"While building a huge technology company would be great," says Director of Business Development John O'Neill, "I don't think we'd ever want to lose contact with the game studio."
"We got into this business to make games, not necessarily to make technology for somebody," Peterson says. "There's too many people in our studio who got into this business to make games and love to make games. ... That's not to say that in the future Vicious Engine couldn't split off into its own company."
Speaking to the subject of his GDC rant about big-budget games and reviews, Peterson had this to say: "We all have different budgets, but nobody works any differently. We all try to make great games. ... There's just as many perils for making a three-year product as for making a four-month product. ... Even people who have large sums of money and a lot of time still have to do a lot of product management properly, still have to keep their people focused in order to make that great game.
"It's not easy to put out a 10-out-of-10 product on half a million dollars. We made Puzzle Quest for PSP for a very small amount of money ... the lowest we've ever been paid because we felt that it was a winner ... and the game is getting 8s and 9s and 10s. It's definitely not something you can predict. Most of the time it's pretty tough to make it happen."
And yet the review scores make the world go 'round. I asked him what it was like working as hard as other developers (whom he would not name) and yet scoring lower in the reviews because the reviewers - not the audience - didn't "get it."
"It's really hard to judge games neck-and-neck," he says. "When we look at children's games vs. hard core games that have all the time, budget and manpower, it's really hard to say ... Dora isn't as good as Halo - because it's not Halo. Everyone wants to play Halo and review Halo, but Dora was made for 4-year-olds. Unless you can watch a 4-year-old play, maybe you shouldn't be reviewing the game."
I asked Peterson if he thought the uninformed reviews actually hurt his bottom line. The answer? Yes and no.
"The Dora consumer is not reading EGM," he says. "It's a different kind of person. ... Somebody that's looking for Curious George: all they need is to have their kid with them after seeing the movie and little Joey says, 'Mommy, Daddy I want that.' So you don't need to have the review."
But negative reviews can have a deeper effect: "Publishers and licensers sometimes link royalties to metacritic reviews. And that really is a nasty chain when you're talking about a kids game. ... A lot of times those metacritic averages need to be 75 percent or higher in order to justify ... residuals. And that's not fair.
"We're working just as hard as anybody to ship something in a very short period of time and make a lot of kids happy. We sold about 200,000 units of Dora in the U.S., and it's still selling about 2,000 units a month. And that's fine, but it would have been nice to see a royalty check off of that."
Vicious Cycle's latest, Dead Head Fred, ships this month for PSP.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.