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Q&A: Interactive Studio Management's Clyde Grossman

Gamasutra has been talking to Interactive Studio Management's Clyde Grossman about the company's intriguing 10-year history as business agents for game developers, with notable past and present clients including Digital Illusions, Silicon Knights, and Nih
Game development agency Interactive Studio Management was formed by Bob Jacob and Clyde Grossman in October of 1996 in order to provide management and consulting services for the games industry. “Bob Jacob and I had been working as agents for one year and determined that by forming ISM our clients would benefit from our collective expertise and that we would be more effective,” says Grossman. Ten years later, the company is now made up of six agents, and has generated $275 million in development revenue for their clients. They estimate they have brokered “more than 150 publishing deals”, which includes “20 first party console manufacturer deals”. Gamasutra contacted Grossman via email to ask about the company’s ten year anniversary, and their experience in the industry over that period. Is there a precedent for agents in the games industry? Yes, we were aware of others who were acting as agents in the video game industry. At the same time, we felt that given our extensive backgrounds, Bob having founded two successful independent studios and I working and managing product development departments for major publishers, clients would need and respond to our level of expertise. Do you feel the need for game agents has increased over the past decade? Yes, we do. As team sizes and development times have increased, costs have multiplied. This makes game development riskier for independent studios and publishers. Our role is to assist in mitigating the risks for our clients which has the additional benefit of mitigating some of the initial risks for publishers. How difficult was it, starting a business like ISM, and building trust within the industry? Like all start-ups, we faced our share of difficulties. We were fortunate to have a few solid clients, four of whom are still with ISM. Bob and I were also known because we had both been working in the industry for more than ten years. Bob had founded Cinemaware and Malibu Interactive, and I had a long career at major publishing companies, including Sega and Sony. What would you put the company's longevity down to? Determination. We are dedicated to working on behalf of our clients and measure our success by their success. ISM's website mentions a "powerful and lasting impact on the business of video game development" - what has the company's impact on the industry been, exactly? ISM represents some of the leading independent game development studios in the video game industry and some of our clients have created games that have sold over a million units. ISM’s work with Digital Illusions, CE is a good example. DICE was an ISM client and when Stew Kosoy (a partner at ISM) saw the early work on Battlefield 1942, he encouraged DICE to reacquire the rights. We then presented and placed it at EA, and it has become a major franchise for EA, who has since acquired DICE. What are the biggest challenges for your company within the industry? As always, to stay current, which means knowing what publishers are doing and planning. What does ISM offer to its clients in terms of advice in getting their games successfully published? We review concepts for marketability and presentation materials for effectiveness. We suggest appropriate platforms and publishing partners. Because team sizes have grown, project management is a critical component to creating a successful game and where appropriate we suggest personnel and organizational changes. What would you consider ISM's greatest success to be, over the past decade? We have successfully secured contracts with every platform manufacturer. In dollars, our greatest success has been securing the publishing contract for the Battlefield series for Digital Illusions. What do you think have been the company's failures over the past decade? As we tell prospective clients, we cannot guarantee success, but we will make every effort on their behalf. That said, we have had some failures. There have been a few clients for whom we were unable to secure contracts. Are there titles that ISM have been unable to effectively secure publishing deals for, and what would you attribute this to? As noted above, this has occurred on occasion. Sometimes the reason is the studio has the “wrong genre” (e.g. – this happened during the transition from platform games to more ‘adult’ themes games), or the “wrong platform” (e.g. – this happened during platform transitions and requires technology answers that address publisher’s concerns), and sometimes its timing or more often “lack of time” as the process of securing a contract has increased as the value of the contracts has increased. Similarly, are there titles that you have refused to represent on the basis of them being difficult to sell commercially, and how effectively can this be judged? Yes. Collectively, we have a good sense of what the publishers are willing to fund. We also have a good sense for whether a publisher will perceive a particular team and project as an acceptable risk. Your latest press release states that ISM have "produced $275 million in development revenue, generating $75 million in royalties", yet your website suggests that revenues have been in "excess of $750 million dollars" - can you clarify why there is such a large discrepancy? Yes, it was an error that has been corrected in the official press release [this has since been corrected on the agency’s website]. The correct value of contracts secured by ISM for its clients is over $275 million. While that dollar amount is a fair representation of our direct efforts for our clients, the combined sales revenues for those titles is in “excess of $750 million dollars”. Which companies does ISM currently represent? ISM represents the following game development studios: Bottlerocket Entertainment, Deep Red, Digital Extremes, Larian Studios, Left Field Productions, Mass Media, n-Space, Nihilistic Software, Saber Interactive, Silicon Knights, and Southlogic Studios. Finally, do you feel your company has fostered creativity within the games industry, and, if so, how? Yes, by providing an opportunity for our clients to create original titles.

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