Zoe Mode Interview

 I've been helping with research into cross cultural translation and the barriers faced therein within the games industry at my university and had the opportunity to interview certain companies with regard to this issue. Below is an interview I conducted with the lovely people at Zoe Mode, makers of Chime and the terribly underrated PSP game, Crush.


Zoe Mode Interview

  • I was hoping to start off with an introduction as to what you, as a company, feel you stand for and what differentiates you from others in the industry.

Zoë Mode makes simple, social, games that are effortlessly fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.  We believe that games are a powerful way of bringing people together and having fun and that there’s more to life than games, but that games can make life better.   We strongly believe that there is a game for everyone. In this, I guess we differ from other more traditional gaming companies who create racing/FPS etc. we make games that are social or musical. 


  •  I noticed that you seem to have focused predominantly on the music and puzzle genres. Is this because of what you see to be a certain amount of crossover within these genres? After all, with the release of Chime, you seem to have taken your experience within both genres and moved towards what can almost be seen as a merger of the two.

It sort of happened naturally with Chime. We love music games, so it was bound to happen at some point that we would have a crossover with a different genre, even though it might not be an immediately obvious one. We had experience with creating Crush before Chime, so were well versed with the pitfalls and triumphs of puzzle game design. 


  • Small Company, Big heart 
       In relation to the question above, is there a lot of collaboration in the creation of these titles within your two studios in San Francisco and Brighton, or are they more independent (i.e. does each studio focus purely on puzzle games and the other on music)?

We aren’t genre specific in the studios. We look to create all types of social and music games in both studios. There is a certain amount of collaboration on every project, especially as our directors are based in the UK. 


  • Received wisdom has it that art and business are clearly delineated enterprises; the artist creates, the businessman pedals. Despite the amount of creativity displayed in the games industry, such a view is still prevalent. What’s your take on this?

I think that it would be very hard for either to survive without the other, especially in games. Often, business decisions involve a great deal of creativity, quick thinking and a flexible approach; all of which are qualities you might associate with art. Likewise, without a business mind when planning out art production, it would be very easy to let freeform creativity get in the way of actually creating a finished product.   


  • In spite of the fact that both film and games are collaborative works, there still seems to be more recognition of specific individuals in the former. Is this another sign that games are often seen as just products rolled off a production line rather than as works with intrinsic value? Or is it a testament to the intensely group orientated approach of games development?

There are certainly ‘celebrities’ within the games industry, those who are renowned for creating seminal titles, but on the whole, the wider public are usually only aware of the game title and possibly who published it. It’s unusual for the ‘average Joe’ to have heard of the independent developers who are behind the production. I see more of a similarity between actors and main characters in games. For example, everyone knows who Brad Pitt is, but then most of the world have also heard of Sonic! 


  • Both Chime and Crush must have been big risks for you considering how niche the puzzle genre can be. Does the risk factor involved in the creation of such games turn you away from future similar products? 

Chime was not really a risk as it was created for charity. We always knew that we would not make any of the initial gains from it. Production was done pro bono.

Crush was pretty innovative for its time and although it paid off with our critic scores, which sadly wasn’t reflected in the sales. It certainly doesn’t put us off creating similarly inventive titles in the future though. That’s what our studio is all about. 


  • Considering the fact that Chime was released as a means of raising money for charity, what kind of financial support did you receive in creating it? How does funding a project like this differ compared to a project such as Crush, especially when money received from the consumer at sale don’t go to you?

We didn’t receive any financial support in creating Crush. This differs greatly from our usual contract with publishers in which we are paid a set amount for the completion of a game, paid in milestones over the development period. We occasionally have royalty deals, but the majority are fixed payment.  


 Zoe Mode's dimension bending PSP game, Crush
  • With the recent plans for tax relief scrapped by the British government , why keep you offices in the UK when places like the Netherlands have a form of income support in the Netherlands for all young artists – including those involved in games development and other countries such as Canada offer great financial benefits?

We love Brighton and can’t imagine living elsewhere. To move the company to another country would meaning the majority of our staff too, and we love them.


  • A few of your products seem to be focused more on the downloadable aspect of sales. How does the move towards digital distribution affect a smaller company like your own?

We definitely see digital download as a huge part of the future of games. It’s important to get a good balance as a development studio though. We are currently developing for both boxed products and download.

  • What is your take on more open services such as the App Store in comparison to something like Xbox Live Arcade? Does this appeal to a developer such as yourself?

It’s great to see a huge number of really innovative Apps being created by developers around the country. We would love to develop for the iPhone.


  • Why did you choose not to release Chime on services such as PSN or Steam but only on XBLA? What are the differences that a developer such as yourself would encounter with each of these platforms?   

Onebiggame (the charity responsible for games such as Chime) have a particular relationship with XBLA. We would love to see the title on other platforms though and there is no real reason why that would pose any particular issues with development. We are well used to working on cross platform titles. 


  • With the introduction of subscription fees, one time used codes, DLC and the like, a wide variety of new revenue streams for old-style boxed games have emerged. Publishers like Activision and EA now see the sale of a game not as the final transaction but as a gateway to more possible future revenue with expansions, map packs and the like. How has this changed the face of the market for you? Is this something that could be applicable to you and your games?

With all games we create, boxed products or downloads, we see it as very important to create scope for future expansion. With every pitch that we do to publishers, it will involve what could happen to the franchise after the initial release. 


  • How important is owning your own IP? Do you own the rights to Crush and Chime? Is it the name of the game or the developer that holds sway with consumers and how do you cater to that?

It’s very important to own some of your own IP as a studio. It would be tricky for us to fund ourselves purely on own IP, but it’s certainly a good idea to have a balance with it. Yes, we do own the rights to Crush and Chime


  •  Off the record, Zoe Mode considers those not paying full price for Chime to be utter dicks (I may be paraphrasing here)
       You’ve worked on building upon the games of others with games like Singstar and the downloadable track packs for Guitar Hero but have yet to make a sequel to games such as Crush or Chime. Sequels are often seen as the best way to make money in the industry as the tech and engine have already been established and assets made that can be reused. Why have you chosen to shy away from building upon your previous games and turning them into franchises?

We would love to do further versions of these titles! There are things in the pipeline which we are unable to discuss with anyone at this stage, but watch this space! 

 

  • What with the imminent release of Sony’s Move and Microsoft Kinect and your past experience with the eyetoy play series and You’re in the Movies, you would seem well poised to tackle games development in an era of ever increasing prevalence of motion controls. What are your opinions on this? Is it just a fad or are these platforms the only way we can attract more people into the world of games?

I would be very surprised if Move and Kinect were fads. Wii has altered the market demographic a huge amount in the UK and I suspect that this will continue to shift and evolve in time. We would love to release a game on one of these new systems. 


  • In what territories have you seen the most success? Are there any aspects of certain games that you had to change in order to appeal more to differing cultural norms?

Our main titles have been most popular within the UK and USA. When releasing titles in a variety of territories, it can affect the game content. For example, an image or word in the US may be deemed as inappropriate for the age group in the Netherlands. Our experience on SingStar definitely proved that! 


  • Have you ever had any difficulties in receiving certification from differing rating bodies due to any specific content in a game? If so, what changes did you have to make? What have been your experiences working with organisations such as the BBFC and PEGI?

As above, our experience with SingStar is probably the most appropriate here. For some of the music videos, we had to edit out nudity, smoking, drinking etc. Rude lyrics were also a problem on occasion. 

 
  • Thanks for all your time!
Start the Conversation
3 Comments
Posted by Vitor
 I've been helping with research into cross cultural translation and the barriers faced therein within the games industry at my university and had the opportunity to interview certain companies with regard to this issue. Below is an interview I conducted with the lovely people at Zoe Mode, makers of Chime and the terribly underrated PSP game, Crush.


Zoe Mode Interview

  • I was hoping to start off with an introduction as to what you, as a company, feel you stand for and what differentiates you from others in the industry.

Zoë Mode makes simple, social, games that are effortlessly fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.  We believe that games are a powerful way of bringing people together and having fun and that there’s more to life than games, but that games can make life better.   We strongly believe that there is a game for everyone. In this, I guess we differ from other more traditional gaming companies who create racing/FPS etc. we make games that are social or musical. 


  •  I noticed that you seem to have focused predominantly on the music and puzzle genres. Is this because of what you see to be a certain amount of crossover within these genres? After all, with the release of Chime, you seem to have taken your experience within both genres and moved towards what can almost be seen as a merger of the two.

It sort of happened naturally with Chime. We love music games, so it was bound to happen at some point that we would have a crossover with a different genre, even though it might not be an immediately obvious one. We had experience with creating Crush before Chime, so were well versed with the pitfalls and triumphs of puzzle game design. 


  • Small Company, Big heart 
       In relation to the question above, is there a lot of collaboration in the creation of these titles within your two studios in San Francisco and Brighton, or are they more independent (i.e. does each studio focus purely on puzzle games and the other on music)?

We aren’t genre specific in the studios. We look to create all types of social and music games in both studios. There is a certain amount of collaboration on every project, especially as our directors are based in the UK. 


  • Received wisdom has it that art and business are clearly delineated enterprises; the artist creates, the businessman pedals. Despite the amount of creativity displayed in the games industry, such a view is still prevalent. What’s your take on this?

I think that it would be very hard for either to survive without the other, especially in games. Often, business decisions involve a great deal of creativity, quick thinking and a flexible approach; all of which are qualities you might associate with art. Likewise, without a business mind when planning out art production, it would be very easy to let freeform creativity get in the way of actually creating a finished product.   


  • In spite of the fact that both film and games are collaborative works, there still seems to be more recognition of specific individuals in the former. Is this another sign that games are often seen as just products rolled off a production line rather than as works with intrinsic value? Or is it a testament to the intensely group orientated approach of games development?

There are certainly ‘celebrities’ within the games industry, those who are renowned for creating seminal titles, but on the whole, the wider public are usually only aware of the game title and possibly who published it. It’s unusual for the ‘average Joe’ to have heard of the independent developers who are behind the production. I see more of a similarity between actors and main characters in games. For example, everyone knows who Brad Pitt is, but then most of the world have also heard of Sonic! 


  • Both Chime and Crush must have been big risks for you considering how niche the puzzle genre can be. Does the risk factor involved in the creation of such games turn you away from future similar products? 

Chime was not really a risk as it was created for charity. We always knew that we would not make any of the initial gains from it. Production was done pro bono.

Crush was pretty innovative for its time and although it paid off with our critic scores, which sadly wasn’t reflected in the sales. It certainly doesn’t put us off creating similarly inventive titles in the future though. That’s what our studio is all about. 


  • Considering the fact that Chime was released as a means of raising money for charity, what kind of financial support did you receive in creating it? How does funding a project like this differ compared to a project such as Crush, especially when money received from the consumer at sale don’t go to you?

We didn’t receive any financial support in creating Crush. This differs greatly from our usual contract with publishers in which we are paid a set amount for the completion of a game, paid in milestones over the development period. We occasionally have royalty deals, but the majority are fixed payment.  


 Zoe Mode's dimension bending PSP game, Crush
  • With the recent plans for tax relief scrapped by the British government , why keep you offices in the UK when places like the Netherlands have a form of income support in the Netherlands for all young artists – including those involved in games development and other countries such as Canada offer great financial benefits?

We love Brighton and can’t imagine living elsewhere. To move the company to another country would meaning the majority of our staff too, and we love them.


  • A few of your products seem to be focused more on the downloadable aspect of sales. How does the move towards digital distribution affect a smaller company like your own?

We definitely see digital download as a huge part of the future of games. It’s important to get a good balance as a development studio though. We are currently developing for both boxed products and download.

  • What is your take on more open services such as the App Store in comparison to something like Xbox Live Arcade? Does this appeal to a developer such as yourself?

It’s great to see a huge number of really innovative Apps being created by developers around the country. We would love to develop for the iPhone.


  • Why did you choose not to release Chime on services such as PSN or Steam but only on XBLA? What are the differences that a developer such as yourself would encounter with each of these platforms?   

Onebiggame (the charity responsible for games such as Chime) have a particular relationship with XBLA. We would love to see the title on other platforms though and there is no real reason why that would pose any particular issues with development. We are well used to working on cross platform titles. 


  • With the introduction of subscription fees, one time used codes, DLC and the like, a wide variety of new revenue streams for old-style boxed games have emerged. Publishers like Activision and EA now see the sale of a game not as the final transaction but as a gateway to more possible future revenue with expansions, map packs and the like. How has this changed the face of the market for you? Is this something that could be applicable to you and your games?

With all games we create, boxed products or downloads, we see it as very important to create scope for future expansion. With every pitch that we do to publishers, it will involve what could happen to the franchise after the initial release. 


  • How important is owning your own IP? Do you own the rights to Crush and Chime? Is it the name of the game or the developer that holds sway with consumers and how do you cater to that?

It’s very important to own some of your own IP as a studio. It would be tricky for us to fund ourselves purely on own IP, but it’s certainly a good idea to have a balance with it. Yes, we do own the rights to Crush and Chime


  •  Off the record, Zoe Mode considers those not paying full price for Chime to be utter dicks (I may be paraphrasing here)
       You’ve worked on building upon the games of others with games like Singstar and the downloadable track packs for Guitar Hero but have yet to make a sequel to games such as Crush or Chime. Sequels are often seen as the best way to make money in the industry as the tech and engine have already been established and assets made that can be reused. Why have you chosen to shy away from building upon your previous games and turning them into franchises?

We would love to do further versions of these titles! There are things in the pipeline which we are unable to discuss with anyone at this stage, but watch this space! 

 

  • What with the imminent release of Sony’s Move and Microsoft Kinect and your past experience with the eyetoy play series and You’re in the Movies, you would seem well poised to tackle games development in an era of ever increasing prevalence of motion controls. What are your opinions on this? Is it just a fad or are these platforms the only way we can attract more people into the world of games?

I would be very surprised if Move and Kinect were fads. Wii has altered the market demographic a huge amount in the UK and I suspect that this will continue to shift and evolve in time. We would love to release a game on one of these new systems. 


  • In what territories have you seen the most success? Are there any aspects of certain games that you had to change in order to appeal more to differing cultural norms?

Our main titles have been most popular within the UK and USA. When releasing titles in a variety of territories, it can affect the game content. For example, an image or word in the US may be deemed as inappropriate for the age group in the Netherlands. Our experience on SingStar definitely proved that! 


  • Have you ever had any difficulties in receiving certification from differing rating bodies due to any specific content in a game? If so, what changes did you have to make? What have been your experiences working with organisations such as the BBFC and PEGI?

As above, our experience with SingStar is probably the most appropriate here. For some of the music videos, we had to edit out nudity, smoking, drinking etc. Rude lyrics were also a problem on occasion. 

 
  • Thanks for all your time!
Posted by Vitor

Those comments on motion controls seemed oddly portentous what with the recent announcement of their latest project:  New playful first-person horror title, Haunt, announced for Kinect™ for Xbox 360®, in collaboration with PaRappa the Rapper creators NanaOn-Sha.    

Posted by BionicMonster
@Vitor: 
Great Interview,also very informative. I had no idea they are working on a Kinect game. Thanks for the info.