David Brevik (b. 1968) is a video game writer, designer, producer and programmer, co-founder of Condor, creator of the Diablo series, former President of Blizzard North, co-founder of Flagship Studios, former CEO of Gazillion Entertainment, and founder of Graybeard Games.
Editor’s Note: This is part two of Jeffery Klaehn’s interview with David Brevik. You can find part one here on First Person Scholar.
Jeffery Klaehn: What possibilities afforded by the contemporary gaming landscape most excite you? I’m thinking of technological developments and digital distribution platforms such as Steam (2003) and GOG (2008), which are still relatively “new” in relation to the history of digital games.
David Brevik: It’s an extremely exciting time to be a developer. Being able to create something and distribute it all around the world from your own home is amazing. But because it’s so easy, the market has been flooded with people doing just that. There are hundreds of games a day on mobile app stores, and 30+ games a day on Steam. There is so much content right now, it’s impossible to wade through all of the games.
It is easier than ever to get your dream game made, with easy to use engines that require no programming to worldwide digital distribution. The problem becomes: how do you get noticed? How do you get the word out about your game? What does it take to make a game financially successful? These problems are here to stay. There is no going back. Quality is all over the place as well. Trying to get noticed with a good game amongst 100+ games a week is difficult. Many of these teams don’t have any marketing experience and very few or no marketing dollars. You get one chance to be in the spotlight for a shining moment. You hope that it gets enough attention to set you on a track to success.
JK: Have technological advances necessarily translated into more immersive worlds and gaming experiences, in your view? Or is it impossible to say?
David Brevik: Yes, absolutely. It is a slow process, but it is happening. The experiences today are much more immersive than they were 20+ years ago. Internet, graphics cards, VR and other technologies keep marching us forward to new worlds that can become more life-like and immersive. This doesn’t mean that the technology automatically makes this happen. The content, art, writing, and other factors all need to play together to make it more immersive. If those all come together, then you can have far more immersive worlds than the Atari 2600 days.
JK: As a game developer, how do you view leaps in technology in relation to market?
David Brevik: Leaps in technology can be exciting and difficult. When you’re on the very forefront of technology, you can leave a lot of audience behind. So as exciting as it is to get that brand-new tech, without an install base, you need to factor that into your development budget. New technology can open up new experiences and give us games we never imagined possible. Just be careful as a developer to know how big the potential audience is when making the game.
JK: A range of successful games have released for PC since 2010 (such as Stardew Valley, Terraria, Starbound and Rimworld) that have relatively low system requirements. Compelling gameplay, which you touched upon at the outset of our conversation, seems to be the common element amongst these games. Within that equation of art, writing, sound and other factors, how important are creativity, innovation and playfulness?
David Brevik: It is extremely important to have those elements. Games are very much a graphic medium. If you have an incredible art style or highly-detailed technical art, people become interested in your game right away. If you don’t have those things, you must support your game in other ways. Make it stand out in other ways. Usually in the play. Minecraft is a great example: the art isn’t amazing, but the game is. So much can be done within the sandbox that the game can be almost anything you want. You can create your dream worlds with the equivalent of digital-Legos. Creativity at its finest.
Also, when you don’t have that initial look that grabs someone, you need to have your game work on a variety of systems to expand your audience as much as possible. Having a game run on a low-end system is incredibly important if you want to maximize your audience; most indie titles need that.
JK: Why do you think Diablo and Diablo II have enjoyed and continue to enjoy so much success?
David Brevik: Well, to start with, they are really good games. At the time, they were quite ground-breaking. Playing a game over the internet for free was revolutionary with Diablo. When games stand out in that way, they often stand the test of time. There are many older big-hit games that still are played today. Well designed, engrossing, experiences can be fun today, just like they were years ago. It’s similar to any other medium. A great movie or a great song from long ago can still be played and experienced today and remain entertaining. That said, I am incredibly lucky to have been a part of such an experience. It’s amazing to me that they still have so much attention and are thought of so highly.
JK: Could Diablo I be made available via GOG or Steam? Would this even be possible? And do you know how many interviews you’ve done about Diablo over the years? Have you kept track?
David Brevik: I would imagine that Diablo could be made available on Steam or GOG, but I doubt it would be. Blizzard isn’t really supporting the title anymore. If it was supported enough to put it onto Steam or GOG, it would be at least the same amount of work to put it on Battle.net.
I have not kept track of the number of Diablo interviews I have done, but I’m sure it’s hundreds and hundreds, and I’m still eager to talk about it!
JK: Did you play the Fate and Torchlight games?
David Brevik: Yes, I played both and loved them. I played Fate and was so impressed that I sought Travis [Baldree] out and hired him. He worked for me/us at Flagship Studios and was working on a title called Mythos. The team he created there (up in Seattle, we were in San Francisco) was the core of Runic and the Torchlight team after Flagship ended. After Flagship, of course, Erich and Max Schaefer (my co-founders of Blizzard North and Flagship) went and worked with Travis, made Runic and the Torchlight games.
I decided to go do something else, but we all remain quite close. Max and Erich live about 6 blocks from me and we hang out all the time. Travis and I talk often over email, Twitter and text. Now Travis and Erich work together and made Double Damage Games and Rebel Galaxy and are announcing their new project soon. Max created a new company called Echtra and is making the newly announced Torchlight Frontiers.
JK: How important is it for you to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing at this stage of your career? Has this changed over the years?
David Brevik: I think having fun with your career is vital. That is one of the big reasons I left Gazillion—I wasn’t having as much fun being a CEO as I am developing games. I work all the time now that I’m developing again because I love it so much. Sometimes I can’t sleep because I just want to work on the product. It is my passion to create a game and when I’m having as much fun as I am, it barely feels like work. Overall, I think it’s important to be passionate about something in your life. Everything just seems better when you are passionate.
JK: Do you remember when you first became interested in superheroes? And what are your thoughts on Marvel Heroes, looking back at your time with that game now?
David Brevik: I’ve been interested in superheroes since I was a kid. I read comics growing up. After Flagship, I had many opportunities but I really wanted to pursue working on a Marvel project. I thought it would be an interesting challenge as well as mix well with my passion for the content. In many ways, the game ended up being the game I wanted to create all along.
I’m super proud of the product. We changed a Metacritic 58 into an 82 in a year. We did it with hard work, passionate developers, patient investors and a supportive community. Yes, we made mistakes, but I felt we overcame incredible odds to make a really fun game that many people enjoyed.
The only thing that makes me sad now is that if someone had never played it, they will never be able to try the game. It’s a product I spent 6+ years of my life and career working passionately on, and it’s gone forever. All of my other products are available and will be for a long time, possibly forever. But Marvel Heroes will never be played again.
JK: Would it have been possible to adapt Marvel Heroes to be available as a single-player offline game?
David Brevik: Unfortunately, no. The entire game engine, design and infrastructure were around it being an online-only game. Even if it were technically possible, we wouldn’t have had the license to make it: our license agreement with Marvel was for an online game.
JK: Did you have any favorite comics or creators, growing up? Do you remember the first comic you ever read?
David Brevik: I did read comics as a kid, mainly Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men and Fantastic Four. I don’t quite remember the very first comic I ever read, but I did really enjoy them the moment I started. I have a huge comics collection at this point. I’ve kept many of the comics I read from early on. They aren’t in great shape, but I still love to go back and visit them every now and then. I’m currently reading Cable & Deadpool, the Infinity Wars series, and Fantastic Four, which just came back after a long, long hiatus.
JK: Do you envision yourself possibly designing other superhero action RPGs in the future?
David Brevik: I really doubt it. I made my version of that game, my dream superhero game. And though I really loved it, I have a lot of other games I’d like to make. I found making a superhero game fun, but restrictive.
JK: How would you characterize your design philosophy? Your design sense?
David Brevik: I would say I am a high-concept designer first and then an implement and iterate designer. I can’t imagine designing a complete game in every detail and then implementing it. I design the overall concept, work on it a bit and then adjust. I adjust through my own experience first and then I iterate based on feedback from others. My best design plans never make it past the first play test. I almost always need to modify slightly. It’s difficult to design a real-time RPG and make all the “right” choices even when you have as much experience as I do.
JK: In terms of near and far away horizons, what are you most excited about?
David Brevik: Finishing It Lurks Below. I can’t wait to have my vision complete and put the final version in people’s hands. I hope they are entertained.
JK: Thanks so much, David!
David Brevik: My pleasure!