Published on March 8th, 2012 | by Queso0
Interview con Queso: Philip Asher of Trendy Entertainment
Another lively evening in Gainesville, Florida. The sun is shining, Gators are preparing to party, and I’m having difficulty finding parking downtown. That’s alright. I had the opportunity to sit down with Philip Asher, Marketing Director & Designer at Trendy Entertainment. Philip has been with Trendy for well over a year and was able to see and help guide Dungeon Defenders to the magic-wielding, ogre crushing success it is today. Delve in as we talk used games, music, and a bit about the future of Trendy Entertainment.
Q: Just because I’m curious and I recently found out. I knew you were a designer, but you’re a marketing director as well. How is it balancing the marketing aspect and design? It seems like you’d stay pretty busy.
PA: You definitely stay pretty busy. It’s kind of a juggling act. This gets more attention at one time, then that gets more attention. So as an independent developer, you really do need someone who’s in control of the marketing, copying and pushing content out, doing press releases and interviews. It’s all very important to just selling copies of the game and DLC, which is kind of the life blood of the company. But at the same time, you can’t have thousands of people doing thousands of specialized tasks. Everyone kind of double dips. The designer will be the programmer, etc. There’s lots of overlapping. So for me, I also help a lot on the design side, designing new, existing, and future titles as well as downloadable content.
Q: How did you guys come up with the idea for Dungeon Defenders?
PA: It was really kind of Jeremy Stieglitz, who’s our Development Director; it’s his baby. He came up with it by himself and made a tech demo, or prototype, with four people called “Dungeon Defense.” And really, it was back then when he first created it. No one had combined tower defense with really any other genre yet. iPhones were just getting popular, the App Store was getting popular. So his idea was, “Hey! Let’s take tower defense and combine it with a role-playing game and see what happens.” They made a prototype for the Unreal Showcase and it won. It went very successful so when they were like, “Hey! Let’s take this idea and let’s form a company and actually make a real sellable product out of it.”
Q: What’s your background?
PA: I come from marketing at EA. I worked in collegiate marketing there for two years and since then I have been doing Trendy stuff .
Q: Why did you guys make the decision to go digital. Was there—I guess, from the beginning, were you thinking, go digital instead of physical copies?
PA: Yeah. It was from the beginning. There was zero intention to do retail, just from past experience of the team doing retail. Really, digital has opened up a whole new world where the developer can actually reap the benefits of creating a really great product, versus having to work with the publisher and associate changes. There are lots of costs actually getting a game to retail. You may think, “oh, a $60 retail game.” Well, it may cost more than a $20 digital title and while that’s definitely true in terms of gross revenue, it’s not necessarily true in terms of what the developer gets paid for it.
Q: Going off of trying to work with the distribution, and because it’s a personal interest of mine and a personal interest of my partner on the site [Boman], about working with Steam. I’m sure you know about the battle between EA and Origin and Steam [Valve] that’s going on. I know [Boman] was curious and I’m curious, and I’m sure you can’t go into detail about it, but the Terms of Service with Steam—what’s your relationship with Steam like?
PA: Well we love working with Steam. They’re a large reason why Dungeon Defenders was and is a success and why we can actually move into these new offices and continue to work on Dungeon Defenders and future products. What they provide developers is way beyond—it’s light years beyond what other platform owners provide developers. They do free advertising, they do free placement, they give every game that they elect to go on their service a really fair shot.
For us personally, we had this really fun idea where we wanted to put a “Portal Gun” in the game for a launch incentive, as well as Team Fortress 2 familiars, and they were totally on-board. They sent us assets to help us do that. So I mean, we attribute a lot of the success of the game to them and their help and we think that they go above and beyond what’s, maybe expected. If you release a game on iPhone with Apple, you might get some support, you might get featured, you might not, but it’s certainly not that kind of personal relationship that we’ve been able to have with Valve and that they’ve let us have. We love working with Valve.
I think EA’s problem is certainly more of a publisher issue and with any kind of third party, you don’t want to give too much control of your product, obviously. Like Microsoft or Sony–Steam’s taking 30%. Some developers or publishers may see the place where that doesn’t need to be the case. But I think that Valve has kind of shown that. Yeah they’re providing the same service as the console user. That’s why there’s console sales, because Microsoft and Sony push their products and Valve is doing just as good of a job of pushing their platform. So their platfom doesn’t need one base hardware.
Q: I’ll tell you right now, that creates a sigh of relief from me. I know Boman will have a sigh of relief too because we love Steam.
As far as the cross platform thing, I know that Dungeon Defenders was playable across PC, iOS, Android, and the PlayStation 3. What kind of difficulties were presented in making it cross-platform?
PA: The currently released version is not cross-platfom [for all users] but iOS and Android are. But we have shown many times, tech demos of it being cross-platform. I think technically, it’s not too—I mean, the complication in these type of things doesn’t necessarily come from the technical aspect of linking them up, but it’s more of integrating the various systems. Like how does PSN speak to Steam and also getting pass all the different certification processes for the different platforms and updating, keeping everything sync. So there are a lot more issues that result from those than from the pure technical, you know, “hey, you can communicate with each other.”
Q: I actually worked in retail for a little bit and I know you guys don’t really have to face too much—well, you don’t have to face this at all as far as used games, but there’s been a huge battle in the used game area and developers trying to prevent used games and things like that. What’s your take on that?
PA: Not necessarily on behalf of Trendy, but on behalf of myself, and I’m sure many video game developers would agree that profit margins on video games are tremendously slim. It’s not like there are hundreds of millions of dollars of—I mean, obviously with Call of Duty, there may be, but with most video games there’s not this huge profit margin. It’s often very difficult for a developer to make sequels or to continue to make games, even if they do well. And the used game industry right now severely hampers that money from reaching the publishers and the original developers.
I like to look at it on Steam. Does anyone complain about the lack of used games on Steam? No, because you can do what makes sense. You sell it at the original price to everyone who wants to buy it at the original price, and then Valve will discount and promote those discounts, in the same way that GameStop really pushes their used game sales. So, yes Valve is getting more money because Valve is doing these discounts, these sales and it’s increasing revenue for all their partners. But, we see that revenue back. I’m sure publishers and developers don’t have an issue with discounting the core game and making more money overall. The issue is, if Gamestop can discount their game, there’s no difference between Gamestop [unclear] and discounting their game for consumers and taking all the profit from it. Yeah, I mean I think it’s very bad for the industry and, are people approaching it the right way? Not necessarily, but it’s a very difficult thing to approach in the retail space. Steam has definitely solved that issue digitally.
Q: In your opinion, what do you think would be the best method for most developers and distributors to go about trying to . . . account for used game sales?
PA: Um . . . it depends, because I’m sure that—I’m obviously not familiar with the retail channel and obviously a large part of pushing products is GameStop and it is retail channels and they are attributable to the success of many titles. At the same time, I don’t want to say, “Oh, there shouldn’t be any used game sales.” I’m sure GameStop would claim that that would severely cut their margins, they wouldn’t be able to operate, etcetera, etc. There are a lot of solutions. It’s a difficult thing to work out. I don’t have a solution off the top of my head for retail. We’ll see what they come up with.
Someone suggested Gamestop giving set cuts of used game sales to developers, so that it ensures everyone is still profiting from the resale of product, which they made. That could certainly be a solution. I mean obviously they have this content gate restricting, which I don’t see. That’s a solution on the developer, publisher side, but it really hurts the consumers because they end up not actually getting that price savings that they’re looking for. And ultimately, it probably doesn’t help publishers and developers nearly as much as that percentage would.
Another solution is to do away with used games sales which is what some consoles have talked about. Vita for example, if you try to reuse a game from [PlayStation] Vita, it won’t let you get trophies on it. So, those are all solutions. I think what consumers should be aware of is that, in a ideal world, if a system was implemented where you couldn’t have used games, you would say the game vary in price like it is on Steam because that would be the objective. The objective is for everyone to buy the game at $60. They know everyone can’t buy the game at $60, but to kind of reach all the consumers, then at least get that money from consumers and continue to make quality games.
Q: Hopefully if something like that happened, I would hope that it would kind trickle down—back up the stream. Maybe not so much spending on marketing and things like that. Like you mentioned, Call of Duty, they spent millions of dollars [over $100 million] on their marketing.
PA: Well you have to, just like any movie. I mean, to really get awareness for a product that’s going to be that big, there’s considerable marketing spending and, with independent titles, it’s something that decreases in necessity, in large part due to Steam and the promotion that they provide. But, for the mass market . . . anything, it will always be a necessity.
Q: I guess transitioning a little bit further in the future of Trendy Entertainment, if you can speak on anything, is there anything else in the pipeline for you guys?
PA: So, I mean right now, in our immediate future, we’re kind of finishing up Dungeon Defenders and our DLC plan. So we have The Quest for the Lost Eternia Shards, which we’re continually releasing. We’ll be releasing all four parts of those across console and PC. Then we have some additional content which we kind of make as we have time within that for PC. And then, after that, the skies kind of open, where we’re working on multiple things. We’ve kind of . . . we’ve put a leaked video on Youtube before of a project we’re working on called Afterlife and other exciting stuff. We’ll be showing some stuff off at GDC which is not necessarily where we’re going. It’s just an idea of where technology is evolving now. There’s lots of exciting stuff here. We have a lot of opportunities we’re assessing and choosing now.
Q: Cool. And just a couple of random questions. Because we are a hip-hop and video game site, what kind of music do you listen to?
PA: Um . . . personally, I listen to electronic music and DJs, techno, stuff like that. More modern DJs.
Q: In that genre, who’s your favorite artist?
PA: I’m so inexperienced, I feel.
PA: I feel like . . . I really like Nero. So dubstep, stuff like that.
Q: Dubstep seems to be taking over, or getting bigger at least.
PA: You can always tell when a company has discovered that one target demographic really likes a certain demographic of music, as the video game industry seems to have discovered right now. It kind of reminds me of Linkin Park. There was a certain year when you, literally, couldn’t make a video game trailer and it not have a Linkin Park song in it. That’s basically what they’re doing right now with dubstep; you either have Skrillex or Nero in your trailer . . . or not. I don’t know, I thought Borderlands did it awesomely.
Q: You know what’s funny? I completely missed the Borderlands trailer until I–I actually looked at your Twitter and I saw you tweeted it. I looked at it and I thought that music fit perfectly.
PA: Oh yeah.
Q: I was like, “holy crap, this is amazing!”
PA: The Gearbox guys have fun with it. They like, kind of poke fun at it while they’re doing it. That’s the way to do it.
Q: Actually, as far as music in your games, since we’re talking about music, where do you guys get most of your music from for your video games?
PA: So we have a composer who does all of our music and our sound effects, named Afshin [Toufighian]. He used to be in Gainesville. He actually used to be in a band with our CEO [Augi Lye]. Our CEO is a classical musician and plays Violin, Cello. And [Afshin] lives in Israel now, but he’ll probably be moving back on site in the future and he literally does everything. So anything music related with Dungeon Defenders, this guy has done. He’s really great. Our soundtrack is actually available for free on his bandcamp, so anyone can check it out.
Q: Oh, awesome. I’m gonna download that.
PA: And, yeah, we update it with all the new DLC songs and stuff that come out.
Q: Oh, so he’s constantly–
PA: Yeah, so even though he lives in Israel, he’s constantly working with us. We do new combat and building phase music for almost every single DLC. Especially the ones that have a new map, sometimes the new tavern music as well.
Q: You’ll probably be working with him for future titles . . .
PA: Yeah. He’s our sound guy.
Q: Oh, that’s pretty awesome. Well, that’s all I have. I really appreciate it.
PA: Yeah, no problem.
Quentin “Queso” Thomas is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of RapConQueso.com, a Hip-Hop and video game news site. When he isn’t harassing artists (in the Hip-Hop or gaming industry) for an interview, he’s likely playing video games, listening to music, writing random thoughts or freestyling.
Quentin “Queso” Thomas