After discovering their new game Orion Trail on KickStarter I was delighted to discover it was being developed by Schell Games and was lucky enough to snag an interview with the CEO Jesse Schell. Schell has been in the industry a long time starting off working on theme park rides as part of the Disney Imagineers before starting his own indie company. We talk about how the industry has developed and what the next big step will be.
TechRaptor: What made you decide to transition from programming theme park rides to creating games? What similarities do both industries hold?
Jesse: Every ride I have worked on has had some interactive component — so, for me, it hasn’t been that big a change. Rides and games are both magical experiences. The great part about working on rides is that they are so short — you can spend years polishing a five minute experience.
TR: What were the challenges when starting your own gaming company?
Jesse: What makes starting a company tough are the million little challenges. We started about 12 years ago, very uncertain of what we were doing, and whether we would be able to make it. But, bit by bit, we found our way, finding new opportunities and new ways to succeed and grow. Finding and keeping the right people is always the biggest challenge, and I’ve been very lucky that way — our team is incredible!
TR: How has the gaming industry changed and evolved since you began making games?
Jesse: So much has changed! It used to be that retail was the only way to make and sell games — and now there are so many ways! Mobile, social, free to play, crowdfunding, and DLC. On top of that, there are so many platforms, and with with AR and VR, more on the way, and new audiences, too! People of every age and walk of life are playing digital games now — it’s a really big change.
TR: You say your company develops transformational games? What makes Schell Games different from other games on the market?
Jesse: About 1/3 of our games are entertainment games, but about 2/3 are what we call transformational games — that is, games that are designed to change players for the better. Some of these are educational, but others are designed to bring about other changes — changes of habit, changes of perspective, and changes of ability. We are finding more and more opportunities to use the power of interactive games to help people improve their lives, and we are very excited about how this market is growing. But we still love creating pure entertainment as well — after all, you can’t make games that will change people’s lives unless the games are really really fun!
TR: Your latest project Orion Trail, a space themed version of 70’s classic Oregon Trail, recently got Greenlit. What was the community response like to bringing back this old favorite?
Jesse: The response has been incredible! This game came from something we do called “jam week”, where we stop our other projects for a week, and people spend time on new projects they are passionate about. Orion Trail was one that just kept us laughing the whole week, so we thought we’d put it up on Greenlight to see what would happen. The positive response gave us the confidence to kickstart it, and the enthusiasm has really exceeded our expectations!
TR: Orion Trail is currently on KickStarter. How do you think crowd sourcing has effected the way games are created?
Jesse: I think it is a wonderful change for the better — it lets game studios get tons of feedback before the game even enters production, which does so much to help make sure you create something that people really want.
TR: What do you think the next big thing for the gaming industry will be?
Jesse: I think that virtual reality is going to be the next big phenomenon in games — 2016 will be its big year. It is going to allow for a new kind of immersion, and open up whole new genres of games.
Do you agree? How has the industry changed?