In an interview with GamaSutra sister site, IndieGames.com, Team Meat openly talked about their relationship with Microsoft and how they ‘don’t think we’ll work with them ever again’ due to poor sales on the XBLA and lack of response to sale inclusion requests.
Mel Kirk from Pinbal FX2′s Zen Studios felt like he needed to give ‘a bit of a rant on the other side of the Team Meat negativity, a bit from emotion, a bit from truth’, and contacted StickTwiddlers where we arranged an interview to talk about what he believes to be the ‘honest and true’ side of the story.
So why is it that you feel so strongly about the need to talk out about this?
Mel: “Well I guess it’s pretty simple. We’ve got a really, really good relationship with Microsoft and we’ve worked really hard with those guys for a number of years. We’re not only business partners but we’re friends with them and it’s just been really difficult over the last few weeks and since GDC to hear their name trashed so much and hear all the negativity going on and kind of yesterday was like a breaking point for me and for us and we were just like ‘man, we really need to say something’ and show that everything going on with XBLA and indie developers isn’t negative and there’s a whole positive side that we really feel isn’t being represented”.
Obviously with titles on Pinball FX2 like Marvel Pinball and Ms Splosion Man, what has been your experience of working with Marvel & Twisted Pixel?
Mel: “It’s been unbelievable. Working with Marvel was very different than working with Twisted Pixel but positive nonetheless. Marvel knows their brand very well, they hold them to a very high standard and they make you work that quality in really understanding their universe and they’ve been a great partner to work with. Getting a deal with marvel was one thing, that was probably like the hardest part of the whole thing, but getting a deal done with Twisted Pixel was super easy. It was two companies that really admired each others work and were both kind of in the same situation on the XBLA and said ‘hey, let’s work together’. They gave us all their assets and we built them a table and they were like ‘oh my god, this is amazing’ and then that was it, whereas the back and forth with Marvel to get things right is a little more involved. That’s the difference between working with a major global company and a smaller studio”.
Have they asked you to do a Comic Jumper table for them?
Mel: “There’s a lot of conversations happening right now with Twisted Pixel and other devs. I’ll just put it this way. The dev community on the XBLA for the most part is a pretty tight knit group. We’re all trying to figure out how to work together in ways that make sense so if you play one game, like if you play Ms Splosion Man you can access Pinball FX2. We just want to figure out how to keep the community alive and help people experience games that they wouldn’t have otherwised played. That was one of our goals with doing Ms Splosion Man, obviously a crazy platformer game with a pinball game and it worked really well so there’s other types of games from Twisted Pixel specifically and other developers on the platform where you might see more crossovers”.
So any other developers you can talk about or are you keeping it very hush hush right now?
Mel: “I have to keep it hush hush because as soon as you know what it’s gonna be you’re gonna see exactly what the heck I’m talking about”.
You were talking earlier about what a tight knit group that the XBLA dev group is. Is that one of the reasons why you felt like you needed to speak out when Team Meat were standing there saying ‘We feel like we haven’t had any support from MS?
Mel: “It all started back at GDC last year and a number of us were sitting in the room during the keynote from the Team Meat guys and we were sitting there with our jaws open in disbelief. Just kind of like ‘What? Wow’. Really shocked and really surprised. From a company like Zen Studios, and I have full blessing from Twisted Pixel to say them as well, we’re kind of growing up together so to speak and Microsoft has enabled a lot of that. So did PlayStation, allowing us to access these digital networks and these first parties working so hard for companies like ours. To hear that kind of backlash is really surprising and you continue to keep reading stories and hearing podcasts saying the same thing over and over. It was getting kind of old. We’d had very positive experiences and I thought ‘maybe enough’s enough’. We all know that we kill ourselves trying to make a game because it’s that kind of industry so that’s nothing new, but to kind of put it in context that Microsoft made that happen and did that to you, that’s terrible.”
You’ve stated to us that you think that Team Meat are hiding something. What do you think that is?
Mel: “I think that they’re hiding behind that message. That’s really been their headline and they’ve done very well. I mean Super Meat Boy is a great game, it can stand on it’s own two feet anywhere. Very few games are that good. While I know their beef is that they couldn’t deliver the game that they wanted to and that they were kind of forced to put it out. That’s just the complete opposite from our experience and I think that they’re hiding behind this indie image which is that we’re all still indie and that’s a nice place to be and have that feeling of we’re a poor studio, please support us but the truth is that if you have a good game on XBLA and you’re part of a big promotion and you have a two man team, you’re killing it. Honestly you’re killing it and there’s no reason to be negative and these guys are doing just fine.”
With their contractual obligation that Super Meat Boy will never be sold on the PSN, how do you think that they thought that bashing their console distributor would help?
Mel: “It’s just headlines you know, getting yourself out there. Promoting the game and creating this backlash and making people feel sorry for you so you buy their game I guess? If you want me to be perfectly honest, that’s what I’m thinking of in my head. The last article that came out on Gamasutra yesterday and the IndieGames podcast basically said that they’ll never have a game up on XBLA again. I’m not surprised. If their relationship is that bad, why would they ever want to work with each other again?”
Tommy Refenes did state that he feels that the only way that they’ll ever work with MS again is if it’s on their terms, which he doesn’t think they’ll ever agree with. Do you think MS would want to work with them again after the statements made by Team Meat?
Mel: “I don’t know but common sense would say no. It’s kind of like one of these situations where you stab someone in the back. I mean that’s probably how MS has gotta feel because the producers there in the first party team go above and beyond. They’re more like partners than your publisher.”
You also stated that you think that Sony got off lightly with the PSN outage. What do you think could have and should have been done?
Mel: “When I made that comment, I want to put it in context of everything that’s happening right now with MS and people bashing them and the stories that have spawned from this. PlayStation did a great job of getting people to come back to PSN. The welcome back package was a great idea, it was well managed and it was actually stuff that people wanted. But the issue is with a company like Zen, we missed two product releases during that time and then we were kind of blindsided when the releases were made. It was the night before E3 and who’s gonna have the time to download these little pieces of content or games before they go to E3 and get this stuff written, it’s just not gonna happen. When you get back from E3 you’re digesting what you just saw, all the new stuff coming in from other game developers and publishers. You’re not gonna go back and retroactively look at stuff. There should have been something put together to highlight those games because we didn’t even get our due course or due process. When you’re producing a game and you have a release window and it’s around E3, those products are as good as dead. It would have been nice if we at least had the chance to say ‘no, I don’t want to be released with this, I’d rather wait two months to put this out’”
From working with them, is that the kind of treatment you’d have expected to get from Microsoft in that situation?
Mel: “Yes, I’m very confident that Microsoft would have managed it differently in that we would have had a say in when that content would have been published.”
I’m sure that some people will think that Zen is trying to push some promotion for their own titles & reinforce a solid relationship with Microsoft by commenting on this. What have you got to say to those people?
Mel: “Honestly what I’m doing here is trying to present another side of the story to say that it’s not all bad. Indie devs and XBLA, these are still developing platforms and it’s a great place to put your game. If you can get your game out and it’s quality content, you’re gonna do just fine. PlayStation is awesome as well. PSN is easier to get your game up on. I love PlayStation. Like I said earlier, without the development of marketplaces like PSN and Nintendo’s really beefing up their digital download space with the eShop, it’s enabling gaming to grow. It’s enabling creativity. It’s enabling indie developers. It’s enabling companies like Zen Studios, Twisted Pixel, Team Meat to get a game out that wouldn’t otherwise happen. It’s like let’s stay positive, let’s work towards creativity, let’s build a community, let’s not harp on people because that really doesn’t do anybody any good. It get’s you headlines for a little while and causes some controversy but I just don’t see the benefit in it.”
Steam has always been seen as the mecca for indie developers to get their games out. Do you think that with these improvements, could we see this trend moving to more console based stores?
Mel: “It’s no secret that on the business end of things, [Steam's] the way everybody wants to go. There’s better margins, you don’t have to pay middle men and you don’t have to worry about getting kicked off a shelf at retail. It also lowers the risk of trading the type of game is totally crazy and never been done before. I think that this evolving digital market is only a good thing for gamers but also keeps prices down for the most part. It’s really good on all ends and all points. Microsoft is not all evil, that’s just what I’m trying to say. We’ve had a good experience, a lot of companies do. I’m a big fan of Super Meat Boy and I’m sorry if this is causing controversy with Team Meat, I was just like enough is enough and there needs to be another side of the story told.”
After this would you ever consider working with Team Meat on a Super Meat Boy Pinball FX2 table?
Mel: “Yeah but I mean who knows if that’ll ever happen. They’re probably gonna say ‘Who are these Zen guys? What is your game?’ I’ve never spoken to them but I’m friends with most of the studios and most of the guys on XBLA and other studios that we’re definitely involved with, with the exception of Team Meat. Maybe they are the outcasts, I dunno.”
Is there anything else that you’d like to say about the situation or about Zen and your relationship with Microsoft?
Mel: “All I’ll say is that game developing and publishing is a lot of hard work. You get very attached to your work and it’s hard to accept criticism in this industry but it’s easy to see criticism. We embrace our company culture quite a bit at Zen and there’s a lot of Zen principles. Chill out, I guess. As developers we always kill ourselves, we’re always working around the clock. That’s what it requires to make a good game but just don’t embrace all the criticism, don’t embrace the negative aspects. Pay attention when people say they like your game or what they like about your studio. I just think we’d all be happier people and hopefully we can all get out and exercise a little bit more too.”
Thanks again to Mel for a great interview. Shortly after this interview, quite a heated conversation occurred on Twitter between Team Meat and Zen Studios which you can read the full details of here.