Welcome to another exclusive by the TavernRPG team. We reached out to Isaac Otway @IsaacCHS —the founder and producer of Crimson Herring Studios. CHS is an indie studio headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with a talented, diverse, remote-working team.
Thanks a lot to everyone involved in making this interview possible! We can't appreciate enough how much being able to set up an interview like this means to us.
Q: First of all, congratulations on your release, very positive review rating on Steam, and generally favorable Metascore for Sovereign Syndicate! How has the launch been? What was it like, to launch your first title? Has all gone according to the plan? Any surprises?
Isaac: Thanks so much! Appreciate the chance to interview and share my thoughts.
Launch was a whirlwind of activity and emotions for sure. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We had better media coverage and more wishlists than we expected at launch, and the solid reviews gave us hope that the game was going to perform well commercially. So far the game has met our expectations in terms of sales and was very technically stable at launch so bug fixes have been minimal. Very smooth all things considered. I think the thing that surprised me the most was how divided the user comments and reviews are. I think that’s too be expected, not everyone who buys the game is going to leave a review or a comment, generally just the folks who love or hate it the most; but it did catch me by surprise in the moment. I’m also disappointed we didn’t have the budget to bring the game to a larger audience. Things like localization and console porting. I’m hopeful that with continued sales we can afford to re-invest in the game in the near future.
Q: When you first thought about Sovereign Syndicate’s setting, did you want something new and unique, something written from scratch, or did you consider a game set in a known world? Would you say writing completely new lore and setting a story in such a world is more challenging than writing a story in a well-established setting? What kind of hurdles do you see in both approaches?
Isaac: Originally I’d wanted to do a game using the Shadowrun IP. I really enjoy the Returns, Dragonfall, and Hong Kong series from Harebrained Schemes (HBS) and have been a fan of the Shadowrun universe since the SNES days. The Shadowrun IP is owned by Microsoft though and was only licensed to HBS for a period of time. As a brand new studio I didn’t think we’d have the credibility or resources to have the opportunity to take on a licensed property like that, so decided to create my own. I’ve always loved steampunk and classical Victorian science fiction, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to start something entirely new. I was a bit of a hobbyist science fiction writer at the time and looking for a project that would make me more comfortable writing dialogue, so this seemed like a good way to approach the project.
Developing an entirely new IP has it’s challenges. There are so many questions to answer to give the world a foundation and sense of believability and that can be time consuming without feeling really productive. The good part I suppose is that we get to be the one to answer those questions and aren’t bound by years of prior work. At the same time having a pre-established IP to work in answers a lot of those questions for you and could make it easier to get started. There were definitely times during development where we did too much world-building that wasn’t productive and didn’t end up in the final game, or could have been handled more simply. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about our world but we’re trying to answer those questions as they come up rather than trying to tackle them all up front. I feel like that’s the best approach, focus on answering questions that help us tell great stories and make satisfying games to play. Hopefully we get the opportunity to keep working in this IP and bringing more stories to our audience.
Q: When creating and writing this universe and setting, did you get new ideas for other games that could take place in it? Would you like to create another story in this world, or you’d prefer to try something else?
Isaac: Yeah, the team has a lot of great ideas for games we could do in this world, and for more games in general. Doing a sequel is something we’d planned from the beginning so that’s the project we’re most likely to tackle next if we can get the necessary funding for it. I think one of the hardest parts creatively is having to say no (or not right now) to good game ideas because we only have so much time and money to make them.
Q: Are you considering adding DLCs or expansions to Sovereign Syndicate that build on the main story or branch out from it?
Isaac: No, we’re more focused on reinvesting for things like localization and console porting. I’d rather do a sequel than a DLC.
Q: Recently there has been a flux of high quality (c)RPG games such as Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. The common factor of such games is that their development was very expensive. They also have set a high bar for future games, both AAA or (whether it's fair or not) non-AAA. What do you think indie companies such as Crimson Herring Studios could do to compete with those kinds of titles? What do you think should be a focus for indie games? Should indie studios perfect their stories, to stand toe-to-toe, or even surpass AAA titles, or maybe focus to develop unique gameplay, something others have never done before?
Isaac: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure to be a part of the next wave of CRPG renaissance. Obviously we don’t have the same resources as some other studios so we aren’t able to do games with the same production values; but I don’t think it’s a competition at all. We aren’t pricing our game at the same price point and we communicate pretty clearly what the game is so people know what to expect. While there are definitely people out there that complain that our game doesn’t match that same level of quality as BG3 and doesn’t offer things like voice over and a hundred hours of gameplay I think those folks are in the minority. Luckily it’s not a binary choice, people can own both games, and the increased visibility of games like BG3 helps introduce new customers to the CRPG genre, which results in more visibility for smaller creators like us. A rising tide lifts all boats as they say.
Q: How do you feel about live-service games? Do you think it's a future of gaming, or do you consider it a bane of the industry? Do you think live-service would go into a bit of a decline after peaking in recent years? If yes, do you think it would happen because we've got quite a few great single player games lately, which shows there is still a lot of love for them, or because market was simply oversaturated by microtransactions and paid cosmetic content?
Isaac: I don’t have much of an opinion there. I tend to play single-player games so it’s not something I’ve been paying a lot of attention to, just not my thing. Certainly that can be a successful business model and deliver games that players enjoy; but from the outside looking in it seems to be high risk high reward and a bit of a winner take all market.
I think what we’re more likely seeing is the market re-adjusting to a significant change in the cost of capital. When interest rates were low and it was easier to attract investment then studios could have longer development cycles, bigger budgets, and commit to ongoing support of the live service model even if the game wasn’t the most successful. Now we’re seeing a lot of layoffs and termination of all but the most successful live service games because the studios just can’t afford the expense, or see the potential for better returns elsewhere.
From a customer perspective the most effective thing people can do is talk with their wallets. Buy and play the games you enjoy and support the studios making them.
Q: What is next for Crimson Herring Studios? Would you want to expand or keep things approximately close to what Sovereign Syndicate as a project was?
Right now we’re focused on trying to bring Sovereign Syndicate to a larger audience. Seeking a regional publishing partner for Asia and a publishing partner for console, and trying to invest in a few other localizations. After that I’d like to move on to a sequel, something larger in scope and more in line with a traditional CRPG. Character customization, turn-based combat, party-based, companion quests, romances, all that stuff.
Thanks so much for the interview, really enjoyed it!
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