Dan Sochan is one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve met in the industry. His constantly positive personality is a refreshing change of pace from the sometimes cynical outlooks of developers who’ve been around the business for a while. It was a sorry sight then to see him limping around the Vancouver office of United Front Games as he gave me a tour of the studio celebrating the successful release of Sleeping Dogs.
Like a lot of producers who spend too much time at work, Dan likes to use what little downtime he has to experience new things and challenge himself with activities that have nothing to do with video games. Being a wannabe skateboarder in his younger days, Sochan spent a recent weekend trying to best a personal friend’s challenge; drop into a custom-built half-pipe and make it to the other side without bailing.
Clad in enough protective gear to defend a pro football player, Dan attacked “The Gentleman’s Halfpipe” with tenacity, dropping in and wiping out over and over again. Dan’s not a skateboarder, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Despite all his tenacity, Sochan eventually hurt his ankle and suffered for his efforts, but when I asked him about it, he said it was totally worth it. In the wake of his failure, he managed to earned himself a record for most drop-in attempts (See video). He may have had no idea what he was doing, but he made something of the experience anyway.
That’s the kind of guy Dan is anyway. Despite not coming from a programming/game design background, he found himself in the industry during the early days when things were played more fast and loose. A contact of his pulled him into the business with a nominal position, which he managed to leverage into some serious experience before becoming a producer at United Front Games.
It’s always interested me to find out how people get into the industry and what they wind up doing once they get there. For the past few years, Sochan has acted as the face of the company – our first meeting was during a press event at a go-kart track for Mod Nation Racers - and it’s evolved into a love of video game marketing, which is an unusual passion for someone who’s been able to work at the level he has. While I may not completely understand his affinity for promotion and sales, it’s his excitement that I can respect; in the post-release days of Sleeping Dogs when I visited he was in good spirits with the rest of the studio and ready to celebrate.
Actually, the studio’s pretty much always ready to celebrate. Friday’s are particularly festive in the studio with a majority of staff congregating in the lower floor of the office for libations as they cheers occasions, milestones, or just each other’s company. I arrived on a particularly special day, a mix of their monthly birthday celebration and their bourbon & whisky connoisseur club. Pretty much the whole studio was milling about, toasting the release of their game and just being generally happy. It’s hard not to enjoy an environment like that.
It’s nice to see a studio take the time to recognize their accomplishments, especially when they’ve had such tremendous success without going through all the usual trials most new studios have to. United Front Games managed to sink a pile of AAA projects with big publishers and platforms without needing to work tedious contracts beforehand, something Dan attributes to the excellent connections their senior staff had developed before starting the studio. Working with Sony, Activision, Square Enix, or any other major publisher is not something that’s usually possible for a start-up.
Sochan and his team are folks that understand how to celebrate success, but know not to take anything for granted. The shakedown in the wake of True Crime’s transition into Sleeping Dogs has left them all very aware just how turbulent the games industry can be. It’s easy to see in Sochan’s attitude that – though they had strong faith in what they’d made and knew things would probably turn out alright in some way – there were a few days that were a little shakier.
Maybe that’s a good thing though, the need to balance self-promotion with self-doubt is a necessity to creating great things. United Front Games is a studio that recognizes that they’ve got what it takes to get it done and because of that won’t give up on an idea even if it’s perilous, much like Dan wouldn’t give up on that half-pipe.