Troika Games Interview

Last month, rumors spread throughout the gaming industry that Troika Games had laid off its entire staff and that the company's three founders (Leonard Boyarsky, Tim Cain, and Jason Anderson) were considering closing down the game development studio for good.  Unfortunately for all of us RPG fans, the rumors turned to truth, and Troika officially closed its doors in late February. To learn more about what went wrong and the studios' final days, we spoke with Troika's Leonard Boyarksy. Here's what he had to say:

GB: When did it become apparent to you that Troika might have to shut down? Were you close to securing any another publishing deals before the closure?

Leon: It became apparent in January when the last of our possible deals that we'd been pursuing fell through. When we started looking six or so months ago, there was a lot of initial interest but our projects could never seem to get past the marketing department.

The reason we decided to shut down was because it was very apparent we wouldn't be landing a deal within a reasonable time. If we had been willing/financially able to go another six months to a year we probably could have landed something.

GB: What would it take for Troika to develop another game? Is it possible the company could surface again if a publisher stepped forward and provided the financial backing?

Leon: The biggest obstacle to us developing another game is the timetable publishers work on. Even if we started talking with someone today it would be months before we'd even know if a deal was realistically possible with them as there's so many levels of sign offs, and then several more months before we'd actually get funding. It all comes down to funding, really so, yes, if someone really wanted to fund us we could start up again (any takers? anyone? damn.)

GB: Was there any interest in your post-apocalyptic tech demo? If you don't mind me asking, what sort of pitch/demo were you doing with the Half Life 2 engine?

Leon: We had some initial interest in our post apocalyptic game, but it was felt that it would have taken too long a dev cycle to develop the engine and then the game. We were hoping to do it in conjunction with another project with the same publisher to offset the development costs of the engine, but that deal fell through somewhere in the executive realm of the company we were talking to. The strangest thing for us was that we were in contact with a lot of development people who really wanted to work with us producers, etc, but marketing and the execs are real wary of RPGs.

We had two different demos we did with the HL2 engine. One was post apocalyptic and the other was more contemporary, kind of a follow up to Vampire (in terms of game mechanics, etc, but not the license) where we focused on what worked in Vampire and threw away what didn't.

GB: During the development of Bloodlines, did you ever think that it could be the last game Troika developed? Or were you confident that its success would lead you to another publisher and another game?

Leon: There were some tough times during Vampire's development, but, except for a period about a year ago where I was sure the project was doomed, I never thought it would be our last project.

GB: Of the three games you developed (Arcanum, ToEE, and Bloodlines), which game was the most successful commercially? Were you disappointed at the sales figures for any of your games?

Leon: To date the most successful in terms of units sold has been ToEE, I believe though I don't have any exact numbers on Vampire yet. I think that when all is said and done Vampire will be comparable to ToEE numbers, if not surpassing them. One of the problems with our games is that they sell good numbers, but it takes a long time for them to do so. Arcanum is still selling a small but steady number of units each quarter, for instance. But longevity doesn't matter in this business it's all about how much you sell in the first few months.

GB: What was it like working with Sierra, Atari, and Activision? Was it difficult to negotiate with any of these publishers, and do you feel that any of them were a factor in Troika's closure? Do you feel that Troika would have seen more success over the years if you had worked with different publishers?

Leon: It's all the damn publisher's fault!!! Just kidding (why do I feel I'm going to be quoted out of context here?). I'd say each of the publishers we worked with had their good and bad points, and I'm sure they'd have some serious critiques on working with us. As far as who bears responsibility for Troika's closing, it would have to be placed on Tim, Jason and myself we were the officers, and it was our responsibility to keep the company running.

GB: If you could go back to 1998, what would you have done differently with the company over the last several years?

Leon: I think we would have embezzled the company's funds and gone to live on an island in the Bahamas. If that plan failed, I believe we would have had a business person pursuing contracts/running the business year round regardless of where we were in our production cycles, so we'd always have something to fall back on if there were any problems with a current project. I also might have looked into raising some independent capital, but that would have brought us into a whole other situation that I'm not sure we would have wanted to get involved in.

GB: Do you plan on staying in the game development industry? If so, would you like to continue developing RPGs? Have you, Tim, or Jason received any job offers yet?

Leon: Ack. That's tough. Last week I wasn't so sure I wanted to stay in the game industry. This week I'm leaning towards staying, but I'm not sure what I want to do. I'd love to continue making RPGs, but I don't know what kind of possibility there is for that actually happening.

A few companies have approached us to ask what we're doing, but we haven't had any serious discussions with anyone yet. I think my partners are in roughly the same emotional space that I am, but you'd have to ask them about that.

Thanks for your time, Leon! Troika Games will definitely be missed! We wish all of you the best of luck with whatever you decide to pursue in the future.