Editor’s Note: Jamie was featured on our Hookedcast Episode 9, available for free on iTunes. We strongly encourage you to check it out around the 35 minute mark, as we asked questions there that are referenced here.
Relics of the Past
Hooked Gamers: To start things off - is it pronounced Klay? Klee? Where did you get the name?
Jamie Cheng: Oh man, if you ever start a company make sure it’s pronounceable. It’s Klei, like the molding clay. We had such a hard time trying to find a name for the company. We went through it for weeks just thinking of different things and finally, I just said screw this, I’m going to Google Translate, or whatever it was at the time, and translate words that I like and see what comes out. Clay was one of those things, c-l-a-y, and I found out that the Dutch pronunciation of clay is basically clay, but spelled k-l-e-i. So that’s where it came from.
Hooked Gamers: In the previous interview you mentioned that you left Relic to start Klei. What are some of the challenges and processes you faced when starting your own studio?
Jamie Cheng: I got my start at Relic, I was an AI programmer and we were working on Dawn of War. As the years went on I kind of felt an itch to do my own thing, and I had a game called Eets written up that I made with a bunch of friends in a basement in our spare time. It ended up a no-brainer for me. It was a great opportunity, ‘what better time than now?,’ that’s basically what it was. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Relic as much as hey, here’s this opportunity to start something new.
Hooked Gamers: You also mentioned selling your shares at THQ and borrowing money from your brother. It seemed like a stressful time; can you tell us what you were thinking?
Jamie Cheng: I had started the company with two other guys. One of them, Alex, who is still in the office today, he needed to live. I hadn’t saved up a bunch of money but he needed to pay rent. So I paid him out of my own pocket. We were working out of my basement every day and we just scrapped and saved as much money as we could, you know, eating three-dollar lunches and things like that. So that’s why I needed to sell the shares and borrow money from my brother, because there were actual costs involved in running the studio, even at the small stage.
Hooked Gamers: What are some of the costs when you have your own studio?
Jamie Cheng: We actually scrounged up most of our equipment. For example, our server I bought off an auction at Relic for five bucks. Also, I did go to the states a few times to talk to publishers and get a deal for Eets, which we ultimately failed to do because at the time, 2005, there was no such thing as digital download games. And so our game was way too small for everybody. We ended up self-publishing. I’d say we spent at least $8000 doing pitch work at the time.