[TimeGate Studios president and CEO Adel Chaveleh talks to Gamasutra on the ins and outs of launching premium PSN digital game Section 8, which was a retail release on PC and Xbox 360. ]
Though it came to the PC and Xbox 360 as a retail release, TimeGate Studios has elected to self-publish the PlayStation 3 version of its shooter Section 8
directly to PlayStation Network.
TimeGate ended up suing SouthPeak
over the PS3 version of the game, which was originally
to be published by Gamecock before its demise.
While avoiding discussion of the SouthPeak situation, TimeGate president and CEO Adel Chaveleh did say that the company's ownership of its IP allowed it to eliminate the "weakest link" in the chain between the developer and the consumer.
For more on the thinking behind moving to PSN, as well as pricing and Sony's reaction, as well as TimeGate's future plans, read on.
Why did you move into digital distribution with the PS3 version of Section 8?
Adel Chaveleh: From a game standpoint, Section 8
is a multiplayer-focused title, so we knew that our target consumer base was likely to already have a broadband internet connection.
From a business standpoint, it's all about maintaining control of your IP. The typical chain between a developer on one end and the consumer getting a hold of it on the other is usually filled with a lot of links. In that scenario, the product will only be as strong as the weakest link.
Sometimes all the links in the chain are strong. Sometimes they're not. In the case of the latter, there's no reason why a developer (assuming they are in full control of the IP) cannot control their own destiny and pursue a route like digital distribution.
Fortunately, TimeGate has a 12 year track record of creating and fully owning great IPs, including Section 8
. Furthermore, having the capabilities to invest and willingness to make bold moves means we can take full advantage of current and future opportunities. Distributing Section 8
on the PS3 fell into this category. We financed the development and marketing, established our infrastructure for self-publishing, and successfully launched the product in six months.
How was Sony's reaction to the idea of going digital with Section 8?
AC: From a platform perspective, Sony firmly embraced our publishing initiative and was very supportive. Traditionally, digitally distributed content on most console platforms has been small in scale. Small games, downloadable content (DLC), and videos. But there's no reason why it needs to stay there. A lot of people have broadband, and some can download a full 8 GB game in less time than it takes them to shower and drive to a store. One of the benefits of digitally distributing on the PlayStation platform, in particular, is that they are open to large-sized digital releases like Section 8
Can you talk about how you made pricing decisions for Section 8?
AC: Digital distribution cuts down on manufacturing and distribution costs, so we were happy to pass that savings on to the consumer with this product.
Also, at the time of release, most of the games on the PlayStation Store were smaller-scoped games in lower price brackets. We didn't want to hit too far outside the comfort zone for users of that platform, and we're also conscious of the fact that Section 8
was out on the market for the PC and Xbox 360 for about 6 months.
With all this in mind, we felt that $29.99 was an attractive price for our PS3 fans. We took the extra step of bundling the DLC from other platforms into the PS3's release making it an incredible value.
What do you think about the future of digital download on consoles?
AC: It's here to stay, and the market will continue to grow at a great clip. Rather than seeing publishers and developers looking to unload their back catalog onto the market, it would be great to see more games built from the ground up for this model.
Better yet, we can't wait until the retail vs. digital decision is not even a factor in terms of production -- the sort of seamlessness that exists in something like Netflix -- get it physical or digital, it's a blind decision.
For developers, this means it's time to break out of a very traditional (and limiting) box. Think of how many developers have complained that somewhere between finishing the product and getting it into their consumer, something went wrong or they didn't have control.
Digital is a path for empowerment and an alternative to the traditional distribution model where a small group of people control the tollway to the consumer.
This choice now exists, so maybe we'll start seeing those fresh new ideas emerge from developers that are outside the safe, risk-adverse cookie-cutter designs that can often dominate the market. Just look no further than the iPhone App Store and you'll see the sort of ingenuity, we predict, is coming to consoles that deeply embrace digital distribution.
Though the market is evolving, digital download games tend to be quite distinct in content and style from the higher budget console releases. Do you see a widening of the digital market to encompass more titles?
Definitely -- Section 8
is one such example. There aren't many games of the size and scope of Section 8
that get introduced on a console platform initially via digital download.
AC: The barrier for large-scale releases boils down to bandwidth and marketing. As broadband speeds increase, the size of games will become less of an issue. Larger-scoped games means larger development budgets. This means you need great marketing and PR strategy and execution to make sure the ROI is there. Again, owning and controlling your own IP allows you to place your calculated bets accordingly and ensure execution goes off without a hitch.
Do you want to go digital for your future titles?
AC: Going digital is not really a mandate for TimeGate, but rather just another great tool in our arsenal.
We have the great fortune of making the games we want to make. Over the last 12 years, we've successfully created and shipped several new IPs, all of which we fully own. Now, we have self-publishing under our belt.
Our goal is to ensure that the games we pour our blood, sweat, and tears into are ultimately getting to our consumers in the best possible fashion. Whether that means finding awesome partners that add powerful links to that chain, or TimeGate again self-publishing digitally, and possibly even moving on to self-publishing retail. It's a question we ask ourselves on a per-project basis, and digital was definitely the right answer for Section 8
What would you do differently if you wanted to go digital at the outset of the project?
AC: As funny as it sounds, it was very easy to forget that the player would not have a physical instruction manual included with his digital download! That said, there was more we could have done in the training of new players that we would have like to have done.
Beyond that, there were certainly lessons learned regarding marketing a digital console release. For instance, how do you get somebody that hasn't purchased a game digitally to take that leap? On the PC, digital distribution seems to be widely accepted now, but remember those first couple of years where people were still on the digital fence? There is still a lot to learn and experiment with in this arena, but the key takeaway for us is that we build on the lessons we've learned and work it all into our next round of releases.
Digital distribution is here to stay. Our 12-year track record of being more risk tolerant than most developers (and publishers for that matter) means we can continue innovating and staying on the cutting edge without much reservation.