Oddworld Inhabitants co-founder Lorne Lanning explained why he left the video games industry in 2005 to focus on creating animated films and shorts, and what lured him back into the business of making games this year. The biggest reason that Lanning waited so long? According to this interview, he was basically waiting for the rights to his games to revert back to his company. The other thing that brought Lanning back was the power to self-publish his own games.
Back in the PlayStation era Lanning said that it cost millions of dollars to build a game, but before that when he was making Sega Mega Drive games a company like his might spend $500K – $1 million to develop a game. It was this ramp-up in cost for building on new platforms that forced many companies to work with publishers, but Lanning says that publishers like EA are looking to acquire IP and talent and many deals are geared towards those goals.
He explained the nature of the disputes with EA that caused him to leave the business for awhile:
"We'd had enough of what was happening," Lanning said. "And what was happening was quite simply if you wanted to build big expensive games, and you were getting them funded by a publisher, you were basically giving up your company."
"When I started making games people were on average building games for $500,000, maybe a $1 million, on the Sega Mega Drive and SNES. We come in on the PlayStation era and it's like, oh, it's going to go to multi-million dollars. And there were a lot of concerns about how teams would grow and all that stuff."
Lanning said that he did not build a company simply to have it sold to a big publisher to survive:
"Now, we didn't create the company to sell the company, right? But you would basically have these deals where if you wanted to sign a $15 million development deal you were simultaneously signing an acquisition deal: if you had success they would be able to buy you and they would leverage the power of that money."
"And I looked at that and I said, 'that's not why I started building these games'. I don't care for some of these relationships, I think they're very unfair. And I don't think they're good for the industry, the development community, or the customer. And if that's how it's gonna be I'd rather not play, period."
Lanning returned to game development this year, and plans on releasing Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! on July 22. Lanning says that as an independent studio his company will see profits far sooner and in far greater volume than when he was working for a publisher. He used the recent release of the Xbox game – published by EA – Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, as an example. The game has been re-released independently on PC, PS3 and Vita.
"With self-publishing I've sold more copies of Stranger's Wrath than the publisher did originally," Lanning said. "The same game, years later, because I had to wait for the rights to expire. Their rights to expire. We put it out there on digital, lower price point, and that's turned more units than it ever did."