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E3 2001: Carnival of the Damned Day 4: Simon Jeffrey Interview, Part 1

He won't make the sound but he will deliver the goods: Simon talks original titles in the most informal interview ever.

On a dusty staircase in a corner corridor of the Los Angeles convention center, Mojo got a chance to speak with Simon Jeffery, president of LucasArts, and Tom Sarris, LucasArts head of PR.

We had some questions for them about angry fans, Star Wars, and the like. The concensus: Relaaaaax!

Spaff: A lot of people are annoyed at the massive amount of Star Wars games and the so far lack of the said "50/50" ratio of Star Wars to original titles.

Simon Jeffery: Its still absolutely our intention and strategy to be 50 percent Star Wars and 50 percent non-Star Wars. You've got to remember that the games we're showing now have been in development for quite a while and at E3 next year there will be a lot of new, original titles that are not Star Wars. It just takes a long time to get there. We're not ready to say what they are yet because I think that there's not point in trying to get people over-excited about something that they won't be able to see for 12 to 18 months. Yeah, we could have shown some [original] games we're building in-house now, but then everyone would be upset at us for showing games too early. Its difficult to please everyone all the time, I guess.

Spaff: Was anything resolved about the fan games issue?
[Earlier this year three fan made games were "foxed" by LucasArts. The people making the fan games were sent cease and desist orders from LEC legal, and were forced to shut down production.]

Simon Jeffery: No, that's still ongoing. We're still looking into that. LucasFilm has taken an interesting approach with AtomFilms. We're looking to see if there's anything in a similar vein we can do with our fan projects. We can't say anything about it at the moment because we're not in a position to. We appreciate there is a big community with people who want to do these things. People get upset when our lawyers are overly protective. It is an intellectual property business. We do need to protect our intellectual property so sometimes we do have to take some action. We absolutely understand that a lot of people want to see us have a more approachable outlook towards our fan games. We want to get there, but it takes time.

Spaff: Star Wars Battlegrounds comes with a scenario editor. Are you going to be supporting more modifications to your games, like for instance Counter-Strike is a modification for Half-Life.

Simon Jeffery: Right, well we want to see how that goes. Its the first time we've ever done that. Its the first time we've ever given anyone a toolbox to create their own Star Wars game. We want to see what develops from that. I think people almost expect that as a part of PC gaming. In more and more of the games we're doing going forward I think it would be appropriate to do that kind of thing. We just want to see how the first one goes.

Spaff: Cool.

Jake: Are you going to be supporting it officially in any way? Some companies sponsor user created scenarios, featuring the more popular ones on their site and things like that.

Simon Jeffery: We're thinking about it. Again, we want to see how the first one turns out and how the fans react to it. If there's the demand and the desire to do it then yeah, we might want to do something like that.

Emma: How is LucasArts going to keep the fans of non franchise titles interested in the company in this "transition period?"

Simon Jeffery: I think that if you were here this time next year, then you wouldn't be asking that question. We're absolutely going to be making adventure games still. I think the fact that we're porting Monkey Island to the PlayStation 2 is really exciting, and I hope it will help bring classic graphical adventures to a whole new market. The console gaming market hasn't really known our style of adventure games, and we're really hoping it will bring the genre to a new audience.

Emma: The community reaction to the Star Wars announcements isn't a pretty one.

Spaff: Its hard to keep people from rebelling.

Emma: People didn't believe what you told us yesterday about the original titles. Can you reassure the readers?

Simon Jeffery: Well, Sean Clark is working on a new adventure game for us. (Person in background yells "Hey, Bob!" while opening a loud scraping door, obscuring some of what Simon was saying) [...] We're really happy about what we're doing at the moment. The company's being reintegrated, and the quality of the products is absolutely back again. So this year its mostly Star Wars, but after that... [Simon smiles].

Spaff: I noticed that a lot of the LEC games here at the show have been outsourced to a bunch of companies: Verant, Factor 5, BioWare, etc. Is that to get more creative people on secret projects and stuff? (Ed: yes, this was a pretty informal, improvised interview)

Simon Jeffery: Actually, that is part of our strategy. A lot of the people that come to us want to build original games and we are pretty much, over the last twelve months, being rethinking the way we do things, and nearly all of our in-house effort is based on creating original games. So, using people like BioWare and Factor 5 to build Star Wars games means that some of the best people that we have are building completely new, original games. We do feel that we're one of the only companies in the gaming industry that can afford to take these risks with the products that we do. Star Wars is very safe, but the original stuff, we can be very risky. We can do, you know, just mad, mad stuff. And that's pretty much the focus of what we're doing right now.

You know what's going to happen? E3 next year, everyone's going to be saying, "Where are all your Star Wars games? Why aren't you doing enough Star Wars games?"

Jake: I wouldn't say that.

Spaff: Goddammit.

Simon, Tom, Jake, Spaff, Emma: [laugh for a bit]

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