[In this interview with TQ Jefferson, Marvel's vice president of production for games, he speaks about the company's ambition for games -- and how the company wants Marvel games to be "synonymous with quality."]
TQ Jefferson's career spans 14 years in the game industry. The current VP of games production at Marvel Entertainment started as a tester at Activision, and then worked as Pixar's interactive manager. He has been at Marvel for approximately three years -- and has worked on a number of projects alongside a team of other industry veterans.
Jefferson says that he's happy with the way that the games have been turning out lately; so are developers who have worked with his team, he says, as their goal is to make the process as painless, and as helpful, as possible.
He sees a great potential for getting gamers interested in Marvel properties -- and for moving into new gaming genres and also leveraging lesser-known properties that might suit gaming better. He also sees potential, he says, for introducing characters and concepts in games that could feed back out into the books -- the "brass ring", in his words, of the interactive group.
As Marvel and Gazillion continue work on the Marvel Universe, Jefferson said he wants Marvel games to be "synonymous with quality" and has set the goal of becoming the "strongest IP in gaming."
At Marvel what does "vice president of production for games" entail as a responsibility?
Well, my job is -- my team's is -- we shepherd projects, interactive projects, through every stage of development, from concept to code release and beyond -- in the case of an MMO.
We review scripts, we review art, we review voiceover auditions, we align teams and projects with the right Marvel talent, in this case bringing [writer] Brian Michael Bendis into the Marvel Universe MMO. We play the games. We consult on design. Everyone on my team comes from gaming. We are walking hand-in-hand with the teams through the entire process.
Do you also get people who are in the traditional media space at Marvel who understand what it takes to actually make good game experiences?
Oh, yes. That's part of consulting, and giving them proper guidance on Marvel. I read lots of comic books. I'm a comic book junkie. But it's not the same as being able to email Joe Quesada and go, "Joe, what do you think about this?"
Joe, as our new CCO, is actually very involved in this [Marvel Universe] project. So, I just recently sat down with him and went through a bunch of character models -- characters I'm not going to tell you -- character models, reviewing the storyline, working with Axel Alonso, the new editor in chief.
So, part of what I do is bringing Marvel into this game space, and getting them to understand how games are, what feedback is appropriate for what stage of development, and just getting Marvel as an organization more interested in games.
It used to be that Marvel would sign a contract. Say, X publisher would have Marvel locked down for X number of years, and there would be sort of a factory farm process where a few games came out from that publisher, but in today's landscape, that wouldn't make any sense.
Well, we still have a number of license agreements with Sega, with Activision, with Gazillion who is making both of our MMOs. So, that licensing model is very much alive, but what has gone away is the days of the licensor sort of sitting in the "ivory tower" and not participating in the process.
So, that's what we are doing now. We meet with the publishers, we sit down with them, we work through gameplay, we work through development. So, we are more an active participant than ever in the history of Marvel with games.
It sounds like this game, specifically, from what you were saying a moment ago, is a big priority for Marvel.
Yes, it is. This is the core gamers' MMO. This has a lot of eyes on it. Like I said before, Joe Quesada is working on this. Axel Alonso is working on it. [SVP of publishing] Tom Brevoort is working on it. [Publisher and COO] Dan Buckley is involved in it. Brian Bendis obviously is involved in it. We're trying to give Gazillion all of our tools and resources to make a great game, but that's something that we do for all of our projects.
For Thor, we got [writer] Matt Fraction to the table. For Captain America, for Sega, we got Chris Gage as a writer. Like I said before, we're trying to do more as a license holder than we've ever done before.
How have developers responded to this kind of back and forth?
At first it's with surprise -- surprise that we actually care, and surprise that they're talking to people with gaming background. I think they were figuring they would have to talk to a lawyer, or someone that doesn't understand games. Everyone on my team has 10 or more years of experience in the game industry. So, there's surprise.
And then they're really happy for our input and our insight, and the speed with which we can turn around feedback and approval. We do everything we can to not hinder the development process. We fly up, we visit the teams, we sit with them, we give them feedback on the spot, rather than taking two to three weeks to decide on something. So, I'd like to say that they're happy for it.
From the perspective of Marvel, has it had an effect that you can point to, to say that you're more satisfied with where things are now than where they were, in terms of the way the games are turning out, and the way the creative process is turning out?
Yes, definitely. We've just released our first MMO, which is Super Hero Squad, which is just -- it's huge. It's a monumental task to launch an MMO, and that team did it in a record amount of time, and it was all about working with the team, seeing them every month, making ourselves available to them.
Captain America: Super Soldier, which is coming out in July, was another great and proud moment of "Wow, we really struck a chord with that one, and it's awesome, and it's fun, and it's true to the character, and it's got a great story." So, there are a lot of like success moments.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is another one where we're just super proud of that execution. It wasn't us sitting back and just, "Make characters." We were working with them on character selection, why each character is in that game, what their move sets are, what their story is. So, it's been awesome.
Marvel games span a lot of different genres, different targets. The games you mention, those specific examples are quite different.
Yeah. Part of our new initiative is to expand out from just the action/adventure core gaming. It's like, we still want that, because we know there's a large following there, that we can tell a great story there, but we also want to push it to new areas.
We started making our own Flash games. We started engaging partners like Gameloft to make iPhone games for us. We got into the MMO space. We want to even push that further still. Let's get into survival horror. Let's get into Marvel sports. What would that be like?
We sort of ask ourselves those questions now. What properties could make great games regardless of genre? I think that's going to give us more breadth and more longevity, and allow us to dig deeper into our pool of characters.
What is Marvel, as an entity's, goal -- and this is kind of a broad question -- for gaming? Obviously, Marvel has had a tremendous amount of success in recent years understanding that it's a media company and moving into movies. I can only imagine that there's a similar eye towards potential there.
Well, it's really simple. We want to be the strongest IP in gaming. We want our games to be synonymous with quality. We're trying to execute that in a number of ways, making ourselves more available for our partners, leveraging more of our resources, working more with publishing and animation and film -- I don't want to say "synergetic" experience because that's one of those buzzwords that everyone hates -- but just bring an experience that's more authentically Marvel.
We want the games to be awesome. We want to keep bringing out hit after hit after hit after hit. That's sometimes a hard road to travel down. Sometimes you're like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill, but we're going to keep pushing it, keep pushing and keep pushing it. Each time, we get a little step closer, a little step closer. We figure out a new way to deliver a great experience. We're going to get there. It's going to be awesome.
Do you see potential for tapping into a new audience using games?
I think absolutely. I think it's part of the idea of moving into different genres and highlighting characters that are not the daytime heroes, the spandex club, and so forth. There are characters like Blade and like Moon Knight or properties like Damage Control that I think offer a different story and a different type of gameplay that's going to appeal to a different sort of consumer.
I think that's what we're trying to do now. We're trying to find where are the places that we can draw in new audiences, we can get more people interested in these comics or these characters.
Even with our Flash games, we use our Flash games to test out new characters and different mechanics, and see how fun they are. If that works, let's look at something bigger, you know. So, we're definitely trying. We definitely want to get Marvel to everyone, I guess.
Do you see a potentiality, at some point, for introducing IP on the game side?
Yes. Actually, in some instances, we have in the past already, but just in a smaller way. Like, I don't know if you're familiar with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. There were characters in that game that have never been in comics before, like Hobgoblin 2099 was an original character for that game. Lady Octopus 2099 was an original character. They don't exist in any continuity, except for in the games.
I think there will be a time when the video games will lead in introducing a new character. All the source material is always publishing, but we'll get to the point where the movies are going to introduce something brand new. The animation is going to introduce something brand new. The video games are going to introduce something brand new. And publishing is going to look at that and go, "Oh, that's awesome. Let's grab that, and let's put that into a book." To me, that's the brass ring.