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A Journey to Monaco: Andy Schatz Looks Back
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A Journey to Monaco: Andy Schatz Looks Back

April 18, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

In the Business

It wasn't just Schatz's tussles with the simulation game genre that haunts his first years as an independent developers. One of his main goals as a fresh new indie was to focus on making PocketWatch not just a developer, but a fully-fledged business.

"I actually intended to go to business school, but I didn't get anywhere," he notes. "Which I'm incredibly glad about, because I don't think I would have liked anyone in business school. I think I'm happy to say for the record that people who go to business school are typical douchebags. So I'm glad I barely escaped being one of those people myself -- and not even of my own accord, as I didn't get in!"

Running PocketWatch like a business meant not only making games that Schatz believed in, but also building a brand around the company name.

"Everyone's style is different," he says. "Someone like [Gratuitous Space Battles developer] Cliff Harris is really good at actually maximizing all of those things. He's also a really good designer and game developer, but he is a master at the business side, and running a tiny business.

"I was really trying to maximize conversion rates and things like that," he continues. However, he adds, "One of the things that I have discovered it that those things matter a whole lot less than it seems."

After Venture Arctic flopped and Schatz found him grinding along with Dinosauria, he had completely stopped paying attention to the business side.

"When I was running PocketWatch like a business, I was very worried about alienating fans of the Venture games, by making a game that wouldn't appeal to them," he notes. "People who watch Planet Earth aren't necessarily the same people who are going to watch Ocean's Eleven. I'm not saying there's no crossover demographic -- there certainly is -- but there's no crossover appeal.

"So really only when I hit the lowest of the low points, when I had failed on Venture Dinosauria and I had to lay off the one guy who was working for me, and I felt like I had spent all the money that I was willing to spend on this crazy adventure that had been my lifelong dream, I was only weeks away from quitting and going to find a job."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Schatz bordering on depression, he made a bold decision that would define the next four years of his life.

"I said, 'Screw this, screw the fanbase, screw the marketing and the idea of building a brand and all that,'" he laughs. "I threw it all out of the window and said to myself, 'Just make whatever game you're passionate about in the moment.' It's not that I wasn't passionate about the Venture games, but I think I had too much pride in the brand. I didn't allow myself to follow the winds of the moment, which often are what end up producing the most inspired content."

Around this time, he had been taking breaks from Venture Dinosauria to dabble in another passion -- creating board games. One of his board game projects just so happened to be based around his previous design documents for Monaco, a project that he found had never really left the back of his mind.

So when he decided to jump the simulation game ship and create something completely different, it's no surprise which concept he launched into.

And then there was Monaco

"I pulled out my old design for Monaco, and decided to prototype it in XNA, and see if I could get it running on Xbox," explains Schatz. "And after two days it was really fun.

"It was so refreshing to work on. Working on any sort of game with a player character, you're starting with that relationship to the player. It's so easy to get to the core emotional connection the player has to the game and to their character. I just knew instantly that I needed to carry on."

But it wasn't just the excitement at having a fun prototype that appealed to Schatz. It was the emotions that working on Monaco brought back too, emotions that he hadn't felt while working on Dinosauria.

"I was a kid again," he says simply. "I was making games like the way I'd imagined I would make games as a kid. I wasn't paying attention to anything other than sitting down and making a game. In junior high I'd stay up late on my old PC and code until one in the morning in the family room at home. That's kinda how I felt. I was just making a damn game. And I was making it all myself -- I wasn't worrying about dependencies or schedules or anything like that."

Switching to an entirely different genre from what he'd been working on also meant that he could tackle development in a different and exciting way. "Every day, I was saying, 'What can I do today that would be awesome?' Working on the game in tiny chunks like that was my most productive period of my entire career."

Of course, as mentioned at the beginning of this story, Schatz didn't have the grandest of ambitions for Monaco. An Xbox Live Indie Games title made in a couple of months was the goal, as a means to simply recharge his batteries and give him a fresh perceptive on game development -- or at least, one that didn't involve simulation in any form.

"Back then, I had a very strong suspicion that XBLIG was primed for a mega hit, and I don't think that I was wrong," says Schatz. "What I didn't see coming was all the Minecraft clones."

He laughs, adding, "I mean, I think those made a shit-ton of money on XBLIG. Unfortunately, XBLIG hasn't really been home to an original mega-hit -- something that is truly original. I'm not saying those other games are bad, but you know... you understand."

The way that the XBLIG has been treated by its creators, however, is what really gets at Schatz. "I think that if you look at what Microsoft's goals seemingly were with XBLIG, it was supposed to provide a breeding ground for smaller games to potentially graduate up to the XBLA marketplace," he notes. "And if you look at what games came out of XNA, it seems to me that that was a rousing success. We've had Fez, Bastion, Monaco."

While XBLIG itself hasn't often lived up to that goal, Schatz reasons that it was an important stepping stone to making XNA the unbelievable success that it was, and Microsoft's decision to stop support it is "the only major mistake that I feel they have made in this transition."

"I'm generally a fan of the 360, and I think they did a great job with it," he notes, "but it bums me out to see that fading away. I don't know why they can't look at it and say, 'Hey, we met every single goal and went way beyond what we hoped for.'"

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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