Dallas Tour: Team Time at Terminal Reality

Terminal Reality (home of Blood Rayne) development head Brendan Gross says teamwork and personality are vital to small companies

Terminal Reality has been an independent developer for twelve years. Located just north of Dallas, they've got their own building, and still need more space. Brendan Goss serves as development director. "I do a lot of new the business development, as well as scheduling and milestone management for the actual production teams."

Goss is also responsible for the company's strategic planning. "There's a group of us that work together, plan out what our next steps are going to be."

High-Profile Titles

"We're moving more and more towards that." Goss says, "Blood Rayne really opened the door for us, as far as a recognizable IP. From that, we've had a chance to do some large licensed properties. Spy Hunter has been announced. There are few others that we're working on that haven't been. But moving more and more towards high-profile, and bigger titles."

"Original IP is great. It really builds value in a company. There's no question. But it's very difficult to get publisher support and backing for it, when you're starting up that IP."

Goss continues, "Unless you're in a position to self-fund that IP. For instance, Gearbox and the Brothers in Arms franchise. Because they were able to self-fund it, they were able to get the publisher support and marketing commitment they were looking for, to get that out, and be very, very successful with it."

Unless you have that war chest available to have a publisher take on the risk of developing the IP and launching it, is becoming more and more challenging. "Especially with the cost of development on next-gen platforms." Goss says.

Does Terminal Reality want to try self-funding IP? "Absolutely." Goss exclaims, "That's how you build real, serious value in a company. It's certainly something we're working towards. Blood Rayne was an original IP from Terminal Reality. And it's something we'll want to do again in the future."

"But," Goss cautions, "We'll want to make sure that the partner we're working with on launching that is able to do it justice. We'll develop it, and we'll wait and see. And when the time is right, we'll put it out."

Team Tactics

Goss also understands the importance of a solid team. "You're competing against so many good, talented companies out there. There's just no question that [your team] has to be top-notch. And when you're competing with the EA's that are willing to put 150, 200 people on title, and you're looking at putting 60 people on a title... You need to make sure those people are not only talented, but they're really passionate, and that there's a good deal of chemistry with that group. That's really a force multiplier.

"The results that you'll get out of a cohesive, talented group, are phenomenal," Goss says. "If they're passionate about the project. The project selection, it has to match the team that you've got. You can't just apply a team to any project, and get the same level of success. You need to be fairly choosy with what you're going to work with, and what is in their interest, what is their forte."

Would Goss like to be the project manager for a thousand developers? "I wouldn't. And likewise, I wouldn't want to be the artist that works on left arms," he says. "I guess that's why we're seeing a lot of people coming out of EA, that are spreading through the industry.

"They're looking to have an opportunity to have more of an impact on that title, more creative impact on that title. You'll have a character artist, who will work on several characters. A level designer who works on several levels, as opposed to individual prop placement in one particular room, and just go over and over and over until it's perfect.

"Obviously, it's difficult to argue with EA's success," Goss concludes. "They've had a great deal of it. But as far as building that cohesive team we were talking about earlier, they're not doing it. And they have no interest in doing it. And they don't need to. Just because they have the resources that nobody else does."

Taking Risks

Which brings up the question, are independent developers important? "Yeah, I think so," Goss considers. "I think the independent developers are where you're going to see the innovation. The risk taking that will be the next big game. I just don't see that going to be from an internal mega-studio. They'll do great work. They'll do amazing titles. But it will be because marketing has shown, 'if we do version three, of project X, it'll sell.'

"I think the other thing that's really important from an independent developer perspective," Goss says, "Is having the publisher partnership. Understand how you can take advantage of that relationship. Having access to the focus-group testing. Having access to people that are experts on content, or tech, or art. TO help raise that quality bar, to help make sure the marketing is there, that you need.

"And that the game you're doing is going to have mass appeal," Goss adds. "We've seen, certainly in the past, games that review very, very well, and sell dismally because they appeal to a very small demographic."

Future Strategy

"We really want to get established on handheld," Goss reveals. "And we really want to get established on next-gen with a top-tier publisher. That's kind of our goal. If you look at the history of Terminal Reality, we've worked a lot with publishers that it's either their first real venture. Initially their first venture into gaming."

"We were one of the originals working with Microsoft, and then we were one of the originals working with Take-Two," Goss says. "And then Majesco. So now, it's more we want to build a partnership with someone who's established. So that we can have the opportunity to learn from them, and to bring up our own quality, as well as making sure the stuff we're doing is mass-appeal.

"We've been more on the hard-core, edgy, mature titles, a lot of that recently," Goss notes, "We're starting to take a step back from that. And move towards more mass-market appeal. Being around for twelve years, we've seen the cycle.

"We know what's going to happen when you go through console transitions," Goss predicts, "Those age going to be the difficult times. There are going to be some studios that go out of business because they didn't handle it correctly. So making sure - it's so much about the relationships - making sure that the people you're working with are going to allow you to accomplish your goals. That's kind of how our strategy was developed."

Goss concludes: "We took a look at our past track record, understand what our weaknesses are, understand what our strengths are, and see who we can partner with to cover those weakness."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.