id is directly involved in and engine technology is one of the contributions we make to the project. Activision and Take Two are both technology licensees of ours, but it's really up to them to discuss their development plans. Since I'm not in the practice of making release date predictions for id games, I'll refrain from trying to make guesses about games anyone else is working on.

WP: Can we assume that all future id titles will be slated for simultaneous release on both the PC and Xbox 360?

TH: ET:QW is only in development for the PC currently. The next Wolf game is using the 360 as its primary development platform, but will be released on the PC as well. We're looking at PS3, 360 and PC for our internal project, but it's too early to guess on whether we'll have all of those ready to go at the same time. It would be nice if it works out where the launch is simultaneous, but I don't know if that's feasible.

WP: In regards to the new intellectual property that you are working on, will this be your next announced title, or is it still a ways off?

TH: The new IP project is the main focus of the development team at id. We have the other projects that we're working on, like Wolf, ET:QW, and our efforts in the mobile phone games, but those are all using other teams as the primary development resource. I'm not sure when we'll begin discussing details of the new IP, but it will be the next game developed entirely by id and it WILL be cool.

WP: Tim Willits (id Software Lead Designer and Project Manager) has noted that games are getting shorter, but the audience is not responding negatively to this. Although this statement is true for 2005, it may not be so for 2006. With Xbox 360 titles going for $60, and the average for PC titles also going up, many are turning towards cheaper alternatives – like Nintendo DS titles which run around $30 or less. In the future, do you feel that id will maintain the length of their current games, or possibly move to a longer length in order to accommodate a higher price point?

TH: Prices aren't something that we can really control. Frankly, I don't know if the $60 price point is going to stick or not. EA just announced they're reducing they're prices on "current-gen" games to $40 from $50. There are a lot of good business reasons to have higher prices, especially in light of the rising costs incurred in making games, but you certainly don't want to price yourself out of the market. Games don't just compete against other games for consumer dollars, and if games get too expensive, people will find other ways to be entertained. Still, games are a great entertainment value. It costs $20 to go to the movies and be entertained for 90 minutes or so. Even the shortest $60 game offers 12 or more hours of entertainment, and that's before considering replay value or multiplayer.

WP: In his QuakeCon keynote, John Carmack noted that there will soon be a game with a $100 million dollar budget. With directors from Hollywood like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg now involved in games, how far off do you think we are?

TH: In light of the way some projects are mis-managed, we may have arrived there already! I'm extremely skeptical that big-name directors will bring anything substantial to games other than marketing cache. I don't think the Wachowski brothers meant a damn thing to the Matrix games, and may have even negatively impacted the quality. I truly love the film work from Spielberg and Jackson, and have enormous respect for them as creative minds. One of the big thrills of my career at id was getting to meet Mr. Spielberg and give him and one of his sons the very first "hands on" experience playing DOOM 3 outside of id. But I can't say that I would want him directing our next internal project.

I worry about the attitude that movie icons and movie budgets are going to elevate games as an art form. Games are not movies. Some aspects of games are movie-like in dramatic and visual quality, but it's the interactive element that makes games fun and that is distinct from movies. Massive creative talent exists within the game industry, perhaps more than even the movie industry where beauty and "star power" can replace and even displace the truly talented. The difference is that in the games business, the talent works in relative obscurity.

WP: In light of online game distribution, do you believe that shareware could ever make a comeback, or have demos all but taken their place?

TH: Demos have indeed taken the place of shareware, and I don't think it will ever make a comeback. You don't need to be able to burn disks for your buddies if you can tell them where to download the game. I don't think that's sad or a bad thing at all. It's just evolution. Shareware wasn't magic, it was just "try before you buy." Demos fill that purpose now.

The question of online game distribution goes beyond shareware. Publishers and retailers are still refusing to embrace online distribution, but they are doing so to their own detriment. Valve is at the point with Steam where they may not even believe they need or want a publisher for their next game. I'm reasonably certain that Gabe sees Steam as a future primary distribution channel not only for Valve but for their licensees as well. There's a strong case that could be made that companies like Valve, Epic, 3D Realms, and id, among others, no longer even need publishers for PC titles.

Consoles are a different matter for the foreseeable future, but there could be huge changes with the consoles over the next couple of generations. Look at the success of Xbox Live Arcade. Microsoft says it's totally blown away their expectations so far. Personally, I'm not that surprised by it. I mean it's pretty simple: you quickly download a game demo, if you like it, you pay a reasonable amount of money to fairly quickly download the full game and in a few minutes, you're playing it. The day is coming when the majority of game purchases will happen this way.

WP: Will id have a presence at the 2006 E3 Expo? If yes, in what capacity?

TH: I don't have my plane ticket booked yet, but I'm pretty sure we'll be there showing off some cool stuff. When we get closer to the show, there will be an announcement, so I don't want to steal any thunder from that right now.

WP: In light of the success of the DOOM movie, have you considered making QUAKE into one?

TH: The DOOM movie was a blast. Universal just sent me the DVD, but I need to get Karl (Urban) and The Rock to autograph it for me! The next movie deal that I want to focus on is Wolfenstein. I think it could make a great film. It's been optioned previously, but now we have the rights back again. I'm hoping that once the game development gets some exposure that interest in Hollywood will perk up. I think QUAKE could make a cool film too, but the story across all the games isn't as consistent as what's behind Wolf and DOOM. That makes it a more difficult sell to Hollywood, where many may think of QUAKE only as a multiplayer game franchise. Continuing to build the story with games like QUAKE 4 will hopefully help out.

WP: It was cool to see you speak about the DOOM movie at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. In the future, do you think id Software and their games will have a presence at the Comic-Con (or other fan events like it)?

TH: I'd never been to a Comic-Con before. I had a lot of fun and would like to find a reason to go back. The best reason I can think of would be to have a DOOM or QUAKE or Wolf comic series to talk about. We've had discussions on and off over the years, and of course there's the legendary DOOM comic book that was included in the id Anthology, but it's tough to get things going forward in a way we would want. If that doesn't work, maybe we'll be able to have a meaningful presence there in some other capacity.

WP: Although it is still a ways off, have you made any special plans or events for QuakeCon 2006?

TH: Marty Statton (id Software Director of Business Development) is working hard on that right now. We're almost certain that the venue for QuakeCon 2006 will change, which presents us with a bunch of challenges. Some of what we can do is always subject to the constraints of the venue for the event and until all of that is finalized, it's really tough to make definite plans. The sponsors are enthusiastic, and I know the fans are looking forward to it, so we have some ideas about making QC06 a special one by building on everything that worked well last year and mixing in some new stuff, too. Of course the LAN party and tournament will be the focus of the event, but as anyone who's been to QuakeCon can attest, there's more to it than that. There's still a possibility we may move QuakeCon outside of Texas (!) for this year. And before I get crushed by email, even if it's not in Dallas, it will stay in the U.S.

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