Cold Iron’s Craig Zinkievich on funding, the genre, and the MMO nature of the game

    
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Earlier this month, we got a curious press release from a new gaming studio called Cold Iron. I might have skipped over it but for the fact that it was drenched in names I recognized from the old days of Cryptic Studios — Craig Zinkievich, Shannon Posniewski, and Matt Highison. They’re working on a “high-quality AAA online action game” that probably isn’t a traditional MMORPG, but I wanted to probe for more details anyway, especially once we learned the studio is already fully funded.

We spoke with Cold Iron Founder/CEO Craig Zinkievich on just those topics; read on for our whole interview!

Massively OP: I know you folks aren’t talking too much about what you’re working on other than that it’s a multiplatform PC action game, but you guys are all very well known in the industry specifically for your MMORPG work, and all three of the principles are heavily touting that MMO experience. So… how much of an MMO or MMORPG is the game? If that’s too on the nose, then how about, is it going to appeal to core MMORPG players, or are you aiming for a broader shooter type of market? Should an MMORPG-oriented website like ours even be hopeful about the game’s relevance to us and our readers?

Cold Iron Founder/CEO Craig Zinkievich: You’re right that we are not quite ready to reveal any specific details just yet. That being said, if you look at the gaming landscape, more and more games in different genres are incorporating elements and systems that are considered “MMO features.” Those familiar with MMOs, know how compelling a lot of these systems can be – progression, world persistence, social interactions, shared experiences. It’s no wonder everyone is trying to get these elements in their games. Including us!

Yes, we’ve got tons of MMO and online experience and we love what that brings to the player, but we don’t believe “MMO” describes a genre anymore. We think it describes a suite of connected experiences (those things I mentioned and more) — MMO is no longer synonymous with tab-targeting RPGs, you know? We’re making an online action game, but I think it’s fair to say our title is going to feature and rely on MMO-like systems. We are absolutely using our expertise in MMOs to make gameplay even cooler.

How much of an MMO will our game be? What’s the gameplay going to be like? The specifics are what we’re not prepared to divulge just yet. When we do the reveal and get you guys playable, I’d be curious what you think, for sure. We hope it’s MMO-like enough to warrant coverage and interest from your audience. We’ve always been super grateful and appreciative when editorial has covered our games in the past. I suppose when we have you guys over to play you’ll tell us.

Whether Cold Iron’s first game is an MMORPG or not, what do you folks think about the current state and future of the MMORPG genre you once built games in? Might the studio make MMORPGs in the more distant future?

While on the surface it may seem like a tough time for the traditional western MMORPGs, I think it’s just part of the industry’s evolution. For years, I told everyone that all games were eventually going to be MMOs. Like I mentioned, you’re seeing MMO features now in all genres, on all platforms. It’s an exciting time! We get to see how the industry is co-opting MMO systems into other games to build better, more connected experiences. Some have integrated these features well, while others have come out with mistakes and issues that the MMO industry solved years ago. But look at some of the biggest, most successful online action games of today and they are very MMO-like. Destiny, GTA Online and others are integrating MMO features to expand the core moment-to-moment experiences they’ve already got down. It’s cool and leading to bigger, better games as a service.

The fact that Cold Iron says it’s already secured “full funding to see [the] dream to fruition” caught all of us by surprise; nearly every game we cover nowadays has convoluted crowdfunding schemes (or very wealthy devs seeding the game, or more likely, both). Can you elaborate a little more on your funding — are you talking outside investors or AAA publishers footing the bill? Will players ever be asked for money ahead of buying the actual box at launch?

I have to preface this with the usual disclaimer. Game development is hard. Independent game development is super hard. AAA independent game development is super hard. :)

There are very few AAA independent houses left — devs making big budget games like Turtle Rock, Insomniac, Ready at Dawn and Gearbox. They’re tops and make kickass titles. But make no mistake, it’s an incredibly difficult business. So, we count ourselves extremely fortunate that we’ve been able to secure funding immediately. We put together an awesome starter team, pitch and gameplay prototype and had funding locked up right away. That’s huge. And, as you mentioned, out of norm. An awesome gameplay prototype helped bunches, but we’re also a team that has had some great success at Cryptic and (maybe just as importantly) we’ve had some serious challenges and struggles. That shows we’ve “been through the fire,” so to speak, and can execute on-time, on-budget, to scope, and with total confidence.

Where that funding comes from, I cannot yet reveal. It’s not personal or VC, and there’s certainly an official announcement being prepped, but it’s not anything we can discuss yet (some companies have long processes for these sorts of announcements due to any number of things like investor relations, quiet periods, earnings calls, etc.). In any case, it’s nice to have all the funding taken care of so early so we can focus 100% on our game. All that stress … Poof. Gone.

With regard to taking money ahead of launch, at some point we may offer pre-orders and collector editions, which are a great way for us to offer players special perks like head-start programs and access to testing cycles. If we do it — if — it’ll be like that. It’ll be conventional. Normal. We are not going to go on Kickstarter or anything like that. We’re making a game that will come out. Any pre-release offer isn’t designed to fund that game, but to serve as a more conventional way for enthusiastic players to pre-order something and get something cool back.

Thanks so much for speaking with us, Craig!