H&G: Santiago Talks Fl0w's Digital Distribution Success

In a panel at today's Hollywood & Games summit in Los Angeles, Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago discussed digital distribution and her firm's PSN game Fl0w, revealing a goal of "a game per year" for the developer.
In another panel at today's Hollywood & Games summit in Los Angeles, Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago discussed digital distribution and her firm's PlayStation 3 downloadable game Fl0w, revealing a goal of "a game per year" for the developer. Santiago was talking on a panel called 'What Digital Distribution Can Do For You' alongside the creators of popular Internet video narrative Lonelygirl15, and started by explaining humbly: "I can't really tell you everything. But I can tell you how it worked for me, and some of the challenges I've noticed." She particularly noted by way of introduction: "There are four points that keep coming up. One is the speed of distribution and information that's available. Two is the leverage it gives you to start a company. Three is the exposure you get that you wouldn't have otherwise, and four is the ability to experiment." The team at Thatgamecompany, which includes co-creator Jenova Chen, started out at USC making titles such as PC student game Cloud, and Santiago revealed: "Just making Cloud available online, without any PR, it's been downloaded 400,000 times." She added: "Fl0w [for PC] had a similar story. Within ten days we had 300,000 downloads. We went within 6 months from being grad students to being semi-reputable, and this couldn't have happened without digital distribution." Why is digital distribution so important? "It allows people to get access to your games, but also since your audience is online, you can exist solely online, and don't have to have a false storefront." Santiago continued: "There's no way we could've gotten a console deal without digital distribution. We graduated at a unique time, when all the new consoles were coming out. Digital distribution offered a different model to the traditional big-budget, huge team games. We didn't have to go for angel investors or VCs." In fact, of Thatgamecompany's future, it's revealed: "Fl0w was completed [for PlayStation 3's PSN downloadable service] in 7.5 months, and our goal is to continue creating a game per year. Even if you're working on a large project, with digital distribution you could make a smaller project on the side." But what are the challenges when making games or other media for digital distribution? Santiago pinpointed "...speed of distribution and information. Information can flow so much faster, so a lot of companies get nervous about this. Marketing has to be very flexible in order to stay current." She continued: "The second challenge is that it's an undefined marketplace. [PC indie title] Darwinia is sold for $20 , as is Zuma. But Altered Beast on Wii is $8, and Geometry Wars is $5 – we need to consolidate and figure this market out." Finally, there are issues in getting games seen out there, Santiago concludes: "Everyone says we've gotten rid of the shelf-space, but we really have it on these new networks, and it's even more limited. Not only is it limited, it's owned by another [company], ie Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo. I don't think the internet's existence makes up for this. And yet, I think that if Fl0w hadn't been distributed on the PS3, I'm not sure I'd be up here talking to you."

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