Channel 4: ‘We want to be like Devolver Digital’

James Batchelor
Channel 4: ‘We want to be like Devolver Digital’

Channel 4 isn't a stranger to producing games, but now the TV network has opened up a dedicated publishing arm to this end – All 4 Games.

MCV talks to studio boss Colin MacDonald to find out more

Why start All 4 Games?

It came from a few different places. For one thing, mobile has gone crazy over the last couple of years.

Channel 4 is essentially a provider of content on screens. Historically, that has been TV – that's changing, because it's increasingly on mobile these days.

Gaming is just another form of content. So actually it's exactly the same thing, whether it's games or TV, we're providing great content for screens.

There's a nice alignment with Channel 4 there, which ties into the growth of mobile. We get developers, which we used for our commissioned games, coming to us with their own IP, saying they've made a great game, launched it, but it's tough to find an audience, and they're asking if we can help.

Post-launch, there's a limit to what we can do, so All 4 Games is a way of us getting involved from the start. We can shine a light on them and promote these gems that are sinking without a trace to a bigger audience.

Why focus on mobile?

It's mobile initially, as that's where our strengths are. We've had a lot of success on mobile so far. The Snowman hit No.1 in the charts, Made In Chelsea reached No.2.

It also comes down to that alignment with Channel 4. People can be watching something on a mobile device – an episode of Made In Chelsea, for example – and in the break we can dynamically serve ads for whatever we want. So we could serve up a trailer for the Made In Chelsea game or we can look at other titles in our portfolio that appeal to young, 16 to 22-year-old females that are watching.

In terms of other platforms, yes, that's the ambition longer-term. But we're a relatively small team right now – there's five of us – so let's build on our strengths just now. Going forward, we're bound to have games that could benefit from a port to consoles. We know all the guys at Xbox, PlayStation, Steam and so on, so in due course we'll have that conversation.

"We don't want your IP. We're not going to mandate that you make changes. This is your game."

Colin MacDonald, All 4 Games

Channel 4 already commissions a lot of games, including some educational ones. What have you learnt from those projects, and how have you used that to shape All 4 Games?

The questions in my mind during my first year were: should Channel 4 even be working in games? Can we make great games? And do we have the show content that we can make great games from?

For the first year, we didn't worry about monetisation because that was just another hurdle. We focused on whether we could do it.

A lot of our marketing is laser-focused around launch to have maximum impact on the charts – as soon as you get up the charts, organic discovery is in the hundreds of thousands of users. We can do a lot of that targeting really early on, we can play lots of trailers online and stick stuff on social media. So as soon as we launch something, we can make a big splash, get our titles up the charts and from there tonnes of people find it. All 4 Games is an evolution of that.

Is the plan that all games commissioned by Channel 4 will be published by All 4 Games?

Yes. We've got an umbrella team. We're telling developers that there are two ways of working with us: we can fund stuff providing it is linked to a Channel 4 brand. If you have your own IP, we can't fund it but you can work on whatever you like. And in some cases we're working with developers in both capacities at the same time.

The team is small, but it's all people who worked in the games industry before. Why was that important?

At Channel 4, we've got dedicated PR and marketing teams for every genre of TV, we've got the finance team, strategy teams – and they're all brilliant, but they don't know games. There's no point in us bringing in someone that doesn't know games. We needed to be up and running quicker so it needed to be a combination of a core, experienced games team in Glasgow combined with the broader experience of the rest of Channel 4'sresources.

Why are you based in Glasgow?

There is a games industry in London, but its no bigger a hub than any of the other places around the UK. It didn't really matter if we were in London, Brighton, Cardiff or any of those places – they're all equally well-suited. We've got the benefit of a nice quiet office in Glasgow, but most of all I think it looks good. It shows Channel 4's support for all nations and regions, and it's not sticking everything in London.

We've seen so many indie labels rise in the last year. What makes All 4 Games different?

We're not trying to be another publisher: we're trying to be a third option. Most developers want to retain control over their game and they want all of the fruits of their labours. They don't want to lose control or give up chunks of revenue share to traditional publishers – that includes a lot of folk who have come along recently.

We're not going to take any of that. We'll take a token share, but we don't want your IP and we're not going to mandate that you make changes. This is your game.

I want the developers to be at the forefront – more of a Devolver Digital sort of model. It's all about the ‘talent', to use a TV term. It's about getting the developers out there, making a story about their history. If the developer is more associated with the game than Channel 4, I'll be happy because it's their game, not ours.

What are you looking for in studios?

It's mobile-only at the moment, but we can look for pretty much any genre. The only thing I'm not looking for is kids stuff – Channel 4 doesn't have a big kids audience. Channel 4's programming is targeted at 16 to 34-year-olds. And kids stuff is a minefield in terms of pricing and data protection and stuff. And nothing that's gratuitous, like Manhunt or Catherine.

If it's a driving or shooting game that skews young and male, we can promote it around Inbetweeners or Misfits. If it's a female-skewing game, we'll push it with Made In Chelsea and Hollyoaks.

"The Inbetweeners is a game I've always wanted to do and not managed to find the right thing. I'm open to people pitching ideas."

Colin MacDonald, All 4 Games

Are you open to studios pitching ideas for Channel 4 games, like The Inbetweeners?

Absolutely. The Inbetweeners is one I've always wanted to do and not managed to find the right thing. I'm open to people pitching ideas.

How can studios get involved, get in touch, pitch games?

They can get in touch at any stage. We've got developers with games that are pretty much finished, and that's fine. We've got others coming to us with really early concepts. We can work with either.

One of the things I'm keen to do is not just have games always be made of TV IP – I want to turn the tables. The dream is to have titles coming through All 4 Games that become successful, prove they can get a big audience and then I can go to my TV commissioning counterparts with these amazing worlds, characters and story that have got a big community and start talking about a TV show.

How can developers make their games more appealing to you?

The most useful thing that we can see is if people are passionate about it. If people are coming to us with a game that they're just pitching around to everyone and don't really care where it lands, it almost doesn't matter how good that idea is or how many man-months have gone into it – the passion comes through the work.

If people are passionate about something, it shines through the mechanics, the visuals, the production values, and to me that's a better indication of a title that would continue to deliver.


Indie developers can meet All 4 Games and pitch their projects on November 12th at Interface. Details can be found at www.interface.events

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