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Interview: TimeGate's 'Big Splash' Strategy For The Console Digital Space

TimeGate president Adel Chaveleh tells Gamasutra why the company decided mid-development to take $60 retail sequel Section 8: Prejudice and go digital -- priced at $15, despite being "fully featured."
TimeGate Studios' sci-fi FPS Section 8 made little impact on the retail market. With the game's sequel, the company is taking a different tack -- in the middle of development, it decided to turn what it conceived as a full-scale retail title into a $15 digital game. Section 8: Prejudice, described as a fully-featured, multiplayer-focused FPS sequel to Section 8, will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC early this year, and it's the company's first shot at handling all aspects of self-publishing solo. It's a daring and perhaps a slightly unconventional move, to take a game the company said would be typically aimed at $60 retail and price it at $15. Gamasutra spoke to TimeGate president Adel Chaveleh about the thinking behind the unusual strategy, and how a small studio hopes to make a big splash in the console FPS market. "When we started the sequel to the original Section 8, we scoped it out as a traditional, full-blown retail sequel," Chaveleh explains to Gamasutra. "Basically such that it would accept a $60 retail price point." And at that point, TimeGate was hoping, in his words, to "move up the food chain," and completed the process to become licensed by Sony and Microsoft to publish on their platforms, both digitally and at retail. "We worked with the retail side for half the project until we internally made the decision to go otherwise," Chaveleh says. TimeGate saw an inroad to the crowded, competitive FPS segment through digital publishing: "We had a product that would really stand out in a digital space, [especially] at a very attractive price point," says Chaveleh. Another advantage over category competitors: "Many developers start out on the retail track, and because of their commitment in dev costs and everything else that surrounds that, they're on that track for life." "And then, generally speaking, if you start a project for digital it's going to come out for digital," he continues. "There's very little cross-pollination going on, and so the competition we're looking at in the digital space is very much built for the $15 price point." So by taking a game designed for a high-priced retail disc and switching it over to a $15 digital release, Chaveleh believes TimeGate can "make a bigger splash." Plus, since the game is heavily focused on multiplayer -- it provides for up to 32 players on the console -- having digital's advantage in reaching connected consumers more directly was another benefit. "We didn't really change the product at all other than the physical things," Chaveleh explains. On the PC side (where up to 40-player multiplayer matches are possible), there's still an installer, for example. But he maintains the decision to go retail versus disc changed nothing meaningful about the development trajectory: "The only dev gain that we got out of this was that we can now assume on a console that players have a hard drive," he says. On the online side, TimeGate will set up "a ton" of 24-hour dedicated servers to support the game -- "an MMO infrastructure, to a degree," says Chaveleh. The idea is that a strong multiplayer userbase will invite more sales, especially as TimeGate is promising "two times the content of the original [Section 8], but at one-fourth the price." "We wanted to set it up where for once we're under-promising and over-delivering," adds Chaveleh. The company didn't necessarily over-deliver with previous title Section 8. The game received a quite average critical reception, and although TimeGate hasn't spoken about the title's sales, Chaveleh concedes that the deck was stacked against it: it was a sci-fi shooter coming out within a week or so of Halo: ODST, and "clearly they had the upper hand in terms of marketing budget and retail budget." "But the bigger deal for us is that, at the end of the day, we were not able to support the game -- and still aren't -- the way we wanted to, because we weren't the publisher of record," says Chaveleh. That publisher was SouthPeak, which TimeGate later sued for withheld royalties and breach of contract. Chaveleh declined to discuss the lawsuit, but suggested that challenges in the relationship with a publisher can be disastrous to any game: "If there's a publisher and they then have to interface every step of the way... it's gotta get approved at every step above you, and if at any given point there's a hurdle, it dies," he says. "Regardless of how badly we wanted to support the game, it was still gated at the end of the day." But the Section 8 IP belongs to TimeGate, and now the company will take full ownership of all aspects of publishing Section 8: Prejudice -- a major step for the studio, which has done some aspects of self-marketing "bits and pieces" of the publisher role, but never had full control of a project to this degree. "It's been very fun, and probably one of our smoothest projects to date," he says.

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