An Interview with Patrick O'Luanaigh, CEO, nDreams Ltd YPSH : Patrick, many thanks for taking the time to talk to YourPlaystationHome today! Let's start by talking about you for a momemt. First, tell our members who you are and what you do at nDreams?View attachment 3080 nDreams : I'm the CEO and founder of nDreams. My job involves setting theView attachment 3081 direction for the company, keeping an eye on everything, dealing with business/staff stuff, coming up with new ideas, overviewing the design side of our games and even doing a bit of Home programming from time to time (don't tell anyone, but I actually programmed all the Xi games single-handedly). YPSH : Tell us a little of your background. You have a degree in Cybernetics. What exactly is Cybernetics? nDreams : It's mainly a combination of robotics, computing, A.I, electronics and system design. It was a fun degree! YPSH : At the age of 30, you were both Creative Director and Design Director at Eidos Interactive and SCi Entertainment, overseeing games like Lara Croft Tomb Raider:Legend,and Just Cause. Tell us how you worked your way up to that position. nDreams : I started off as a programmer - my first project was 'Micro Machines V3' at Codemasters and I did a lot of the coding on TOCA Touring Cars. But I loved designing games, so I moved over the design team there and worked under Richard Darling, who was an amazing designer, responsible for loads of inspirational games since the dawn of gaming. Over the next few years I progressed to running the acquisitions/external development at Codemasters. I guess my proudest moment there was finding and signing a game called 'Operation Flashpoint' that went on to be one of the biggest selling PC games of the year. I also designed and produced the MUSIC, MUSIC 2000 and MTV Music Generator games, which were awesome titles.I moved on to a small publisher with big ambitions called SCi as Creative Director. I'm most proud of Italian Job on PS1 (I spent a LOT of time working on that) and the Conflict: Desert Storm games. I was part of the team at SCi that pulled off a very ambitious takeover of Eidos, where I became Creative Director, responsible for the gameplay and quality of all the projects there. It was a dream to get to work on Tomb Raider Legend, and I was hugely impressed with the team at Crystal Dynamics who were incredible.View attachment 3082 YPSH : Tomb Raider Trilogy just came out and of course "Legend" is part of that. We will get to see your work in high definition! nDreams : I was really proud of Legend, even though I joined the project half way through. At that time, Tomb Raider had a poor reputation after Angel of Darkness, and I think Legend made a huge leap for the series. YPSH : In 2005, you wrote a book called Game Design Complete. A unique book asView attachment 3083 it is aimed at developers rather than players. Do you plan to write any more books? Same topic or different? nDreams : Never again. Writing a book is really, really hard work. I always wanted to have a book on the bookshelf with my name on it. Now I have, I'm going to stick to writing game designs! YPSH : In October 2006, you left Eidos and established nDreams Ltd. What motivated you to make that move? Tell us how you got nDreams started and how it grew in its early years. nDreams : After a couple of years at SCi/Eidos, I wasn't enjoying the politics and the lack of freedom to try new kinds of games. I decided to start my own business (I'd always wanted to) and rented a tiny office, working on my own for nearly a year on demos.I was pitching a web game called 'Venus Redemption' to casual portals when I saw Pete Edward (head of the PlayStation Home core technology team) talk at a conference. I fell in love with the concept of Home straight away and had a very clear idea in my head of where it could end up. YPSH : We certainly can't talk about nDreams early years with out talking about Xi! Xi was nDreams first project and was the first console based Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that took place in PS Home. It's well known that your vision is to design for new platforms. Is that what motivated you to get involved with Sony and Home? How did that relationshp get started? nDreams : After seeing the Home presentation, I met up with Sony and proposed a mysterious alternate reality game based in Home that crosssed over into the outside world. Fortunately Phil Harrison and Tomas Gillo at Sony loved the idea. I remember that, prior to signing, Sony wanted to come down to see the studio to check us out. At that time it was only me and a part-time designer called Nick in a tiny room. So I took a gamble and agreed to rent a much large office for 12 months. I got a few talented people (who I wanted to hire as soon as the project started) to come in for the meeting.Sony assumed they were already on the team, went away happy, and the project was signed up. We then hired most of them and the team started to grow. YPSH : I'm interested in hearing where you got your inspiration from what eventually became Xi? nDreams : After Pete Edward's presentation, I could imagine Home in my head in aView attachment 3084 few years time, full of the most amazing and unique games, spaces and experiences. Initially there was so little to do in Home, so I pitched a few different ideas for games and experiences that could make it even cooler - from a community-generated TV show to live music concerts and all sorts of stuff. The most ambitious idea wasan Alternate Reality Game (ARG) based in Home with spaces, games, story, video and websites that all unlocked over time. Originally the narrative was about foreign spies who came into Home and used it to pass on messages/hide information. This eventually evolved into the story of Jess and the Alpha AFK. YPSH : Xi was a big undertaking for a new company. It took 18 months for nDreams to develop Xi. 12 spaces, 24 minigames, 108 videos and four huge websites. Did you have to scramble to hire people to work on Xi? At its peak, about how many people were working on Xi? nDreams : Yes, it was a huge project and very scary as well - we were doing new things during the infancy of Home and there were lots of technical challenges. Every time a new area went live we'd be biting our finger nails and praying it worked! We kept the team relatively small - I think we had about 8 people at maximum, but mainly it was 5 core team members with lots of outsourcing. YPSH : What was your biggest challenge in developing Xi? Hardware limitiations? Software limitations? nDreams : The biggest challenge was that we were doing things that had never been done in Home before. This meant that we were effectively guinea pigs for the new functionality - it worked most of the time, but quite often there would be problems or issues that we'd find. And we only had a handful of PS3 kits, so it was impossible for us to test what would happen in a live space with 40-50 people. Looking back, I'm amazed that we did what we did. The Sony team were amazing and supported us incredibly well. YPSH : By anyone's measure, Xi was a huge success. On March 23, 2009, Xi was released. It lasted 12 weeks and is believed to have had as many as 5 million visits. As a new developer for PS Home, I'm sure the Sony people had to be impressed! nDreams was listed in Develop magazine as one of the hot companies to look for in 2008. That's quite an accomplishment. It sets the bar high. Do you think you can do it again? nDreams : Yes. We're a much stronger and more organised team now. We have better programmers and better artists. I'd love to do it again! YPSH : Let's talk for a moment about other things nDreams has done. Lte me read you this quote from IGN.com : "Spirit of Adventure (on Facebook) is billed as an interactive "soap opera," but it's more like an interactive novel. There aren't visible characters or cutscenes to tell the story. Rather, the game is read in a diary-like format. Besides the narrative and story, a few gameplay elements in the form of puzzles are sprinkled in. It's presented in an episodic format with new chapters of the story released each week. It's different. Plain and simple. Since the majority of Facebook games are completely devoid of any type of story, it's easy for Spirit of Adventure to stand out. It's also cleverly aimed directly at the core demographic of Facebook game players – older women." Sounds like an ARG. <grin> Do you see this design as having legs into ot he future? nDreams : I'm proud of Spirit of Adventure - we designed and funded it ourselves and had some great comments about it. Christian Wheeler's writing was fantastic, and hopefully we'll launch it on iPad this year. YPSH : If Andrew Webster at About.com is right, Spirit of Adventure: should be another winner for nDreams. He says, "Considering it's almost entirely a text-based adventure, Spirit of Adventure sports some excellent production values. Helen's journals look and feel very real, thanks in large part to a number of small details. There are recipes tucked in next to her stories and she'll occasionally misspell a word. These sorts of details help make Helen and her journal feel real, which makes the story itself much more engaging. Despite its limited interactivity, Spirit of Adventure is definitely an engrossing affair." Is, in fact, Spirit of Adventure successful? nDreams : Spirit of Adventure taught us a tough lesson about the importance of marketing - we had pretty much no money to spend on advertising and were hoping that word of mouth would make is successful on Facebook. Unfortunately, it didn't. Did you know that Zynga spend tens of millions of pounds on Facebook advertising each year? That's scary. YPSH : nDreams and Vertigo Films have announced the StreetDance 3D Facebook game. 3D? On Facebook? Tell us all about it! nDreams: We created a small Facebook game for the launch of StreetDance 3D - it used motion captured dancing, the Unity engine with 3D characters and although it was created in a very short timeframe, we were pleased with the game. YPSH : You did another Facebook project. I believe it is called Friday Town? nDreams : We did that last year for Cadbury - it was a fun, episodic adventure game on Facebook. It went very well and had hundreds of thousands of players! YPSH : A story telling ARG seems to be not only a favorite style of yours but one you excel at. Reebok obivously thought so when they contracted nDreams to do the "Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life" web site. Tell us how that relationship got started and tell us what that site is all about. nDreams : M&C Saatchi worked with us to come up with an idea for Reebok and their sponsorship of Lewis Hamilton. We ran Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life from March to November last year in parallel with the F1 racing season. Lewis Hamilton is one of the most famous Formula-1 drivers, and the idea was to create a global ARG about him. The story was essentially that in his spare time, since he's such an adrenalin-junkie, Lewis was an Oceans Eleven-style cat burglar who would take back stolen art and sculptures and return them to where they came from. The community needed to help him carry out his missions by solving puzzles and gathering information. The game ran in 9 languages (including Chinese and Turkish!) with live events around the globe and some amazing video footage. We had over 600,000 players take part making it one of the most successful ARGs of the last few years and almost as popular as Xi was. YPSH : Tell us about Project Y and other platforms nDreams has designed for. Any other new products coming for new platforms? nDreams : We're now focused almost exclusively on PlayStation Home. We have another division, called nDreams Unite, which makes great games for brands across multiple platforms and they're working on some very exciting Facebook and iPhone projects. nDreams itself is almost entirely focused on developing and publishing amazing things in PlayStation Home now. YPSH : Is it possible we will see another ARG from nDreams for PS Home? nDreams : I really hope so - watch this space. YPSH : Speaking of Home, how often do you use Home? What do you like most about it? What new features would you like to see added or improved? nDreams : I probably go in once a week for an hour or so at home, and we wander around during the day in the office quite often. I love the variety of things to do, and the camaraderie amongst the community.I'd like to see more big games - Home is easily powerful enough to deliver astonishing PSN-quality games with huge numbers of players, and I think we'll see those kind of titles starting to arrive this year as Home grows.If I was in charge of the direction of Home over the next few years, I'd like to see more scope for user-generated content, the ability for players to sell things to each other, more focus on making it cross-platform and much more functionality for companions. But the challenge Sony have is that there are so many new features and directions that Home can go; it has so much potential. They're doing a great job and the 1.5 HDK they announced at GDC is amazing. YPSH : nDreams has desinged a couple of personal spaces for Home, mainly The Pirate Galleon Apartment and Musicality. Will we see more personal spaces in the future from nDreams as well as virtural items such as furniture or wardrobe items? nDreams : Definitely. We have a much larger team working on new Home spaces, games and items and hopefully you're starting to see many more things being released. View attachment 3085 YPSH : Now, nDreams latest effort, Aurora, has just gotten underway on Home. Aurora has both a personal space and a public space. It uses a model which most users seem to embrace, which is, play for free if you like, but if you want to level up faster, buy some power-ups. Is this a trend nDreams intends to continue? nDreams : Yes - we think it's a fantastic model that allows people to play the way they want to. We won't necessarily use it for everything we do, but we're really pleased with the reaction to Aurora so far. YPSH : About how long did it take to get Aurora from inception to completion? nDreams : Longer than we planned! I think we originally came up with the idea about a year ago, so around 12 months from first ideas on paper to launch. YPSH : What is the future for Aurora? More rewards? More levels? New mini-games? Additional spaces? NDreams : One thing I can promise you - Aurora is not a 'launch and forget' space.We have so many plans for Aurora and we aim to update the space every 4-6 weeks. We're already working on new games and areas, and our aim is to grow Aurora massively over time. YPSH : When PS Home was conceived, it was viewed as a place where gamers could congregate and launch into a mulit-player game. Now, there are those who say Home has become a social community first and the gaming aspect is secondary. What are your feelings on this? How do you see Home today and how do you invision Home in the future as it evolves further? NDreams : My view is that it's a gaming platform with a great social community built into it. But I don't think it's about promoting PSN/PS3 games or launching into those games; for me it's about Home-exclusive games using the power of the Home engine. In the short term, I think it'll become a platform for some amazing multiplayer Home-exclusive games. In the longer term, I hope it'll become a more fundamental part of future Sony devices and online services. YPSH : In a blog piece you wrote, "What Women Want", you said, "According to surveys last year by RealNetworks and Popcap, around 76 per cent of casual gamers are female, most of these aged over 40. That’s an awful long way from the typical 16-25 male audience we’ve been trained to design for. And it’s not just the growing casual games sector." "There isn’t a magic formula. I guess one bit of advice that has come through again and again from our focus tests is the importance of characters and relationships (and I don’t particularly mean romantic relationships – just the general relationship that every one of us has with everyone else.)" "Touch wood, our unique story-based casual game, Venus Redemption, will launch next spring. I’m fairly sure that male gamers are going to hate it. And I think that’s a very positive sign…." We could talk about this subject for hours all by itsef! <grin> Let me just ask you to sumarize your thoughts on women gamers and Home users. Have you seen demographics that show percentages of Home users that are women? Do you think women are using the PS3 platform more and more? Where will we see Venus Redemption and when? Will nDreams be developing any Home related products with women users in mind? NDreams : I certainly hope we'll be developing some female-focused games and items. At the moment, the stats I've seen suggest that there are still more males in Home than females, but I think that is slowly changing. We're trying hard to make sure we release as many female items as male, and we're already working on some very cool casual games that hopefully will appeal to both men and women equally. YPSH : In the past, nDreams releases were introduced in the EU first. Now they areView attachment 3089 making their way to NA as well. Will future releases come to NA and EU at the same time? Any plans to expand further into Japan Home? NDreams : Yes. our goal is to release new products globally on the same date whenever possible, and I think you'll see almost everything of ours launching in NA, EU and Asia simultaneously from now on. It's harder to make this happen in Japan for us at the momemnt, but we're working closely with Sony Japan to try and ensure all our big releases launch there as well. YPSH : Last year, nDreams worked on 23 different projects for Home. Tell us about some of those things nDreams has developed for Home that we might not be aware of. NDreams : We do quite a bit of work with Sony Europe on their event spaces and we're very proud of some of the things we've done; the Dead Nation space, the Gravity Crash maze, the Hustle Kings multiplayer game and so on. We also loved making Home TV and were really sad when that was stopped - poor Perry! YPSH: Corporate sponsors seem to be a popular way to get new product developed. Home is no exception. We know something is coming that involves Ford Motor Company and we have already seen the partnership with Little Big Planet and Toyota. nDreams has now partnered with M&C Saatchi as well to develop corporate sponsorships. Will we see more of this in Home? Just in NA or in EU and Japan as well? NDreams : I suspect we'll do some more work with brands in Home this year and there are some areas where having a partner on board is a way of doing something impossible otherwise. It won't be the majority of what we do, but I'm sure you'll see more of it as Home continues to grow and get a stronger and stronger reputation. YPSH : Rumor has it this is going to be a big year for nDreams and Home. We know you can't get specific about projects not yet anounced, but can you give us a hint? NDreams : I really wish I could. 'Bigger and better' is all I can say for now. YPSH : nDreams appears from us outsiders as having experienced an explosive growth. According to published data, nDreams has exceeded £1 million last year in revenues. If that wasn't enough : - nDreams was included in the Guardian Tech Media Invest 100 (top 100 companies for innovation) for Games and Entertainment - nDreams was featured in a Develop Magazine called Gamechangers - nDreams was a nominee for a Develop Award in the "Best New Studio" category at the 2009 Develop Awards - nDreams was nominated in 2010 again for a Develop Award, this time in the "Business Development" category - nDreams was nominated for the prestigious Kemp Little Innovation Award, for outstanding business innovation in 2010 It makes me tired just reading all of that! I also know you are a firm believer in staying in touch with those of us who use your products. You must be one hell of an organizer to juggle all of this success and still find time to shoot clay pigeons. Tell us your secret! Maybe you should develop an app that shows us how to do it? NDreams : Shoot clay pigeons? Not sure where you heard that one - I've only ever tried that once, years ago! One of the things I loved most about Xi and find most refreshing about nDreams is that we talk to the Home community and get feedback instantly on what people like and don't like. When I was at console publishers, we were completely removed from our players; the only contact we had was occasionally with magazine reviewers. So yes, we love speaking to our players and hope to find ways to do it more and better. YPSH : On that note, one last item to mention. With all of your success, you still have managed to find time for charitable work. In 2010, nDreams has donated almost £10,000 to charity. One of these was Whizz-Kidz, a charity that helps change the lives of disabled children in the UK. I assume nDreams will be doing more this year. Tell our members where they can follow nDreams charitable causes if they care to donate. NDreams : Yes. When I set up nDreams, we decided to give a small % of our profits each year to charity and also to try and run some charity events. We've done this ever since, and it's something that's important to me. We'll almost certainly be doing something crazy this summer for some really good causes, so if people want to contribute, hang onto your money and then support us in the summer! YPSH : From everyone at YourPlaystationHome.com, we wish you and nDreams continued success and rest assured we will be watching and waiting for what nDreams has instore for us next! Copyright © 2011, yourplaystationhome.com Copying of this work (other than quotes) is forbidden without written consent of the author. Any quotes or references must link to the orignal content at www.yourplaystationhome.com.