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The Astronauts co-founder: 'Shorter, cheaper games excite me'

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Shorter, cheaper games will help the industry grow more quickly, said The Astronauts co-founder Adrian Chmielarz, former head of Bulletstorm studio People Can Fly, in a post on his new studio's blog.

People have advised Chmielarz against telling the world that The Astronauts' first game is short, he noted just before going ahead and doing it anyway.

"Screw it," Chmielarz said. "I'm telling you right here, right now, that our game will be short. I don't know if that means an hour or five, and if it's going to have a fantastic replay value or not. It's still being designed."

While Chmielarz loves long games, The Astronauts is too small a studio to make a massive game on the level of Skyrim — and even if the company were big enough to do so, Chmielarz would "rather have five smaller games in development than a single big one."

He then launched into an explanation of what he sees as the two main reasons for overlong games: customers are always concerned about getting "value" for their money, and retailers make more money off more expensive products. According to Chmielarz, the general quality of games suffers in both cases. In the interest of being perceived as delivering more value, many games are stuffed with boring or useless extra content. And because longer games are more likely to sell better, and retailers want to sell higher-priced games, publishers tend to invest heavily in long games — regardless of the games' actual quality.

"if it is OK for you not to risk $60 on a new gaming franchise, it's OK for the publishers not to risk $60 million"

The result of that combination of factors is that publishers play it safe, Chmielarz said. Big games require a significant investment from publishers, and those companies want to avoid risk with large investments. Here, Chmielarz pointed out original titles that sold poorly, including the Electronic Arts-published games Mirror's Edge and Bulletstorm, the latter of which Chmielarz developed as creative director.

"I blame no one. It's human nature to avoid risk," said Chmielarz. "But if it is okay for you not to risk $60 on a new gaming franchise, it's okay for the publishers not to risk $60 million."

Smaller digital games don't have any of those problems. They cut retailers out of the equation, and because they require a lower investment, their developers can take more creative risks, according to Chmielarz. He also pointed out that it's easier for independent developers to focus on creativity instead of technology, thanks to the abundance of middleware, software systems provided by outside companies.

"Shorter, cheaper games excite me," said Chmielarz. "They excite me because I love exploring new worlds."

As for The Astronauts' first game, the studio said last October that it's not a shooter or a mobile game. It is in development on Windows PC in the Unreal Engine, and is set for release this year.

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