Rockstar co-founder and GTA writer discusses the production of Grand Theft Auto

Dan Houser: ‘We protect our IP, not exploit it’

Variety’s The Cut Scene blog has just posted up an extended version of its recent interview with Rockstar Games’ Dan Houser, and highlights include his explanation of the Take Two label’s attitude towards that favourite developer topic, IP.

Rockstar Games’ latest game, GTAIV, is released on PS3 and 360 on April 29th – although you probably don’t need us to tell you that. Dan and Sam Houser co-founded the publishing label after their employer – music firm BMG’s Interactive division – was bought by Take Two, at which point they built a new Edinburgh studio around some of the original team that worked on the original two Grand Theft Auto titles in Dundee. Since then GTAIII and its spin-offs have been some of the biggest-selling modern video games.

In response to interviewer Ben Fritz’ question ‘So I’m not going to be able to quote you talking about how you “exploit your intellectual property on an annual basis” or something?’, Houser stated:

"No, no, no. We try and protect it. The intellectual property is the main asset in the company. That’s why GTA is still relevant 10 years later. We haven’t put one out every year. We haven’t fleeced it. And we haven’t put it on 50 different formats. We’re not per se against moving properties between different media but for “GTA” it just seems so perfect as a game. You lose a lot of what makes it what it is if you move it into being say, a movie. It’s just never seemed interesting creatively."

He added: "We always regarded the success of GTA as having bought us the freedom to do what we want creatively and a responsibility to not milk it," he added.

"We’re very conscious of not trying to milk it and not do lunch boxes and sticker cards or movies — things that aren’t appropriate. We always look at doing anything if it can keep the spirit of what the game is and if it’s done by the right people so it keeps the ethos."

Houser also touched on the fact that he and brother Sam, the head of Rockstar, and most of its other key creative staff shy away from interviews and corporate profiles: "We try to keep a reasonably low profile. The reason isn’t because we’re weird or reclusive. But we really like the fact that, while have to do certain amounts of promotion so people vaguely understand this particular game, the fact that we’re not out there doing loads of TV interviews or other stilly things just makes people focus, when they’re playing the game, on the game.

"I’ve found it very difficult as fan of movies when you suddenly knew so much about these stars’ lives that the best films you see now are always foreign where you don’t know the actors. Because they’re the only ones that can transport you. It’s like they used to make stars to sell movies, but now make movies to sell stars to sell gossip magazines. It’s all gotten quite weird."

This same approach is felt in how they promote Rockstar’s games, in trying to relay the feeling of a game rather than just showing off: "I often — without mentioning any names — think some of our big competitor titles, their marketing campaign is, “Look at our great marketing campaign!” Ours is, “Look at the game, experience the game hopefully.” Then we want to have further conversations with people once they play the game properly. But the two things we want to avoid are talking purely about this as a business — it’s not, this is a creative activity. Obviously it’s young, and it’s not fully mature but we are trying to move it forward as quickly as we can. And obviously the counter to that is everyone wants to go on the controversy story. I’m like, ‘We can talk about anything in context.’ Movies moved beyond that years ago."

He also discussed the thinking and reasoning behind last year’s much publicised delay of GTAIV, explaining: "We’ve never done that before so it was a very serious decision to us. On the one hand we take the product very seriously and we are trying to be artistic. On the other hand, we come from a hard core production background and we’re all producers by nature, so we’re like, ‘Hit the fucking date!’

"For everyone it was a difficult decision, but it was easy because there was no choice. When you think about it, there is certain personal pride involved but I’d much rather be sitting before you now, you having seen that game beautifully polished and ready, than have you sitting in front of that game when it wasn’t ready and the hardware simply couldn’t support it."

In fact, Houser added, the game’s April release may well teach the rest of the industry that certain games don’t always "need a Christmas release to do well": "It would be great for the videogame industry to move out… Christmas has always been big and it’s always going to be, but it’s gotten SO focused in videogames. I think for the next stage of its maturity as a business it needs to move out from anyway. It’s interesting to see what’s hopefully going to be the biggest release this year not going at Christmas."

Read the full interview here.

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