Eidos’ real heroine

Eidos’ real heroine
She might not have much interest in discovering the Scion and she’s never fought off the advances of belligerent bears or destructive dinosaurs (as far as we know, anyway).

But SCi CEO Jane Cavanagh still has a notable amount in common with Eidos heroine Lara Croft: namely an interminable appetite for improvement, a steely desire to acquire items to assist her ascent to the top – and a perennial knack for success.

Largely thanks to the ever-bountiful Ms. Croft, last month Eidos unveiled seven-figure sales of some of its biggest franchises, ahead of publishing its FY07 financial results in September.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary was in there, as was runaway new IP Just Cause. But according to Cavanagh, retail ain't seen nothing yet – as Eidos plans its biggest shake-up of the market for years, after the financial free-for-all of of Christmas is out of the industry’s hair.

“Our biggest titles of this financial year are still to come, and there’s some fantastic prospects in there,” she says. “We don’t particularly put any focus on the Christmas period – we view things as the financial year as a whole.”

Alongside Lara’s first ‘real’ next gen adventure (tentatively titled Tomb Raider 8 by Eidos insiders), the firm is lining up such potential smashes as Conflict: Denied Ops, Highlander and the next in the ShellShock series for calendar year 2008.
And with Just Cause 2 also in the pipeline, it looks like the post-Christmas period is going to be a particularly fruitful one for the Britsoft publisher.

The major reason Eidos has decided to hold back these particular gems is not only to avoid the overcrowded festive marketplace but to ensure that PS3   sales are healthy enough to ensure a decent ROI.

“We look to release the bulk of our next-gen titles when the installed base of a newly released platform is reaching nine to ten million units worldwide,” explains Cavanagh.

“That’s what we see as a commercially viable number. We anticipate that PlayStation 3 will start to reach that level by the end of this calendar year. Most of our PS3 launches are planned for 2008 and beyond for that reason.”

The rest of 2007 won’t exactly be sparse, however, with annual hit Championship Manager making its customary return, as well as Funcom-developed action MMO Age Of Conan and an IO game that looks set to piggyback on the devastating sales potential of the Hitman series: namely Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.

“Everyone’s aware of the quality and sales potential of the products that IO produce and Kane & Lynch looks as if it could be tremendously successful,” offers Cavanagh. “It really is shaping up to be a stunning game and there’s a great buzz around it at retail.”

Cavanagh is quick to point out that, despite the delay in releases for PS3, Eidos is still confident that the console will triumph – but would like to see the price shorn down as soon as possible to drive revenues.

“We’re absolutely of the view that Sony will succeed, without question,” she offers. “It’s just a case of the timing. From our point of view, the acceleration of that installed base could be driven by further price cuts.

“The hardware is pretty expensive. As soon as we start to see cuts coming in, we’ll be more comfortable with the performance of PS3.

“The fact that the month after the US announced a price cut there was a doubling of hardware sales speaks volumes – and is incredibly encouraging. If we could have a similar price drop to the US, that would be a very positive first step.

“The other item to mention is the availability of software. As we move into the Christmas market, where there are lots of substantial software releases available to consumers, we expect that gamers will be driven to purchase the console, irrespective of the retail price.”

After snapping up mobile and casual developers Morpheme and Rockpool Games in the past 12 months, Cavanagh admits that Eidos is still hungry for acquisitions – and that these are likely to involve studios that fall in the camp of firms that produce titles for non-traditional audiences.

“At any point in time, there are a number of opportunities that we’re looking at,” she says. “We’ll take any opportunity that offers a good strategic proposition for us very seriously, and these vary in terms of type and size.

“There are a variety of things under consideration. Rockpool and Morpheme are skewed towards the mobile and new media landscape, and the probability is that we will do more in this area.”

Eidos’ drive into the casual market continues apace, then – and not least on PlayStation 2. As Sony’s ultra-successful legacy system begins to appeal more and more to family gamers, Cavanagh is perhaps even keener to see some price movement on PS2 than its bigger, flashier brother.

“We’ve got certain titles that are being developed on PS2 – and its installed base of well over 100 million is fantastic. The most important aspect of the machine is retail pricing. There’s going to be a market for PS2 products for quite some time, subject to them being at a value price, which we’re keen to see become the norm.”

As well as pouring praise on the 360 (“a very impressive installed base notched up already”) Cavanagh strongly believes that the phenomenal performance of DS and Wii won’t see a sudden drop-off in the coming years, with both systems reaping the rewards of an audience whose first priority is fun – not technologically-driven kudos.

“It’s certainly true to say that the cost and development timeframe on DS and Wii is less – and that’s extremely attractive because of the risk reduction,” she says. “But we wouldn’t arbitrarily test new titles on those formats for that reason. It would primarily be driven by the nature of the IP.”

Indeed, all seems pretty rosy in the Eidos garden at present. But Cavanagh does reserve a few choice words for the UK Government, which she believes makes it difficult for publishers to buy up or invest in domestic companies – no matter how much they may be thriving.

“The Quebec Government has been extremely active in encouraging this industry in making Quebec a key place for development, which is why we’ve recently opened a studio there. They offer a 37.5 per cent contribution towards development salaries, which if you’re talking about multi-million pound productions, of which the biggest element is people, that’s a huge incentive.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have anything remotely similar here. Over the years, people have tried to lobby for those sort of incentives – in line with the perks given to UK film studios – and the result has been pretty much nil.

“I haven’t seen or heard anything that suggests that situation will change, and much that indicates this industry is not being taken seriously: not only in terms of retaining talent and encouraging continual investment, but also for foreign companies to come in and create a new pool of talent in Britain.”

Despite these qualms with the highest power in the country, Cavanagh and her Eidos clan obviously have much to be optimistic about. But just like fellow SCi figurehead Lara, don’t expect see her to rest on her laurels any time soon.

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