Exclusive: Hello Games Talk Joe Danger, PS3 and Sleepless Nights

"If people only knew, I hope they'd forget that upset, and be excited instead."
[drop]“You don’t know the half of it,” exclaims a tired, late Sean Murray. The head of Hello Games, a tiny indie studio with a big heart and a big release with Joe Danger: The Movie this week, is understandably stressed.

“It’s crazy,” he adds, explaining that he’s not slept more than a handful of hours in the last three days. “It’s all pretty standard, though,” he says – I’m not entirely convinced.

It’s been over two years since the first Joe Danger hit the PlayStation 3, and since then the Xbox 360 version has seen an updated, refined and content rich semi-sequel in Special Edition.

And the same console’s getting first dibs on a completely new entry into the series with the all-new Joe Danger: The Movie. For a team of four, they’ve been pretty busy.

“Yeah, two whole years,” laughs Sean, “which is crazy when you think about it. It’s been such a busy time for us, that time has just flown. Now when I look back, and think about everything that’s happened, it seems like a long time. If you know what I mean?”

The reaction to the first Joe Danger was great, I reply, and then ask how was it working with Sony? “An absolute pleasure,” says Sean. “They really just let us get on with things, make our own mistakes, but are there to help when we need them.”

One misconception is that Sony published the first Joe Danger. They didn’t – Hello Games self published the title entirely. “It’s a lot different for us to what it is for most indie developers,” explains Sean. “Sony treat us exactly the same way they treat Disney, EA or whoever. We’re a publisher with Sony, so they are pretty hands off.”

“We come to them when the game is done,” he adds. “If we never finished our game, or never released it, they wouldn’t necessarily even know. They aren’t cracking whips or anything. Which I like!”

I ask Sean how he thinks PlayStation 3-only gamers felt when the remixed Special Edition came out a year later for the Xbox 360, and only for the Xbox 360. “I think if I look through my emails, comments and tweets on average, most of our fans wished us well,” Sean replies. “[Sony gamers] had already had the game for a year, and loved it, and they were happy to see an indie studio doing well.”

Not everyone, though, I remind him. “Some people were annoyed though for sure, and I understand that,” he replies. “PS3 owners and gamers really made the game a success. We made some additional content that would have been really difficult to retro-fit onto PS3.”

Retro-fit?

“When we were given the opportunity to go back and revisit Joe Danger,” Sean explains, “we couldn’t resist tweaking and changing lots of stuff, things people don’t normally do when porting. Like we removed levels that we never liked, we added those Pro Medals, which changed progression, changed scoring. Then we realised we just couldn’t do all that in the PS3 version, not just as some extra DLC. That’s our own stupid fault for doing too much,” he says, “we haven’t set that right yet, but I hope in future we will.”

[drop2]I mention the “playtesters” comment he made in an interview with Eurogamer when Special Edition was first announced. Was that a mistake?

“Oh god! Yes! Look, you know I shouldn’t be doing this. You know I’m not media trained or whatever. None of us indies are generally, and we just ramble and talk. I’m told what I’m supposed to do is talk in soundbites, so that things can’t be taken out of context.”

“One day maybe Hello Games will have someone who is good at this stuff…”

Sean goes on to qualify what he meant. “We watched hundreds of thousands of people play our game on PS3,” he starts. “We saw every problem with the game, we learned so much about what people like and what they don’t. We saw there was one level, where about 20% of people gave up on the game. So when we came to Xbox, we removed that level, and it felt good. I hated that level.”

“We did lots of that [focus testing and revising] with our first patch for PS3 too, to be honest,” he adds. “I remember at the time saying all that to someone, and saying that the PS3 players were more than players, they were playtesters.”

“Obviously looking back, that was a stupid thing to say. I get why people would be angry, but I totally didn’t mean any offense, I hopefully meant it in a positive way.”

So why’s the fully fledged sequel – Joe Danger The Movie – only announced for Xbox 360, I ask?

“That’s a really tough question to answer,” comes the reply. “There’s so many things that go on behind the scenes, that I wish I could explain to people. Sometimes I wish we were a bigger team, so that we could do more, and keep everyone happy at once.”

“Ultimately, most people assume that we were published by Sony, or that we got bags of cash from them. That’s not true, which is a shame, because I’m a fan of bags of cash. Like I was saying, we’re the publisher, and really they don’t take an interest until we have a finished game. We don’t have a problem with that at all, we love it. Equally, most people would assume that we got bags of cash from Microsoft, and again that’s not true. We actually make huge sacrifices to stay independent, and keep control of our games.”

“One thing I’m keenly aware of is the support that PS3 users have given us,” he says, sincerely. “I hope that we aren’t going to let them down.”

“Can PS3 owners assume that they’re still going to get some Hello Games loving down the line, then?” I ask in response. There’s a pause. “I know you’ll sneakily love me to announce something!” Sean finally says with a wry smile. “Look, what I’d say is that PS3 owners gave us a start, and we haven’t forgotten that. You have to realise that we have a lot of fans on 360 too, and we try our best to keep everyone happy.”

“I understand that people could be upset with us for that now this week, but that’s the real short term. In the medium and even long term, there is so much more going on. If people only knew, I hope they’d forget that upset, and be excited instead.”

We’ve been playing The Movie for a little while now, and it’s really, really good. So whilst for this week it looks like the only way to play it will be on 360, Sean and the Hello Games team are clearly wanting to please everyone.

Joe Danger: The Movie is out today, 14th of September, for 1200 Microsoft Points.

35 Comments

  1. So if Microsoft didn’t pay them and they are in 100% control, why did they shaft ps3 owners with joe danger 2. This makes them sound more like dicks than they did before.

    • Did you even read it?

      • Yes and they gave no valid reason why they are releasing it on Xbox and not ps3. They won’t even say they are working on it.

      • I expect they will have signed something with MS that gives them exposure and decent spot on the XBLA marketplace in return for an timed exclusivity deal, part of the deal will say “No talking about other formats” – so they can’t.

      • He did talk about their small team

        “Sometimes I wish we were a bigger team, so that we could do more, and keep everyone happy at once.”

        So by process of elimination they can’t work on wildly different formats simultaneously, therefore they have to prioritise as any business would. Often that comes down to where you can get the biggest return from your investment and XBLA must quite frequently provide that as like it or not, far more games are released on it.

        But taking more of his comments into account, it’s clear they’re doing something on PS3 too, who’d bet against the PS3 getting an optimised version of ‘JD2’ in the same way 360 owners got the optimised version of JD1?

      • Maybe a PSVita version is on the way.. #TGS

  2. This guy should have been a politician.
    I hopefully meant that in a positive way.

  3. They have already let me down and won’t be buying the game when ps3 gamers get the game later on.

  4. Lovely interview. Maybe the reality is that they’ll make more money in sales (and perhaps, profit margins) with Microsoft. If that’s the case, a launch on the Xbox is a smarter move. You can’t begrudge them wanting a secure future, can you?

    • thank you.

      • By why not say that? I can’t think of a reason to keep that sort or reasoning a secret.

      • The contracts state you cannot discuss the terms of the deal.

        Not that I’ve seen one of anythings.

      • Jimmy – you’re joking, right? (meant nicely) Have you seen how pissy hardcore gamers can get over things like this? The vitriol spouted on the likes of the PS Blog (and sometimes even here on TSA) is enough to make you scream in frustration at the self-entitled spunk-monkeys that shout the likes of “you’ve sold out you b****rd. F*** you and your family” or something slightly less tasteful. The fact that someone (or a business) might be in it for the money is tantamount to treason!

        If that wasn’t the case I’d be with you 100% as Sean’s pretty-open style leaves me happy knowing that it hasn’t been filtered by some PR tosspot. Sadly, Sean still has to be careful which is crap for us but at least we can hopefully work out why some things have to be avoided in chat.

      • “that it hasn’t been filtered by some PR tosspot”

        I can assure you there’s no filter.

      • That’s what I was implying. You spoke to Sean and he was honest about things. Evasive, slightly, but honest – which speaks volumes. There was no *hand over the microphone* “my client has no comment” moments. :-)

      • I know, I was agreeing. =)

      • He doesn’t mention a contract with anyone and says they didn’t receive cash (though I thought the original used the Playstation Pub-Fund scheme).

        I’m sure most would understand to a point if they came out with something along the lines of “we are only 4 people and don’t have resource to develop for more than one platform at a time. We made more money on 360 so we’re working on that version first. If the ps3 version had sold more we’d have worked on that one first. First and foremost we have to make sure we survive as a developer”

        Surely the only reason they can’t say that is they have done some form of deal. It would have been better to say I can’t discuss the reasons or other formats etc… rather than try go on about not receiving cash.

      • I know what you mean, fella. I just think it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of comment. Ah, bless his PR-less hide. :-)

    • If they are independent, why not mention they are making it on PS3. Let’s face it Microsoft has them over a barrel.

    • That’s certainly how I read it, releasing first on 360 enables them to more quickly recover their investment and that done they can afford to take the time to bring it to a second platform. They’re a business so it makes perfect sense.
      Loved the first game to a point, may have been one of that 20%, and look forward to what they bring to PS3 in the future.

      • Exactly!!!
        People’s talking with their PlayStation tinted glasses on are ridiculous, it has caused them to not be able to read properly or even to read between the lines about what will probably come in future but they can’t talk about now.

  5. They’re still only 4 guys? Crazy.
    I’m still just hopeful that they’ll bring the game back to PS3. Certainly they never intended to offend or “betray” PS3 players. It’s just how these things pan out sometimes, especially in the weird and wonderful world of indie developing!

    • Not surprised any more. Legend of Grimrock was four devs too. What these small teams are able to accomplish (these days) is awe-inspiring!

  6. Sounds like a decent bloke and that they were just passionate and keen to make their game better, which can’t be a bad thing – and this time it just happened to be XBox that got a slightly better/improved version (much later than we did) – so I really don’t understand all the hate. I’d rather that than a developer be lazy and just port the same version when they could improve it, cos you never know when the shoe might be on the other foot.

  7. J-J-Joe D-D-Dangerrr!!! :) Loved the first one. So glad it was successful enough to warrant a sequel.

  8. It might be wishful thinking on my part but i got the impression that we see something from them in the future..Nice chap.

  9. “Ultimately, most people assume that we were published by Sony, or that we got bags of cash from them.” They were on the Pub Fund though, which is the same as a lot of the other indies are nowadays – it might not be “bags of cash”, but I think they’re not being entirely honest in basically saying “Sony had nothing to do with it”.

    • I think that’s where most of backlash come from. They used a PlayStation scheme and gamers to get the game off the ground and raise it popularity and then give a special edition (with extras) to another platform and release the sequel on the other platform first/exclusively.

      • The Pub Fund is… complex.
        Sony aren’t involved in the publishing, the developers get money only on completion, and then I believe Sony take a bigger cut or something. I read an interview on Gamasutra a few days ago:
        http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/176579/Evolving_every_day__Sonys_approach_to_working_with_indies.php

        But the real point is that Sony only helped over the final hurdle, and recouped their money soon after shifting Hello onto their standard model later.

        Sony are no doubt a little disappointed to see Hello go 360 first, but there won’t be any bad blood between them.

  10. Ah Joe Danger, yet another one of my games which I have to go back to…

Comments are now closed for this post.

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.

Sign Up