Like journals sprinkled throughout RPGs, Pause Screens go into more detail on the people, companies, and cultures that contributed to the success of the Pillars of Eternity franchise and the Infinity Engine line of roleplaying games.
E3. If you’ve been, or if you follow coverage from the annual trade show, you’re probably painting a mental picture of crowded show floors dominated by theater-sized screens and wall-to-wall coverage of hundreds of video games.
For attendees and exhibitors, E3’s show floor is where the action happens. Not so for Feargus Urquhart. Obsidian Entertainment’s CEO posts up in a suite at the nearby JW Marriott. If he’s not there, you’ll find him in the JW's front lobby, a spacious floor taken up by tables and chairs where guests can meet over coffee or pore over finances and contracts. Or one of the Convention Center's many meeting rooms: stark, but functional.
Urquhart is Obsidian's CEO twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It's a job he loves, but is ironically at odds with his favorite hobby: Playing games. As my interviews for Beneath a Starless Sky came to a close, I caught up with Urquhart one more time to talk about his involvement in Fig and what it means for the future of crowdfunded games at Obsidian, what he's been up to since Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire came into port, Obsidian's first fifteen years, and how he wants to shape the next fifteen.
Craddock: When did you get involved with the Fig platform?
Feargus Urquhart: I remember [Fig founder] Justin Bailey talking with me about it, and then we met at DICE, around February of 2014 or '15. Something you and I have talked a lot about is always trying to figure out where we're going to get funding. Games are expensive. That's kind of a stupid statement, but it's true. Justin was doing the same thing. He was talking a lot with Tim Schafer, because at the time, Justin was basically the head of business development for Double Fine.
Justin and I had breakfast, and he was going over all of it with me, explaining how it worked. I'd been watching crowdfunding as a whole, and you could see that there had been all this excitement for it in 2012, and to an extent, '13. There were some products that had done well. There was Shenmue, and then Bloodstained. They did pretty well, around $5.5 or $6 million. So, some were doing well, but we were really getting concerned about, would there be a point in time where crowdfunding [for games] would dry up, where people wouldn't be interested in it.
I think I can see that, to some extent, now in video games. Video games don't seem to be as exciting on Kickstarter. Board games seem to still be doing incredibly well. I mean, I haven't run the numbers; this is just my un-empirical data.
Justin and I were talking, and [Fig] seemed like an interesting thing. Because of the JOBS act, it meant we could open investment up to unaccredited investors. Instead of people just getting rewards, people could invest and get a return on that investment. That was the thing that was most interesting about it. The thought was, if we could build a group of investors who put money into one of our games, and that game went on to be successful and paid them back a good return, could we then attract more investors? And then also, would the investors who had already invested in us be willing to invest more? It was the idea that if we could start getting into $10, $15, $20-million investments, how would that change how we get funding for games?
That was the whole premise of why Fig was interesting to us, and why we wanted to get involved.
Craddock: You raised an interesting point. Crowdfunding on Kickstarter was trendy for games, certainly not as much now as in 2012, and you've seen a lot of trends come and go. What do you think makes Fig future-proof? Or is it?
Urquhart: I think the investment part of it is the thing that will protect Fig from being a trend. As an example, people invest in commercial real estate. They've been doing that for hundreds of years, and that's because they can make money off of it. If Fig, through its curating of the platform and making sure the right kinds of investments are available to people, and if those investments are successful, people will continue to want to invest. I don't know how that would ever change. Investors just care about something being successful, and if they can get a good return on investment. If Fig can do that with games, Fig could do that forever.
Craddock: With Kickstarter, if a game gets funded, creators get money even if the product ends up being awful. Do you feel that Fig offering investment opportunities incentivizes developers to make better products?
Urquhart: That's an interesting question. It never really changed our [approach], say with Deadfire. You don't have to pay the investment back if you don't make any money. I don't know what goes through other people's minds, but [using Fig over Kickstarter] has never been any different: "These are the funds, and we are as responsible toward people who are investing as we are toward people who have given us crowdfunding money."
Craddock: While Pillars II funded on Fig, and more so after it was funded, what did you observe as some of the key differentiators between running a crowdfunding campaign on Fig versus Kickstarter? With the most obvious difference being, of course, Fig offering investment opportunities.
Urquhart: Oddly, there wasn't a big difference. We ran our crowdfunding the same way, by figuring out how best to get people involved, giving them information they wanted to hear, making ourselves available for them to ask questions, doing lots of updates, making the campaign interesting, trying to figure out stretch goals that would make people say, "Oh, that's something I would want the game to have in it." In a lot of ways, we just ran the campaign we wanted to run.
Now, what I did like about Fig—partly because we were closer to them, and we were the campaign going on at the time—was, if we wanted to see changes to the platform during the campaign, we were working on it together. That was kind of awesome. Not that we couldn't have conversations with Kickstarter, but on the original Pillars of Eternity, they were supporting however many campaigns at the same time, and we were just one of those campaigns.
I guess the answer, ultimately, is: We just ran a crowdfunding campaign, and we ran it on Fig. We wouldn't have necessarily done anything different had we run on Indiegogo, or on Kickstarter. It was just about learning how to run those kinds of campaigns, and using the different ways you can communicate with people, and offering things to help the campaign be successful.
Craddock: One point of confusion around crowdfunding in general is, there's this misconception over what it means to pledge, or donate, or back, or invest. A lot of people conflate those terms. How did you as Obsidian educate users that Fig backers can make money by investing in games on that platform, versus just donating or pre-ordering like on Kickstarter?
Urquhart: I think the Fig platform makes that obvious by doing a few things. One is if you click on the total money associated with the product at any time, you can see what amount of money is coming from backers, and what amount is coming from investors. Then, basically, you can press a button to back, or press a button to invest. If you press the button to invest, it gives you almost an investment prospectus, which is very different than if you'd clicked the "back" button, after which you're just choosing rewards.
I think Fig does a pretty good job of bifurcating those two situations. You're choosing between them. Now, I never talked to anybody who was confused by it. I think the only confusion sometimes was that some investors didn't understand why they couldn't get copies of the game. A lot of that was, they're investing money, so is a copy of the game a part of their return? [laughs] It got confusing with SEC rules and all that stuff. That was the one hang-up that was confusing to investors.
Have you heard of backers being confused by it?
Craddock: No, I don't have specific examples. I was just curious because I see so many synonyms that don't mean exactly the same thing as "pledge" or "invest" thrown around in crowdfunding, so I wondered if that issue had ever come up.
Urquhart: Yeah. How I say it is, "There's reward-based funding, and investment-based funding. You are funding us and you're getting rewards, or you're investing in us as an investment." How we look at the reward-based crowdfunding is similarly to when your local PBS station says, "Hey, give us a hundred dollars and we'll give you a mug" or something. That's your reward, basically, for backing them, or donating to them. I call that reward-based funding to help differentiate it from investment-based funding.
Craddock: Besides funding Obsidian games such as Deadfire on Fig, you participate in other aspects of the company. What's the extent of your involvement? Since Fig only funds one game at a time, are you able to help determine a project's viability? Or would that be seen as a conflict of interest?
Urquhart: Brian [Fargo], me, and a few of the other guys—not Justin [Bailey] or Tim [Schafer]—are just on the advisory board. Maybe it shouldn't even be called a board, but we're not on a board of directors. That's a very different group. Justin and Tim are on that, and they run the company. We're just an advisory board. We get together—sometimes it's often; I think we're doing it quarterly now, or that's the idea—and we just go through a list of games and give our opinions. We talk about why we think this would be a good game for Fig or why not, and then it really is, in essence, [the directors'] decision that determines what goes up.
But we can also push if we really feel something should be available on Fig. If I really had a game that Fig was on the fence about, and I felt, "No, we really should get that up there," I would feel that they would really listen to me, and it would probably be put up there.
Craddock: Crunch is a perpetual topic of conversation in the industry, and stemming from that, compensating employees in ways other than salaries and benefits. Just out of curiosity, since Obsidian uses Fig, would compensating staff with game shares through Fig be an option? Or is that a slippery slope?
Urquhart: I would not do that, because it's speculative. I would rather there be a very specific understanding [for bonuses]. Well, I guess bonuses are speculative in a lot of ways, because people don't know what they're going to get. But it feels like a bonus is something you're not going to realize for a long time. They're almost like stock options in a way. We've never done [shares through Fig as a bonus], but I'd only do it if it was really something extra on top of everything else, with the idea that the employee should look at it as, "Hey, it'll be awesome if this turns into something because I'll get a nice amount of money, but maybe I'll get nothing."
That's how I would treat it, because I wouldn't want it to be this thing that we give people and make a big deal out of it, like, "How awesome is it that we're doing this?!" And then they get five bucks. That feels dirty to me, you know? And that's not a way for me to say that it would fail or anything like that. Investment is just so speculative. Something we try not to do at Obsidian is have speculative types of compensation whenever possible.
Craddock: You've stated in other interviews that any game Obsidian crowdfunds in the future will go through Fig. Another question I have, stemming from your involvement in Fig, is do you feel compelled to use Fig because you're part of the platform? Or is it that you genuinely see Fig as a good platform?
Urquhart: The amount of money that I would make personally from [selling] Fig, and Fig would have to be acquired for a ridiculous amount of money, is still not remotely close to what I personally [earn] from one of our games being successful. I say that directly because of our financial connection with Fig. That's never a part of any decision-making process.
Having said that, how I look at it is because we're involved, we absolutely consider Fig. Maybe another developer who doesn't have our connection to Fig wouldn't consider them. They might say, "No, I like Indiegogo" or "I like Kickstarter." But I say that because of our association, we'll always put them on the list of ways we would fund our games. Deadfire did really well, so the question was, "Why wouldn't we use them again?"
Craddock: Following the conclusion of Deadfire's Fig campaign, what did you think of Fig, since that was the first game you'd funded on the platform? Where did you see room for improvement? What did you think Fig did better than Kickstarter, or vice versa?
Urquhart: I very rarely ever give "A" letter grades. I would say it was a B, B+. They were super responsive. There was a lot of concern from people that we would see significantly fewer people on Fig rather than Kickstarter because Fig was a new platform and Kickstarter was much more mature. Obviously we did see fewer people. We saw, maybe not a third fewer, but maybe forty percent of the same number of people [who backed Pillars of Eternity 1]. But that was all made up with the investments. So, in essence, our final campaign number was actually larger than our final number from Pillars 1.
I think that helped everybody feel that we'd made the right decision, because there was a lot of back and forth within the company as far as, "Should we use Fig or Kickstarter?" Some people felt very strongly [one way or the other], but in the end, because it was so successful, I think that answered it. Also, to see that video games in particular weren't seeing the same numbers on Kickstarter in terms of backers that we'd seen in 2012? After that point, there weren't any more conversations about whether Fig was the right platform or not.
I think Fig was great to work with. Also, because we were their big campaign, and their biggest during that period of time, they were very responsive. I think they ran smartly targeted advertising.
Craddock: I found it interesting that Deadfire had the same $1.1 million funding goal as Pillars 1, because usually sequels take the whole "BIGGER! BADDER! BETTER!" marketing tagline. How did you decide to raise the same amount for a sequel?
Urquhart: It was just so hard to come up with what was the appropriate number. That's really all that it was. We talked about, "Should we make it more?" And we said, "Well, if it's going to be more, we're still going to make the game [regardless]. It would just be a smaller game." It was just hard to come up with a number, so we defaulted to what we got before. If we'd not gotten as much money, that just would have impacted features we could have put into the game because the budget would have been more confined, more restrained.
Ultimately, with a lot of these games now, the money we get from crowdfunding is only part of the funding that will be put into the game. Whether it's money that we have, self-funding, or money we're getting from publishers for, basically, advances on certain rights—things like that. It's kind of a strange thing. Two other guys and I did a board-game Kickstarter, and there, there are no copies of the game unless it gets funded, so you really have to come up with that minimum amount where you'll be able to order the materials that you need to make it. You can't make a board game if only ten people buy it. I guess you can, but it's either going to be crappy, or you're spending a thousand dollars on each copy.
I think with that number, when we debated it, we couldn't come up with a good reason for another number. We could have said, "Let's ask for the real budget of the game." Well, what is the real budget? Is it the total, actual budget? Or would it be the difference from the amount of money we'd be willing to invest in it? And when it comes to the amount of money we'd invest, is that a safe investment? An unsafe investment? There were so many roads we were going down that I guess we were just lazy and chose $1.1 million again.
Craddock: Coming off the first Pillars, what was your goal for the sequel? I've asked your leads and almost unanimously, they said they wanted to tighten production pipelines and make creating content more efficient. So, what were your goals for not only a Pillars sequel, but a product that would help dictate Obsidian's direction?
Urquhart: Whenever I'm thinking about games we're going to make, I think about a world. For me, it's, "How do we put players in these worlds that feel like more? How do we make them feel like heroes? How do we put them on a great ride?" It's very trite in a lot of ways, but that's how I'm always thinking about it. A lot of the conversations we had, that were important to me, after Pillars 1 and heading into Pillars II [development] were, "What helped people identify with their characters?" The better people can visualize their characters, the better they'll feel, As I'm equipping this stuff, I feel like this character is me. That was really important to me.
I was not a part of the initial discussions on this, but I thought it was great when Josh, Adam, Bobby, and Rob were the ones who came up with open-world exploration. I really liked that, because it felt like I was on a real adventure, where I could go where I wanted to go, adventure where I wanted to adventure. Once that was put forward as an idea to me, I felt like that was something really good to do.
Also, I looked back to reviews: Steam user reviews, and what journalists were saying, and we said, "Okay, what do we feel here are [suggestions] that are actionable?" You can't do everything, so we had to figure out what were the best things to evolve the Pillars experience. Like character art: One thing people said a lot in reviews was, "Hey, the game's really good, but the character art is... eh, it's fine." Whenever you hear something like, "This part of your game is fine," that's something you really have to look at.
Craddock: One criticism of the first Pillars was that it appealed almost purely to players who liked the Infinity Engine style of RPGs. Which, in a way... duh, right?
Craddock: That was the whole pitch. But I wondered if you felt that was a legitimate criticism, and if so, do you feel Deadfire addressed it? Or did it have to address it?
Urquhart: Well, that's what we set out to do: We were going to make a modern Infinity Engine game. I think if we had tried to distance ourselves from that too much, we wouldn't be doing what we said we would do. It's important to me that we fulfill the promise we make people, within reason, of course.
As for Pillars II, I think there were a lot of ways we tried to broaden the game. We reduced the number of [on-screen] characters so there were fewer characters to deal with, but we made the characters more complicated, so I don't know if that was helpful in the long term. We focused more on the graphics. That's definitely something that can broaden a game. Giving players the option to do more exploration. That's something people like to do in general, and that can also help broaden a game.
Ultimately, though, the Pillars of Eternity series is really built for people who enjoy those very in-depth, rules-driven, story-driven games. That's not everybody, and that's okay. I think there are always things we could do to make these games more accessible. My stupid example is the difference between Icewind Dale 1 and II, where in Icewind Dale 1, you had to build an entire party before you could start the game. Building a six-character, D&D-2nd-Edition party is kind of an involved process. In Icewind Dale II, we provided pre-made parties. Oddly, post-launch, we were looking at Eternity II from the standpoint of, "Why don't we provide some pre-generated characters?"
That's one decision that affected the Pillars of Eternity series as a whole: "Make it about a character rather than generating a party, just because that gets people playing quicker." If there's anything that we're trying to focus on more in our games lately, it's, how can we get people playing and help them be successful in the game as they go, rather than try to put so much in front of them before they can just start playing?
I think we've counteracted that a little bit with Eternity II because we felt that someone who was new to the story got all the information they needed. Also, that helped Eternity 1 players jog their memory before they started Eternity II. There was something there we were trying to push forward. It's interesting making a sequel that's a very direct sequel, a very story-based sequel with lots of connections. One thing is, how do you make that accessible? That's a challenge we hit with Eternity II.
Craddock: You're more focused on steering the ship at Obsidian rather than being hands-on with development. How often were you able to play-test Pillars II? For example, people have told me that there were days, maybe even weeks, where everyone dropped what they were doing to play the game. I'm sure you couldn't do that for, say, a week, but were you able to do much of it at all?
Urquhart: My job is pretty random in that there are periods where I have lots of time to play games. Then there are times when I'm too busy. I would say that if there's a criticism I have of myself, it's that I often don't get to play our games as much as I want to, or as much as I should, before they come out. There have absolutely been games where I played a fair amount of them before they came out, but if anything, I'd say that's something I constantly chastise myself for: Not playing as much as I should.
On the flip side, we are a fairly large developer, and someone has to be the CEO 24/7. That CEO has to trust his game directors and his executive producers to do what they do. So, probably what I've come to realize—and it's interesting talking to other people who do what I do—is, increasingly, my focus [when I play test] is going to be the first one to five hours, because I think it's good for us to have someone—not that it has to be me—whose focus, whose objective, is [studying] how easy it is to get into the game.
People's lives are so fractured. They have so many things pulling on them. If we make it hard to get into our games, they may not get into them. Once someone's into something—like the complexity of the Game of Thrones series—once someone is into something, you can increase that complexity. I also don't want us to ever treat people like they're stupid, because that's not interesting. Game of Thrones does not treat people like they're stupid.
That's a big thing: Making sure someone is championing this idea of, let's not make it hard to get into our games, because wouldn't it be sad if someone could have had the best gaming experience of their lives, but the reason they didn't with our game is because it was too opaque to get into in the first hour?
Craddock: You raised an interesting point: Once someone is invested in something, be it a story, mechanics, whatever, you can make it more complex because they've jumped that barrier of entry. Do you think that getting fans invested in a sequel is easier, given that, presumably, most fans have the foundation of what came before?
Urquhart: I think the barrier of entry for a sequel is totally dependent upon the type of sequel it is. For instance, a lot of sequels out there—whether it's Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, or the eventual Fallout 5—the way Bethesda does it is, if you have some understanding of the brand, that's all that's really required. And you know, you don't even really need that. Every [Fallout] sequel is just a new game even though it has a number attached to it.
What we did with Pillars II was, we said, "This is a continuation of the story, and we want to bring stuff over from the game you first played." I think that can [raise] the bar of player understanding and player attachment if you're not careful.
Craddock: Pillars of Eternity II launched almost two months ago, as of this conversation. What's been on your plate since then? I know the big patch dropped and other projects are brewing, so I'd like to know more about the role a CEO takes at this stage where one project has ended and others are ramping up.
Urquhart: A lot of it has been taking seriously that this is our fifteenth year. How do we want to be different as a company [going forward]? What games do we want to make? What do we need to know now if we want to launch a game in 2020 successfully? You can think about this stuff so much that you almost stop yourself in your tracks.
We've gone through so many different phases at the company of trying to write down every single process that we have. Asking, "How can we do this better? How do we remember everything?" Really, what I've been focusing on is, let's make our teams as independent as we possibly can. How do we do that successfully?
Adam, Josh, Bobby, Tim, Leonard, Eric DeMilt, Rich Taylor on the other project—they're awesome. So my job has been thinking about, when are we in their way? How can we help them, and how can we get out of their way? How can we fit them into the long-term way that we want the company to function, moving from project to project to project? How do we push these teams up, support them, and let them do what they want, but also hold them to a certain expectation of quality and direction based upon the budgets we have and the premises of the games we've [decided to make] when those projects started?
I've been thinking a lot about that, but a lot of my time has also been spent on, Okay, Eternity II stuff will eventually come to a conclusion. What is everybody going to move on to? Is Eternity III the right answer? Is something else the right answer? Josh has wanted to work on a more tactics-based game. We've talked about that. We've talked about doing a big RPG: What would that be, if we were to do another big RPG right now? And of course, my job is, "Where would the money come from?"
It's interesting: One of the things that Justin Britch, Adam, and I have been talking a lot about lately is trying to have a way to communicate high-level goals of the company all the way down to a person who's just started. How do they apply that on a day-by-day basis? And how does their role flow all the way back up into the goals of the company? We've been looking into this OKR system: Objectives and Key Results. It's something that started at Intel in the early '70s, and the guy who started it left in the mid-'70s and became a big VC guy—venture capitalist—in Silicon Valley. He eventually made a big personal bet in 1998: He put $10 million into Google. Pretty good bet. He brought his system into Google, and Google uses it to this day.
So, a lot of what I'm doing is looking philosophically at, how do we manage a medium-sized company where everyone understands—as well as they can—what we're trying to accomplish, why we're trying to accomplish it, and how what they're doing fits into it?
That's where my weird, random job is: focused on philosophy, focused on business development. Right now I'm figuring out medical insurance for the next year, which is my favorite thing to do, by the way. E3 was in there, and there was a lot of preparation for that, just doing meetings. And E3 went really well this year. That's my crazy, random job. What I try to do every day is fight the randomness so I can bring some level of continuity into it.
Craddock: Since you've been looking for ways to, as you say, get out of the way of your teams, have you come up with any solutions for or insight into that yet?
Urquhart: A part of it is us doing a better job, when we start a game, to get everybody on board with expectations. Are everybody's expectations the same? In the past what we would do was start off with a very quick, "Let's make a game like this," writing a two- or three-pager. And then it's turned over to the team and they just start making it. That sounds like, "Man, you must not be organized at all," but it was more complicated than that.
What we've started to look at was, there was a game that Rich Taylor—he's one of the executive producers here now—started to work on, a small game. I want to say this was probably around August or September of last year. Maybe July. To start off, what we all did was talk about it and say, "Okay, Rich, here is four sections and five bullet points. You need to go off and talk about all of this with the team. Who is your player? Who is this really for? What are other games on the market that are like this game? How have they done? If they're successful, how successful are they, but more than that, what made them successful? Why do players like them?"
We're doing that now with every one of our games. I think that's helping everybody get on the same page better, to where there's more of an explanation of what's in the heads of the people [leading] the project from the start. Any misunderstandings or people having different expectations gets dealt with there, and possibly, things change because it could be that as a company we don't want to go in that direction, we want to go in this other direction. We can have a conversation then rather than [something dramatically different] showing up in a design document in six months.
Craddock: You mentioned another "big RPG" as a possible next project. but I'd say almost all of Obsidian's games could be quantified as "big" or "epic" RPGs.
Urquhart: [laughs] Right.
Craddock: So, would you define "big RPG" for me?
Urquhart: So, when I say "big RPG," it really has to do with staff, staff budget, and development time. I don't know where the industry would put that number of staff, but as soon as you get above fifty or sixty people working on a game, you're now making a big game. If you're below fifty or sixty people, you're probably not making as big of a game.
Eternity II is a big game that has lots of hours of gameplay, but it's not a game that needs eighty to a hundred people to make. So, it's kind of hard to define. Probably when I say "big game," it's, if we're going to go off and make a fifty-, sixty-, one-hundred-hour console RPG with triple-A expectations—that's a big game.
Craddock: Some people have defined their teams and Obsidian as a whole as a family. A lot of executives say they want to foster that environment, but as a worker bee for all my life, I’m never sure whether I can believe them or if that’s just the PR machine cranking away. Do you consider the workforce to be an extended family?
Urquhart: A lot of people bring up that this place is like a family, but I will admit that we started this company as a company and not as a family intentionally because we knew we would be larger, and would need to have things like employee handbooks and employee agreements. On the flip side, I want people to be here because they want to be here. As an example, the first thing we edited out of our employment agreement when we started our company was the non-compete and non-solicitation agreement. That's the word I was trying to remember. Most employment agreements have non-competes and non-solicitation [clauses] in them. Ours don't. We want people to work here, but we don't want you to feel like you're trapped. When people leave, we shake their hands and thank them for working here. I think most people have appreciated that.
I get that sometimes. My phone will ring—the few times it does ring—and I'll pick it up. I just say, "Hey, this is Feargus," and there's a pause. And they're like, "Oh. Oh." Because they're shocked that I would answer my own phone, that it's actually me. I was talking with some guy in Hollywood—not a big-name person—but he said, "I'm so surprised that you folks in the game industry answer your phones." I said, "Well, why not?" It just seems silly: Why not answer your phone? We're not trying to prove anything. I'm not saying anyone in Hollywood is trying to prove something, but I think in general in the industry, you've just got a sense of, we're not stars. I think that's part of it. We're people who have the good fortune to make games. Some of us run studios, but we're still normal people who answer our phones.
Craddock: One last question. You mentioned attending E3 this year, and I did get to see Carrie, and I got to see Adam and Mikey as well. They did some interviews and got to check things out. Since Pillars II had been out for a month and a half by that time, I'd like to know what your objective as Obsidian's CEO was? What's a day in the life at the show for you?
Urquhart: We did some interviews, mostly post-release interviews. The lucky thing about being in southern California is that everyone can just [drive] to E3 and enjoy it. My E3 is pretty much the same each year, but maybe with differing levels of intensity. This E3 was a bit different in that I brought Justin Britch along. Justin's very interested in the business, so he came to practically all of my business meetings. I counted them afterwards, wondering, How many meetings did I do? I had a couple of meetings that Monday, but mostly I was counting meetings on [June] 12th and 13th, and I left that night. On the 12th and 13th, I had twenty-one meetings between those two days.
It was pretty crazy for me, and the intensity there was larger than my normal years at E3, but that's how my show goes: I just hung out at the JW [Marriott]. That's what I tell everybody: If you want to see where business is really done at E3, you just go to the [main lobby] of the JW and wander around, watching the nuttiness. Part of my job there was having fifteen to thirty-minute meetings in the lobby, catching up with people. I had a couple of meetings on the show floor, publishers who had bigger meeting rooms. And a number of my meetings were in suites at the JW, because that's what a lot of publishers do: They just get a suite, and when they want to have a longer meeting, they bring people up to their suite, and you do your pitch and meeting there.
Craddock: This is probably a really dumb question, but given the frequency of your meetings at E3, are you ever able to steal away twenty, maybe thirty minutes to just walk the show floor and think, Yeah, video games are pretty cool?
Craddock: Just looking at all the fun stuff that's coming out. Is that something you're able to do?
Urquhart: I would like to say yes, but I don't anymore. I don't anymore because my job is the future of the company, and the future business of the company. That has to be almost the entirety of what I do there: Business. E3 is when everybody is [in one place], and when everybody wants to meet, and I need to take advantage of that. What I want to do—and I think a lot of people do this, and I've not done it yet [this year] but it's on my list—is to go back and watch the press briefings, all the trailers that came out, all the coverage. I generally do that three months or so after E3: I just kind of go through all that kind of stuff.
I think the thing is, part of your question was, "Are you able to enjoy it?" One thing I've had to work on with myself is enjoying games, to enjoy the industry, and not get so caught up in the race. You know what I mean?
Craddock: Oh, yes.
Urquhart: It's this idea of what we do being a constant race: Getting a game done, getting the next game signed, asking if we're doing the right stuff. That is the challenge of where your hobby and your business is the same thing. For me, it's figuring out how to have those points in time where I can just check out and have it be my hobby. A lot of times that means taking a day off here or a day off there and just [playing].
And sometimes—this isn't the video game industry—it's on Saturday nights when a group of my friends gets together to play board games. It's different. It's not video games, but it's still gaming. That helps me because we're there to just sit, have a good time, and play a game. That helps me appreciate the world of gaming more, or at least for that block of time.
But it is a challenge. It's a struggle day to day to not get caught up in that race.