Molding Klei: An Interview with Jamie Cheng

Molding Klei: An Interview with Jamie Cheng


Ever wonder how an indie company makes it big? Jamie Cheng of Klei Entertainment speas about the trials and tribulations of starting a new studio.

Ever wonder how an indie company makes it big? I had the opportunity to talk to Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment about the trials and tribulations of starting a new studio, as well as the design philosophy behind his games. Read on to find out how three-dollar lunches helped a three-member studio grow to a team of over 20 people and gave birth to Eets and Shank, and what new projects are in Kleiís future.

Editorís 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 itís pronounceable. Itís 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, Iím 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 thatís 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, Ďwhat better time than now?,í thatís basically what it was. It wasnít that I didnít like Relic as much as hey, hereís 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 hadnít 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 thatís 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. Iíd say we spent at least $8000 doing pitch work at the time.