Stage Of Development On Kickstarter - An Interview With Russ Pitts

Two days ago I saw a flood of Tweets coming in from sources I respect, telling me (well, not me specifically) about Stage Of Development on Kickstarter. After doing some further research, I realised I HAD to know more, and I thought you guys would want to as well. A huge thank you to Russ Pitts for very kindly agreeing to answer my questions. 

How would you describe Stage Of Development in one Tweet (140 characters)?

Stage of Development is a documentary webseries featuring the human stories about the people of video games. Minus the traditional media BS.

I think it's great that people like yourself are finally starting to talk about the people who make and play games, where does this stem from for you?

I fell into games journalism by accident, while pursuing a career in media production (at the time, theater). So my perspective on covering this industry has always been more geared toward illuminating the stories of the creators, versus writing about the features of the game. I'm not a game maker, but I am a media creator. And as such, the stories behind the games have always interested me more. If I can help people understand why a creator does what he or she does, then I figure that's time well spent.

At the moment, things like Stage Of Development (when talking about the developers) have mainly focused on big names from the past. How long do you think it'll be before current big names are telling the full story behind their creations - or will that never happen?

I would have to slightly disagree with your premise. Spry Fox is very much a growing concern right now. Their Alphabear was recently released and has become a major hit in the App Store. Mike Bithell's new game Volume was released yesterday, to rave reviews. Two of the six planned episodes of Stage of Development feature rising stars, so I can't agree it's focused on the past. 

That said, I understand the thrust of your question, in that it's rare to see a major name at a major developer working on a major franchise to speak openly about their experience. The answer is: I don't know when that might change. It's difficult for developers working on big titles at major studios to speak openly to the press.

There are a lot of valid reasons for this, summarized excellently here.

When I was at Polygon, I negotiated for months at a time with various studios for documentary-level access to their ongoing projects, and few of those negotiations ever bore fruit. The concerns of the studios and publishers were simply too varied to be overcome. And when you think of a major video game release as what it is, i.e. a multi-milion dollar investment with an almost endless number of ways it could go wrong, it's hard to find fault with that.

You're no stranger to content like this: what's been you're favourite story, or one that has inspired you the most?

It's difficult to pick just one. Almost everyone I've interviewed at length has inspired me. That's part of what keeps me doing this. There is so much love and passion in the games industry. And most people who make games do so out of an almost indescribable desire to entertain others, and make their lives better through joyful gaming. It's surreal, if I"m being honest, and it makes me cringe when I see that so much of what most journalists in this space cover is the rare, awful, foul stories of terribleness or mishaps.

That said, Jake Solomon's story is one I think about often. He was just a kid who liked playing XCOM, then got hired at Firaxis and literally begged the company to remake XCOM for years before he finally got the chance to do it himself. Then he screwed it up — twice. Then he pulled it together and made a game that has almost single-handedly reinvigorated the turn-based tactical gameplay mechanic. It took him ten years, plus however long he spent dreaming about it as a young person. How many people do you know who've tried something for ten years, in spite of repeated failure, and emerged successful? I like to think I've accomplished a great deal in the ten years I've been telling stories about video game makers, but compared to Jake Solomon I feel like an ant.

Once you get funded, which I'm sure you will, when and to what platforms are the episodes going to roll out?

We're looking at VHX for the backers-only publication, which may or may not be suitable for that purpose. But we've yet to fully test it with a full-length episode. If all goes well there, we will pursue a staggered release to the general public (non-backers) on VHX, physical media and then, finally YouTube. There may also be the possibility of syndication with one or more media partners, but those deals are a ways off.

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