FiringSquad: First, how did Secret Lair Studios come to be formed?
New game developers seem to pop up regularly but a recently revealed Seattle-based company called Secret Lair Studios is trying something different by developing games for Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade while also working on their own MMORPG product. FiringSquad got a chance to chat with company co-founder Jason Robar to find out more about their plans for Secret Lair.
: I’ve been lucky enough to have a career in the industry that has taken me from working on DirectX at Microsoft, working in online gaming for the PC and for mobile, working on games for training for DARPA and to working on online gaming in China and Korea for the last few years. That has given me a broad network of friends and associates around the world who work in a variety of roles and companies.
Last year, I began to formulate the strategy and to recruit the team to challenge the standard development model. We wanted to attack the global marketplace for games. It was a natural fit to pull in some of the best talent in both Shanghai and the Seattle area to form a core team to start the process.
I find “formed” to be an interesting word to describe the founding of Secret Lair Studios. To me, the word has a static sense about it. We are in the process of adding talented people that will challenge our current thoughts and ideas and propel us to change and move forward. Even now I look back and am impressed with how we’ve changed and improved our process for making great products. I don’t expect this process of self growth and change to ever stop.
FiringSquad: How did the team decide on a name for the company?
: Naming Secret Lair Studios was quite a test of endurance and patience. It actually took several weeks before we could reach agreement as a team. You’d think it would be straight forward but it’s not. Coming up with a name to represent your studio with such diversity is a fun process but coming to agreement is a challenge. Secret Lair Studios has two development efforts focused on a variety of projects in both the online casual space and the persistent world space. We represent a worldwide perspective in terms of our development resources and the marketplace for our games. When you factor in everyone’s ideas, passions and goals plus the diversity of our products and consumers - and you have to find a name that no one else has taken – agreement is quite an undertaking.
We arrived at Secret Lair Studios because we liked the imagery of a talented group of people hidden away in a secret lair with a mad scientist laboratory - constantly inventing, testing and producing great games. You never know what’s coming next but you expect to be amazed and surprised by something cool.
FiringSquad: How hard has it been to form a new business as well as work on game development?
: When you put a new company together you always overlook the little things that take time and energy and money – like buying enough chairs and having longer extension cords. But I look at my job as making sure the real talent knows what direction we are headed and then making sure I stay out of their way except when they need me to solve a roadblock.
Our entire team averages over 11 years experience in the gaming industry! That means I don’t have to tell them how to get their jobs done – they know what they need to do. They have been key contributor’s to many of the top selling games in a variety of genres - the casual arcade space, online MMORPG’s, and single player PC and console games. If you add up all the years of experience in the games space for our team, you are talking about decades of making great products. The key benefit is that our business partners trust us and we are allowed to focus on creating a great team and crafting a culture that allows them to make the best games possible.
FiringSquad: What gaming platforms will you concentrate your game work for and why?
: Our focus is to create innovative game-play content for the online and global gaming marketplace. Our first games will be for Windows XP/Vista PCs and the Xbox 360 platforms because they are currently the leading platforms in the online space for consumers worldwide. We also like Nintendo’s WiFi approach on the DS and the upcoming Revolution looks quite interesting. As Nintendo’s and Sony’s efforts in the online space become more defined we will evaluate those platforms as well.
FiringSquad: What is Secret Lair's main philosophy in designing game titles?
: Connecting people through games. I don’t know that we have a formal paradigm dictating how we make games. We believe that people play games for a variety of reasons and that their motivations are dynamic each time they sit down to play. How much time you have to play, are your friends online, or even your mood determines how you want to be entertained. Our experience in designing games has shown us that the freedom to pursue a variety of play styles and be rewarded with gameplay depth is a solid foundation to creating a great game.
Our design philosophy at Secret Lair is to create products that are easy to learn but offer a variety of play experiences with depth and the opportunity for growth within the experience. For an arcade game this may mean developing one set of skills when playing alone trying to set a new high score, but also new mechanics when playing with your friends collaboratively, and even a third set of skills when competing head to head versus other players. In an MMO this would mean the freedom to create your own personal experience while playing in a world of thousands. The path could be mainly solo, interacting with the world through your personal adventures or crafting and selling items in the mass marketplace. Or you could pursue membership in a large guild and enjoy large scale raids and collaborative efforts against powerful opponents. Or equally you could pursue both, playing productively solo when your friends aren’t online but joining together as a group when they are. Our philosophy is to create games that offer a spectrum of rewarding experiences and to let the gamer choose their own style of play.