George Ziets Interview

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Back in 2019, during a Matt Chat episode, George Ziets told the world about Digimancy Entertainment, his new studio dedicated to developing RPGs and RPG hybrids. And while the studio is yet to release its debut project, it now employs a number of Obsidian and inXile veterans, as well as some promising fresh faces from the team behind Disco Elysium.

With that in mind, we figured it was past time for us to reach out to George, who you probably know as the creative lead on the Mask of the Betrayer expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2 and a contributor to many an Obsidian and inXile RPG over the years, and ask him a few questions about Digimancy Entertainment, his previous projects, and game design and development in general.

So, without further ado, here's our interview with George Ziets:

GameBanshee: Let's start with the basics. Please tell us a bit about yourself, your notable projects, and your current endeavors. Basically, give us an elevator pitch for George Ziets.

George Ziets: I’m a narrative designer at heart who has worn a lot of hats. And I love RPGs – both playing them and making them. My current hat is CEO of Digimancy Entertainment, but I spent most of my career as a writer and designer at InXile and Obsidian Entertainment.

I got into the industry at the tail end of the Infinity Engine era, dreaming of making more of those games (just as they were going out of style), but I did get to work on Neverwinter Nights 2, and I was creative lead on its expansion, Mask of the Betrayer. Since then, I’ve been a designer and writer on all manner of RPGs of varying quality and infamy, from Fallout: New Vegas to Wasteland 3 to Torment: Tides of Numenera.

More recently, I co-founded Digimancy Entertainment with two other RPG veterans – Steve Dobos and Kevin Saunders. Our mission is to make narrative-driven RPGs, create new worlds, and work with like-minded devs from all over the world. We have one self-funded, internal project in development, but we’re also collaborating with other studios on RPGs and adjacent games and developing original pitches for publisher-funded RPGs.

GB: Prior to founding Digimancy Entertainment, you worked at a number of studios, from Westwood to inXile. Tell us a bit about how you got the idea to start your own studio and what, if anything, have you learned about running it over the course of your illustrious career.

GZ: Starting an RPG studio was in the back of my mind for a long time, but it wasn’t something I would have attempted until I’d been in the industry for a while and met a core group of co-founders I could trust, both practically and creatively. That didn’t happen until Kevin, Steve, and I all came together.

Fundamentally, I’ve always wanted to build a team of people who genuinely love RPGs and who care deeply about creating strong stories and characters and hand-crafting new worlds with care and attention to detail. I’m also interested in finding ways to build RPGs with innovative mechanics – many RPGs are made with the assumption that certain mechanics always need to appear, but I’d rather start with a narrative experience as my goal and then develop mechanics that can best express it.

Also, all three of Digimancy’s founders wanted to work with people who were passionate about RPGs, no matter where they live, so we established the studio as remote only (even before Covid), allowing us to recruit our team from almost anywhere in the world.

Learning to run a studio has been a huge challenge. On-the-ground game development, even as a department lead, doesn’t particularly prepare one to operate a business. It’s been a lot of learning by doing and making mistakes along the way. Probably our most significant assets are the friends and connections we’ve made over the years – mentors we can turn to for help in areas where we have limited experience as well as friends and former colleagues who want to join our team or connect us with potential collaborators.

GB: What can you tell us about running a remote only studio? Now that people have had the taste of remote work, do you think this is the way forward or more of a small-scale experiment?

GZ: It has its pluses and minuses. Maybe the biggest plus for a small studio is that it avoids the need for overhead expenses of renting and running an office, which is huge. And of course being able to recruit from anywhere – we can work with people who live In other parts of the world and wouldn’t be willing or able to relocate. For some (including me), it’s also easier to focus on work and be productive when you’re not in a shared space.

Of course, there are negatives too. Communication is often slower – it’s much faster and easier to pop into someone’s office and discuss something in person than it is to IM or video call. (Huddles in Slack are remarkably fast and efficient, though… I’m liking and using those more and more.) It’s hard to build the same camaraderie on a team when everyone is hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Also, in contrast to people like me, some gain energy from working in a shared space or have trouble focusing on work if they’re alone in a room. So not everyone is necessarily a fit for a remote team.

I'm not convinced that remote work will remain as widespread as it was in 2021… I think it’ll be a more acceptable model than it used to be, especially for smaller studios, but most larger studios will almost certainly want all the benefits of onsite work. We may see a two-tier system develop at some studios, where people who want to become leads and execs need to work onsite, while those who are content to remain worker bees or principals can work offsite.

Digimancy is committed to remote work, though… it won’t go away for us.