505’s recipe for success

Ben Parfitt
505’s recipe for success
It’s not easy starting out as a games publisher. Coming up with titles out of nowhere to go up against the embarrassment of riches that the likes of EA, THQ and Activision have to offer is a pretty tough task.

But in the last few months, right in there amongst the usual suspects, 505 Games has been cooking up a storm with its Taito-developed cult hit Cooking Mama, which has mirrored the success it enjoyed in the East.

Breaking into the top ten is a defining moment for any start-up publisher – but to hang around in the upper reaches of the charts for several weeks, mixing it with the big boys barely a year after the publisher started up, makes 505 Games stand out from the crowd.

And now the firm is hungry for more success from the leftfield, says managing director Ian Howe.

"We stick out like a sore thumb in terms of being a small publisher among the big boys," he begins. "We’re looking for the next Cooking Mama – games that are a bit quirky. Our heritage is very much based on taking Japanese product and localising it for the UK market.

"It has since evolved into higher quality product and that’s going to continue – we’re going to bring product to market that others probably haven’t looked at.

"With Cooking Mama we’ve fallen into that mould because other publishers might have passed on it because it’s too quirky.

"We know we can’t necessarily compete at the top end of the market because that’s hugely risky so we’re looking at exploiting niches.”

And what a niche – Cooking Mama reached the number five spot a few weeks back, and has been a solid top ten performer ever since. A few years ago, the prospect of a game about cooking breaking into the mainstream would have seemed like the ramblings of a madman – but it just proves how much the market has opened up in recent years, says Howe.

"I think that Cooking Mama is part of the recent trend for ‘lifestyle’ games. With the likes of EA moving into casual games we need to constantly assess what we’re doing, but because we’re so small we can evaluate where the market is and move with it.”

This is not just fighting talk – the business has already changed significantly since the arrival of Howe. "We have originally been largely PS2 but that changed when I came on board. I looked at the portfolio and the quality of the PS2 stuff coming and it wasn’t good enough, so we very much focused on DS.

"It has grown rapidly and we have concentrated our efforts on getting good quality DS product and that has since evolved onto Wii. We’re also about to move into next-gen with Armored Core 4 on 360 and PS3.

"While we’re not going to compete in that sort of high-end MotorStorm and Resistance: Fall of Man area, there are great opportunities with games where maybe the bigger guys will be less inclined to pick it up – and as a small paublisher we can make those games work because our break-even level is a lot lower than the bigger guys."

Howe adds that 505 is not just content with snapping up product – the publisher has higher ambitions than that: “We’re a company always on the look-out but what we’re also doing now is moving from signing product to commissioning product.

"We’ve got a number of products in Europe, the US and Japan that we’ve comissioned from scratch. For us it’s an exciting move to be able to take an idea and run with it through to completion."

For such a small operation (the current headcount at 505’s Milton Keynes office is seven), the fledgling publisher has a hugely ambitious number of titles for release. “Our fiscal year begins on July 1st and in that year we have, at the moment, 39 SKUs planned, which is pretty much 39 games because we don’t have that many multi-format titles," adds Howe.

"So we’re pretty prolific and dominated by DS at the moment. What’s happening is that we’re picking up product that is a little quirky and odd and we’re taking chances. We’re signing product all the time – literally every day.

“We also want to create new IP because I think inherently it is more valuable. We’ve got clear goals of what we want to be but it could go in any number of directions. It is important that we can move quickly to adjust to what the market wants.”

Having burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion over the last year, 505 must now maintain that success by claiming more cult hits and keeping pace with the big boys. With a unique product strategy and a strong team of experienced industry executive, this is certinaly not the last you’ve heard of 505 Games.

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