RALEIGH, N.C. – Cliff Bleszinski, the former Epic Games design director, started his first day at work as CEO of Boss Key Productions on July 20. He and former Epic Games co-worker, Arjan Brussee, who is COO of Boss Key, will hire 15 to 20 people to develop the free-to-develop, free-to-play game called Project Bluestreak. The studio is being funded by Nexon, which is also publishing the sci-fi arena-based shooter game in 2015.
Bleszinski talks about his new studio in this exclusive interview.
What’s the transition been like for you as CEO of your own studio?
It’s very daunting and it’s very intimidating. I learned more about business and finance in the last year than I have my entire adult life. The amount of respect that I have for people like (Epic Games) Tim Sweeney, Mark Rein and Jay Wilbur who have dealt with business and lawyers being lawyers has gone up in that area as well. It forces a certain amount of maturity upon you and level-headedness. Even with people I’ve negotiated with trying to hire, going back and forth on what salary and benefits and things like that. It’s like I have to draw the line with my Chief Operating Officer and put our heads together and say, “Look, for this position we can only offer this.” If they want more than that, then you have to be able to walk away. It really forces you to be a person who does not like having their time wasted to separate the line between a friend and business. I get along with everybody I’ve hired so far. Some of them I consider friends. I’d have a pint with them, but if it’s a business decision and the time ever came where they ever did something where they have to be fired, you have to be able to pull that trigger. It’s really been a big growing experience for me personally, as well as professionally, thus far. We’ll see. Ask me again in a year.
You and I had talked in the past about using Unreal Engine 4 for your game. Have you figured out the tech side of what Project Bluestreak will be built on?
We’re absolutely figuring it out. It’s going to be a question answered by my team of Avengers. It’s not just going to be with the programmers, it’s also going to be with the lead level designer, the art director, the cost, the support. Support is one thing I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about Unreal Engine 4. Those guys are twenty minutes away. If I want to say, “Hey Tim (Sweeney), can I borrow a couple of coders to work on physics and embed them in the office for a few weeks, or have them just pop by on a regular basis?” And maybe a few of them will wind up going native and join the team, and that’s a natural effect.
Raleigh is a pretty small town and the game industry is filled with friendly rivalries. what’s it like going up against Epic and their free to play Unreal tournament game in this shooter space?
To clarify, I’m pretty sure Unreal Tournament is just completely free. I’m sure they have some strategic reason for doing that, as far as it being almost a loss leader of some of their other stuff, but who knows. That’s neither here nor there. I often say being a fan of Italian sports cars, if Tim (Sweeney) builds Ferrari in Cary, I’d like to think I can build Lamborghini in downtown Raleigh.
How easy is it to recruit developers like your recent Neversoft hires to relocate to Raleigh?
There are two types of people in the West Coast. Those who are never going to leave because of the West Coast Sunsets, Venice Beach, blah, blah, blah. That’s great. And then there are ones who have had enough of not being able to buy a house. A lot of them are younger developers who are starting families and they’ve heard good things about this area. One thing I’ve learned over the course of my life is the West Coast is awesome. I’m not going to argue that, but you’re buying a shack for $1.4 million out there. Here you can get a nice house for $280,000. Raleigh is big enough that you can hide if you go out to a restaurant, or if it’s small enough when I go places where there’s five people, you can have that too.
How have you seen Raleigh emerge within the video game development community?
I’ve grown to love this area. When I moved here in ’98 there were literally tumbleweeds blowing down Hillsborough Street. Now on any given day there’s just bustle and energy. You have new apartments and condos downtown and brand new independent restaurants opening every other week and more great live music acts. It’s a great emerging market. There are interesting things going on here with craft beers and music festivals and things like that. When I’m on a business trip in New York or LA based and I say I’m from Raleigh, people will say something like, “My sister lives there and she loves it and I hear it’s fantastic.” I like seeing Raleigh grow, but I don’t want it to grow too much. Because then you wind up experiencing things like the traffic issues that are in Austin right now.