OneBigGame: From Live Aid to Chime
Martin de Ronde talks about life after Guerrilla.
Guerrilla Games founder Martin de Ronde has told Eurogamer that his original vision for charity OneBigGame was to do a compilation game, where famous developers pitched in on a single product, but that it was ultimately impractical for a number of reasons.
"It was a great idea," de Ronde told Eurogamer. But it didn't work, and de Ronde was forced to change tack. Eventually, two years later than he'd hoped, OneBigGame collaborated with Zoe Mode and released musical puzzler Chime on Xbox Live Arcade.
"The original idea, and this is where the name comes from, was that we wanted to create the 'Do They Know It's Christmas Time?' for the gaming industry: one big next-gen game with contributions from 10 or 12 or 15 individual game designers," de Ronde recalled.
"We had plans for a Mario Party-esque mini-game extravaganza, with each of the mini-games being designed by the Will Wrights, the Peter Molyneuxs and the David Brabens of this world. In theory that sounded marvellous, and I'm pretty sure if you can get all of those people together to work on one game you're going to sell millions.
"But in practice," he added, "getting all of those people in one room was going to be a nightmare. And finding a meta-game concept that fit all the mini-games in the right way... It would be a massive undertaking. I haven't even talked about raising 5 or 10 million dollars to build the game in order to generate 30 million dollars for charity, which I'm sure we would have done had we built that kind of game."
And raising money like that before you actually start giving something back to charity, de Ronde said, always made investors say the same thing: "Well why don't you give $5 or $10 million straight to charity?"
It wasn't that de Ronde didn't generate interest. He said he a couple of "high-profile" game developers sunk their teeth in and, with the help of four game designers, they came up with four "grand designs" for the OneBigGame game. Developers gave positive feedback but the funding hurdle was too high and proved insurmountable.
"It wasn't that it was a hard sell. "That was something that surprised us - pleasantly surprised," he said. "I've had meetings where I opened my laptop and after slide three people closed my laptop screen and said, 'You don't have to go on, I'm in.'"
Chime made a low six-figure sum in the end, but rather than keep OneBigGame's planned 20 per cent, de Ronde had to up Chime's charity donation to 90 or 95 per cent to offset Microsoft's Xbox Live 30 per cent tax.
In fact, in the end de Ronde has paid for the running of OneBigGame off his own back. "Over the past three years I've funded OneBigGame in terms of what the costs were myself - the travel costs of going round and talking to all these people and asking if they want to be part of this."
"You could say that's my donation to charity," he said.
Chime was OneBigGame's first project. Winter, directed by PaRappa the Rappa maker Masaya Matsuura, will be its second. Charles Cecil of Beneath a Steel Sky fame is signed up for the third: an action-adventure take on Minesweeper. Gaikai creator David Perry is even on board.
"I can't say anything about [David Perry's] project yet," de Ronde said. "I've seen the first version of the game running on the device it's coming out on. It's going to come out on one exclusive device - it's tailormade for it. It's a fusion between two different entertainment mediums.
"It's not just a game. And that's all I can say. I really want David to present it - he's much better at presenting his vision. It's a little game - small and simple. Hopefully a little bit revolutionary."
OneBigGame has "a number of people" de Ronde said he couldn't talk about who are waiting in the wings to collaborate, including one designer who is responsible for one of the best-selling games ever". (It's not Martyn Brown, head of Worms developer Team17 though - I asked.)
One thing de Ronde is clear about is that all OneBigGame games should be games first and foremost. They are vehicles to raise money for charity but not vehicles through which to preach.
"The game should not contain any messaging. I don't want someone to go to Miyamoto and say, 'Can you do us a game whereby you send a message to the world that we should fight famine or help people who have become the victim of earthquakes,'" de Ronde said.
"I would want to go to Miyamoto and say, 'There's 20 to 25 million people who are fans of your work, create us a small game that captures the essence of why people love your work.' And then the proceeds go to charity.
"If you buy a ticket to a U2 charity concert," he added, "and U2 perform all kinds of new material which contains political messages or charity messages - that's not what you go for. You've already paid your money that goes to charity - you want them to do the thing you expect them to do."
The idea of OneBigGame was swimming around in de Ronde's head before he even founded Killzone-maker Guerrilla. Ideally, he'd have kids buy his games and then someone less fortunate in another corner of the world benefit from that.
At the moment, OneBigGame donates to Starlight Children's Foundation and Save the Children.
Martin de Ronde recently reunited with fellow Guerrilla Games founder Michiel Mol to form Vanguard Entertainment. The studio's first project will be Gatling Gears, which will be published by EA on PC, PSN and XBLA in spring 2011.
The last time they worked together they created Killzone. So, what does de Ronde think of the direction a modern-day Guerrilla Games has taken Killzone?
"It's amazing," he said. "The team, ever since we left, has done an amazing job. Killzone 2 was... I personally liked it very much.
"I was really pleased for the team, for the franchise as a whole, and I'm really proud - I'm proud that I was once part of that."
However, he added: "The second we started working exclusively with Sony meant being responsible for the commercial stuff and it wasn't really a lot to do any more at the studio, because we were signed up for several projects on a multiple-year basis. It made me think it was time to move on.
"I don't regret it in any way. It was extremely interesting and exhilarating to work on colossal, next-gen products for four years - five years including the original Killzone."
The money de Ronde received from Sony for his share of Guerrilla "was enough not to worry about my pension any more" - "but it wasn't enough to go to the Bahamas and sail around the world on an annual basis," he said. "Let's keep it at that."
"No [I didn't buy a sports car]," he added, "that's one of the strange things about me, that the only thing I don't care about really is cars. I've got all the gadgets and all the other stuff man gets really excited about, but cars - I can hardly distinguish a BMW from a Mercedes.
"I'm still going to work on my bike, but that's pretty normal in Amsterdam. Had I bought a sports car, which I probably could have done, it would have been parked outside in the rain for a long, long time."