About our interview subjects:
Jim Veevaert, President of Production, Jerry Bruckheimer Games Studio: A 15-year veteran in the interactive industry, having the past eight years at Microsoft overseeing the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system’s largest franchises. As the Executive Producer for Halo 3, Veevaert was responsible for production and franchise management for the Halo Xbox 360 game series. He also managed Microsoft’s relationship with video game developer Bungie Studios. Prior to his work on the Halo series, Veevaert brought the Epic Games relationship to Microsoft, along with the Gears of War franchise. Veevaert led collaboration with the creative leads at Rare to expand the Viva Pinata franchise with an original television production and series of companion games.
Jay Cohen, President of Development, Jerry Bruckheimer Gamers Studio: Cohen has worked in video games for 13 years, spending the past decade at Ubisoft building the company’s North American. During his tenure as SVP of publishing, Cohen and his team successfully engineered and executed the launches of blockbuster franchises such as Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, Prince of Persia, Rayman and Assassin’s Creed. Cohen has served as a member of, and currently sits as, Chairman of the Board for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.
(And if you need reminding about who their boss is – Jerry Bruckheimer holds, according to MTV, ‘an undisputed position as one of the most successful producers in both motion pictures and television’. Highlights from his career include Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Con Air, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, and Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s also responsible for CSI and numerous other TV projects.)
Congratulations on the new roles. What tempted you away from your roles at Ubisoft and Microsoft to work with Jerry Bruckheimer?
Jim Veevaert: We’ve got very diverse backgrounds working in the industry for over 25 years collectively. What attracted us to Jerry is the idea of building games that have great stories and taking advantage of the impact that Jerry Bruckheimer has had, not just in film but also on television, and figuring out a way to bring that into the games industry as well.
In our previous roles Jay and I have covered every aspect of production, marketing and understanding the business right through to things like distribution – so we can take the opportunity to work on distribution through MTV Games and MTV Networks, and then take the impact of working with Jerry Bruckheimer and bringing him into our industry.
What kind of games will the studio be producing?
Jay Cohen: The games Jerry Bruckheimer Games Studio will make are going to be very heavily story driven. We want to leverage the expertise and brand values that Bruckheimer brings to storytelling and that he conveys in television and film – and the way he has successfully been able to connect with broad audiences repeatedly, from Pirates to CSI. Every time they come out you’re looking at an audience in the size of ten to 15m people in North America alone – that’s what we want to focus on. Big audiences, broad audiences, and connecting big experiences across multiple mediums.
Your collective history – including work looking after franchises like Splinter Cell, Gears of War, Halo, Ghost Recon… – can we take any hints from those as to the kind of stories you will be looking for to bring to games?
JV: We are definitely looking to create projects that have the same level of impact as those games. We’re not going to say ‘Oh, we’re going after the FPS market’, but we are looking to work with the best development teams out there to create projects that are epic in nature.
Are you looking to build a development team to handle the production of the games?
JV: We’re not going to be building an internal team – but we don’t have any announcements at this time on which teams we are planning to work with.
Will the Jerry Bruckheimer team be generating IP, or will you be looking for pitches?
JV: We’ll be looking at it from a number of different examples. As part of the Jerry Bruckheimer team we have a chance to work with a lot of interesting people, a lot of creative talent out there as well, and we have the opportunity to take pitches from development teams and we have the opportunity to combine new teams and new resources together to create great projects and build franchises like never before. If the project looks great – and we will be building original properties by the way – and further down the line we have the opportunity to say ‘does this make sense to pursue it as film or possibly as a TV project?’ we will consider it. We can also work with MTV as well to work out the different ways we can leverage their network for that same property.
Are there any lessons you will take from your previous jobs, or the movie business you are now closely aligned with, to inform what you will do going forward?
JC: When you asked initially what attracted us to the opportunity to work with Jerry, the issues are all related, what excites me is the business. We have a very thin model; a shift in creating blockbuster triple-A franchises. To minimise disaster we’re frontloading experience and putting together a thin model with executive-level talent that is unencumbered by heavy process in order to be able to nurture and cultivate ideas that work efficiently and effectively.
Do you see that as a different model to the approach other publishers or studios make? That comment you just made sounds like it has been informed by your experiences in the games industry…
JC: Absolutely. The traditional large publishers today just by their nature and size and multitude of activities find it a bit more difficult to move and act as swiftly and focused, and nurture and cultivate, a number of ideas and react as efficiently.
Here, you’re talking about taking guys who as general managers of production, distribution, sales and marketing are being put in the room at all times throughout the process – it makes a big difference when you are trying to bring a creative experience to successful fruition by not having to go back and keep going to through layers and layers and layers of discussion, which really just make it more complicated.
Is the view that you’ll be doing things better coming form your experiences or is that something that comes from Jerry?
JV: ‘Better’ isn’t really the word I’d use – the opportunity is that the experiences Jay and I have had is 25 years of collective knowledge that we know how to do things differently. I don’t like using the word ‘better’, I like using the word differently – that’s what Jerry is looking for and how he works. He asked how he can approach TV or film different. So we’re looking at the Jerry Bruckheimer impact and building a process by which we can co-create these IPs and develop them into several major franchises over the next few years.
Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t the first Hollywood figure to enter this space. Is this different approach to production what you think will be the way to succeed over the likes of Paramount, Warner, and the ill-fated Brash?
JC: We certainly think this is the first executive production studio of its time that exists today – if others follow suit I think it will be pushed forward in different ways, but no one has the track record in film and TV as Jerry has. If you combine that with the track record we have that’s where we think the transformative win begins to occur.
You mentioned that the IP generated could transfer back to films and TV – is that a priority, or just a beneficial side effect?
JC: Some may make sense and some may not – but that’s the decision we’ll make internally to make. We’re not going to specifically develop a game and say ‘this will also be a film’. In the past studios had a challenge to bring the film experience right into the game or the game experience right into the film – that created a lot of confusion for consumers. For us, what we want to do is develop a property holistically and which makes sense for a game – and then say ‘here’s a property that makes sense when extended into a film or even a television experience’. The point now is that we have a creative team of people to work through the experience like never before.
JV: We want to combine our energies in a way that has never been seen before, and when we bring a product to market we plan to deliver on all cylinders – meaning something uses the talent that’s available to us in a creative aspect, as well as when we come to market we will be able to execute on things that people haven’t been able to do before in terms of how we deliver the entertainment experience and how that allows consumers to connect with the experience in an interactive and non interactive manner.
Are there any specific platforms you’re working on? A lot of what you are talking about sounds like big budget console IPs – do you see an opportunity in digital distribution-only titles?
JC: There is an opportunity for both and that’s something we’ll be working on over the next few months. We’re just excited to get started on it.