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In-Depth: Developers & Publishers - Making The Connection

What's the state of the market now for smaller game creators who want to sign a publishing deal? We talk to developers at the recent Game Connection to gauge optimism.
How do game developers and publishers connect, and what's the state of the market right now for those smaller game creators who want to sign a publishing deal? We rooted out some details by visiting Game Connection at the recent Game Developers Conference 2009. The event is essentially 'speed dating' for an international group of developers and publishers. A wide range of studios is represented, from smaller work-for-hire developers, to new studios showcasing larger technologies, to tools companies. Developers sit themselves in small rooms adorned with their wares and demo stations, and publishers book meetings or peek in the door to see what’s up – but “these economic times” are changing up the landscape, and developers worldwide are feeling the pinch. There were more developers at Game Connection this year than any other - but there aren't a whole lot more publishers out there, which means fewer meetings per developers. Gamasutra spoke with an eclectic cross section of development companies at Game Connection to see how they feel about the current state of the games industry, and how they plan to stand out. Klei Entertainment (Vancouver, British Columbia) Klei’s claim to fame is saccharine-cute multiplayer downloadable games, from Eets on XBLA to Sugar Rush for Nexon on PC. Here, the company was showing off a single player XBLA title called Shank. Jamie Cheng, founder, gave us his publisher predictions for the year. “I expect publishers to actually expect full games. I think they’ll be expecting more games that are already done. I think also the budgets will be smaller. Just talking to publishers already, last year there was a lot of Wii talk and DS talk, and this year almost everybody’s talking about Xbox Live and PSN. So there’s a lot of competition there.” As for a single player game in this multiplayer world, is it a harder sell? “It totally is actually! And it’s a shame, because there are so many instances where single player works so well. And it would sell amazingly well, but there’s a lot of emphasis on multiplayer right now.” Bip Media (Hyeres, Paris, France) Bip Media was pitching a DJ rhythm game for the Nintendo DS, among other products, and we spoke with business & marketing fellow Stanislas Berton on the difficulty of selling American publishers on a European dev house, given the strength of the Euro. “Regarding the currency issue, it’s really difficult for us, because our cost is in Euros, and of course the price point here is in Dollars. So that’s one problem, and we have to find some way to make it work for us. But actually I think this crisis is a good opportunity." "I think it was John Riccitiello who said that actually it’s a good time to clean up the house, and there were a lot of bad products on the Wii and on the DS, and a lot of publishers and studios took advantage of that. I think if you have a good quality game you can really stand out from the crowd, especially in the casual game market.” Berton was also optimistic about Game Connection being in San Francisco, because; “I think there are not so many publishers wanting to come to Europe, not even to places like Germany, and the Japanese publishers, I think they’re much more likely to come to San Francisco.” Santa Cruz Games (Santa Cruz, CA) Santa Cruz is mostly known for its licensed titles, but is currently also pitching more original titles, including a Nintendo DS scrolling shooter, playable with 3D glasses. Andrew “Tiki” Webster, technical art director, spoke to what he thinks publishers will expect from the coming year. “We’re expecting for people to realize it’s gonna come back, and realize that ‘oh my goodness, we need to have product out.’ That’s what we’re hoping. We’re hoping that they see that it’s really going to be coming back, there’s no chance to stall, and everybody and their mother’s going to be playing games." "so even though it’s affected so many people in our industry – it’s affected us, and it’s affected people we know – we’ve got an extremely positive attitude about it.” Silverback Productions (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) Silverback came to Game Connection with an episodic kids-oriented PC title: Ben & Kranky. Willie Stevenson, president and CEO, spoke about building original brands and pitching to publishers. “Right now I’ll take all the support I can get. Right now I’m just a pup in the industry, so people that know what they’re doing to get the games out there, I just want to get revenue streams going." "Eventually I think everyone will benefit from having a known brand associated with them. And I’ve gotten good response from it so far. The portals are looking at it, though the Asian connections I’ve made want to put it on a console. It feels console-y to them.” As for whether publishers are responsive to episodic content, Stevenson says, “Some of them, like Atari for instance. Like (Atari’s) Robert Stevenson, as soon as he saw it he said – ‘this is exactly where you want to be.’" "But some people shy away from that, and you don’t hear too many success stories. I think we have a sweet spot in our IP - the demographic. Sam & Max wasn’t targeted this young, and it’s also a game for kids who can’t handle the twitchy stuff, or the violence. It’s more like a storybook.” Tragnarion Studios (Palma, Balearic Islands, Spain) Tragnarion hit the scene last year with its original (European-only) DS title Doodle Hex, and was pitching the sequel at Game Connection. Also, the company had a very early build of an Unreal Engine 3-based third person shooter. We spoke with CEO Fredrik Alm about when you decide to give up original IP, and assign a license to your product. “When you have lots of mouths to feed. That’s the basic answer of that. Of course we want to develop the games that we want, and there are four of those that we have (here), but it also comes down to that you have to have income." "And if someone comes with a really interesting license as well, you have to build the relationships with publishers, and their IPs are a great way in to establish a kind of trust. And therefore future work. If you do get your foot in the door somewhere big, that’s a good thing. And people get along well on licensing, like Kuju, they do very well.” Spiders (Paris, France) Spiders was one of the few companies showcasing only large-scale titles, primarily a PlayStation 3 action RPG called Mars. CEO Jehanne Rousseau shared her thoughts regarding large scale games at Game Connection, and using the PS3 as a selling point. “Most publishers were really interested in this type of game, because they’re looking for games for PS3. There are nearly no games on the console, but they begin to believe in it, so they want to find some games for it." "And an RPG sounds good, because there are a lot of fans of this sort of game, but it reaches non-hardcores too. And the important point seems to be the fact that we are running it straight on the PS3. I haven’t seen everyone else here, but it seems there are not so many games running on PS3.” Does it break the bank to make a game like this? “The budget is not so big, actually. We do not have to work with the Unreal Engine, as we are working with the Phyre Engine, which is free. It allows us to keep a normal budget. It’s just a three million Euro budget for three platforms. So you don’t need to be Ubisoft to be interested!”

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