Following the recent announcement
of a deal between Atari and 1C Company which will bring the major Russian publisher's games to the U.S., Gamasutra caught up with international sales director Nikolay Baryshnikov to quantify this Russian invasion.
Perhaps best known in the West for last year's release of the critically acclaimed Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators
on Cinemaware's independent games imprint Cinemaware Marquee, 1C has been operating since 1991, and distributes a multitude of PC games from Western publishers in Eastern European territories, from Activision through LucasArts and beyond.
However, 1C Company also publishes a multitude of Russian-language PC titles sourced on its own, such as Nival's Silent Storm
and Akella's Sea Dogs
, and also has an internal development studios which creates games in the IL-2 Sturmovik
combat flight simulator series.
The new deal is to bring multiple European-created PC games to the U.S., such as Digital Spray Studios and Mandel ArtPlains' You Are Empty
, as well as Unicorn Games' Middle Ages-era RTS XIII Century: Death or Glory
, 1C's own WWII-era RTS Theatre of War
, Katauri Interactive's real-time/turn-based fantasy strategy RPG King’s Bounty: The Legend
, Ino-Co's turn based Fantasy Wars
, and SkyFallen Entertainment's 3rd person RPG Dawn of Magic
We talked to Baryshnikov about the Atari deal, the state of the Russian game market, and continued globalization plans for 1C as a company.
From your perspective, how did the deal with Atari come about?
Nikolay Baryshnikov: We'd been discussing the idea for quite some time. We've been working with a bunch of publishers like Ubisoft, THQ, Bethesda, and some other guys. The problem was that we have more than 40 titles in development, and this brought complications to our relationships.
We wanted a company that was the same size as ours, so we could have a more global deal. Eventually, we ended up signing a deal with Atari with co-publishing and distribution. The best thing is that we're developing new titles, and they're helping to provide the American polish, with voice-overs and bug-testing. We wanted Atari on board to make sure it was 100% polished.
So you wanted to consolidate with one partner?
NB: Pretty much.
I know you still have some existing deals.
NB: Some of our titles will still release through other channels, but the main idea is that we're going to have a very big partnership with multiple titles with Atari.
How big is the Russian development scene right now? I know it's increasing a lot, with a lot of outsourcing.
NB: It's not just outsourcing. There are quite a few teams. I'd say the KRI Russian game development conference is the second-biggest in the world, next to America's. It's much bigger than Europe's and Australia's. I'd say there are probably around two or three hundred companies in games development. Some could be online, some could be casual, but I would say we are now talking about hundreds of teams, not just five, ten or fifteen.
Who do you think is the most important or well-known developer from Russia?
NB: Alexey Pajitnov is probably the most promoted name.
Who is another important figure that you would say is not promoted as much?
NB: The developer who made S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
[GSC Game World] is pretty famous, but they're Ukrainian, not Russian. The developer who made Heroes of Might & Magic V
[Nival Interactive] is famous as well. I'd say that there are two or three names in Russia that came up with internationally-known projects, and there's maybe a dozen well-known teams.
Some people feel that Eastern European companies are too strategy-focused for the U.S. market. It's a different market from America's. Are you concerned about that?
NB: I would say that the games we like to play are very similar to American games. Our top genre is first-person shooters. We love those. Our second is RPGs like Oblivion, Fallout
, etcetera. And strategy is probably genre #3. We're not a German-style developer who is really into Tycoon games, or RTS games.
There's not much of a difference between PC developers in Russia and the United States. Like Hollywood became mass culture, American gaming also at some point became mass culture. We've all been growing up on games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Doom
, and Wolfenstein
It's funny, because [German publisher] CDV ended up publishing a Nightwatch game, which is a Russian property.
NB: That happens, so maybe they offered more money or something.
Is 1C looking into doing things like Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, etcetera?
NB: We have a few console games in development at the moment. They will support all the online features of those consoles.
I was talking more of like the smaller-type arcade games.
NB: Personally, I don't think we're that interested in Xbox Live Arcade. Maybe this will change, but at least for the moment, we're not actively pursuing this venture.
It seems like a good market over here, especially for someone who is just breaking into the market. I guess you're coming at it from the PC side more, so it's a different approach.
NB: We're concentrating on the PC side, and the specific strategy behind that is to create our own niche. People are still playing games on computers, and with Microsoft promoting Vista, it's a very good time to come back with PC titles. We can really come up with innovative ideas and gameplay, and it's easier in some ways on the PC.
On consoles, there are very specific trends that have to be followed. Many developers are hostage of those trends. They know that if it's a first-person shooter game, it has to be done like Halo
. On the PC, we are more open to innovation.
I guess you feel that PC is still a really strong market?
NB: I think so, yes. Plus, we have the benefit of having online sales, which is impossible for console games.
Do you feel that digital distribution is a good way to move forward? How much do you think that digital distribution is going to take over the market?
NB: I don't think that, at the moment, it's going to be more than 20 percent. But with that 20 percent, you address your fans and your audience directly, and you remove all the barriers between you and your audience, which is great.
It's also a very straight revenue stream as well.
NB: Absolutely. You're not sharing money with retailers and distributors.
Why did 1C want to come to the American market?
NB: We've been expanding for the last couple of years. We started in Russia, then opened offices in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Baltics. A few years ago, we bought a distribution company in central Europe. Last year, we opened offices in the UK and Beijing. We're pretty well represented in Europe and Asia, so America was the next logical step.
Do you think you'll ever move into South America as well?
NB: We currently do some deals there like licensing and distribution. Directly, it will probably not happen within the next year or two, but eventually [we may do so]. Brazil is a market that is growing very fast.
So you're trying to globalize more?
NB: It's a steady evolutionary international growth.