Why isn’t Polish developer Techland making Dead Island 2? It made the first game, after all.
Dead Island wasn’t fantastic but it was successful – very successful. In February 2013 the game passed the five million sales mark. Five million sales! And for a new IP! Techland clearly did something right.
But what it didn’t do was retain ownership of the IP.
“Right from the start, the IP was theirs,” Techland game designer Maciej Binkowski told me, referencing publisher Deep Silver (Saints Row, Homefront). It was Techland’s game, Techland’s idea, but it wasn’t a strong enough entity as a developer to argue.
“At that point we weren’t really in a position to negotiate,” he said, “so that was the best deal we could get. It’s like playing poker: you have to make a decision with the information you have now. If you play the game thinking that something might happen, you’re going to lose the game. At that point, that was the best decision we could do.”
Techland made two Dead Island games for Deep Silver: Dead Island, and standalone expansion Dead Island: Riptide. Riptide wasn’t brilliant but again it wasn’t awful.
But a month after Riptide’s April 2013 release, Techland announced a new zombie-killing game called Dying Light. A year later, at E3 2014, Dead Island 2 was announced – a game made by Spec Ops: The Line developer Yager.
What happened – did Techland and Deep Silver fall out?
“Well, you know, we had our ups and downs,” Binkowski said. “There’s always tension between the publisher and developer.
“For us it turned out well, because being forced to come up with a new IP… We can’t just make a Dead Island 2 and change the name; it’s got to be something fresh, it’s got to be something unique.
“It was a bit tough,” he added. “I would love to make a direct sequel, but at some point a decision was made.”
It sounds like Deep Silver turned Techland away. Was Deep Silver unhappy with Techland’s work?
“Well you’d have to ask them.” Deep Silver declined comment.
But the two companies didn’t fall out?
“They were very… You keep digging!” Binkowski replied.
“They had a lot of ideas about how they wanted to run the franchise,” he went on. “Even with Dead Island there were a lot of moments where we would disagree on the creative vision of the project, so this might have been one of the factors.”
Whatever the disagreement, Techland arguably landed on its feet, with publisher Warner Bros. and owning new IP Dying Light. That game’s due in January next year – not long before Dead Island 2, in spring.
Does Dead Island 2 change anything?
“I guess sort of. We’ve got to be aware of what they’re doing. At this point in the game we can’t really change much, and it seems like we don’t really have to. They’re out to create something different: it’s Dead Island, it’s a different experience … it’s all very colourful and I guess kind of goofy. So I think we’re pretty safe, because our game is much more mature and dark, and we’re aiming at different unique features such as freedom of movement [and] the day-night cycle.”
What’s more, Techland had known Dead Island 2 was coming. “Yeah we knew that it was being developed years ago,” said Binkowski. “We’re still friends with the guys at Deep Silver, we meet at shows and talk and discuss stuff, so we knew they’re working on it.”
It does create an awkward situation next year when fans of Dead Island, who don’t follow the world of games closely, get excited about the second game thinking it will made by the team who delivered the first.
They may know nothing about Dying Light.
“It’s tough,” shrugged Binkowski. “I don’t know if there is much we can really do about that. It’s out there, it’s being developed.
“We’re trying to keep our communication clear that this is the team behind Dead Island and we’re creating this thing now. There was a lot of miscommunication, misconception, misunderstandings. They’re like ‘this is Techland’s new game, right?’, and we’re like, ‘No.’ “
Dying Light comes out on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One in January.