INTERVIEW: 505

Dominic Sacco
INTERVIEW: 505

The last few years have seen 505 deliver diversity and success on a scale sufficient for it to no longer be called ‘the Cooking Mama company’.

If you look at its most recent releases and its 2011 slate, it certainly seems determined not to be pigeonholed. Last year its pillar titles were Naughty Bear, Grease and Babysitting Mama, while Zumba Fitness provided an unexpected late Christmas bonus on Kinect.

This year kicks off in June with three releases: Supremacy MMA, a (literally) no holds barred fighting games; swim-sim Michael Phelps: Push The Limit; and Dawn of Fantasy, a RTS MMO from Reverie.

It’s a range that speaks distinctly of opportunism – and that’s a value at the heart of 505 Games’ corporate philosophy as well as its release schedule.

THE RISK

Commercial director Ralph Pitt-Stanley says: “From day one we’ve never been afraid of projects that may seem a little different at first, but then you start seeing the code and, more importantly, the sell through, and they start making sense.

“Those are our roots: making good opportunities from projects that other companies have maybe walked away from.”

Head of global brand Tim Woodley adds: “We always come back to the same internal metric: does a game make the money it needs to in order to help us continue to grow. And given that we don’t have 1,000 people worldwide – we barely have 100 people – we don’t     need 2m or even 1m units to do good money.

“So maybe some other publishers might look at our sales numbers and think, ‘Hmmm, not sure about that’, but not everyone’s doing the deals we’re doing and not everyone can turn a profit as quickly as we do.”

He explains that Naughty Bear was a fairly typical punt. Whilst the reviews were mixed, an effective marketing and PR campaign translated into sales that made it a commercial success for 505.

The same sales figures might not have worked for every publisher, but 505 is leaner than most and measures success according to its own corporate calibration.

Naughty Bear’s developer, A2M, has announced a sequel, but it remains to be seen if 505 will be on publishing duties.

Another of last year’s pillars, Grease, will be returning. It arrived on Wii and DS last summer, but, Woodley admits, an extended gestation period due to licensing complications, meant that the end result probably didn’t chime exactly with what fans expected.

“With hindsight, no, it didn’t hit what the market wanted from that brand at that time,” he said. “It’s done reasonably well over the Christmas period, but it was put together during a dip in the music game genre, before the Just Dance-led resurgence, if you like.

“Research was telling us people wanted mini games but the market shifted, and Grease ended up being a mismatch with what the consumer wanted. We have green-lit the PS3 and 360 versions, and they will be all singing and dancing.”

THE REWARD

The story of Mama in 2010 was of further diversification. Babysitting Mama came complete with a doll, into which youngsters inserted (sorry, sounds vulgar, but no other word will do) the Wii remote and then looked after their new charge.

Pitt-Stanley knew that it would take some explaining let alone selling to retail. And he wasn’t let down by the scale of the challenge, but neither was he disappointed with the result.

“It didn’t launch till mid-November, didn’t get full distribution, due to the logistical challenges posed by the packaging, and had a high ticket value, but sold through over 22,000 units, so it’s a good step towards continuing that franchise.”

Asked what’s next for Mama, the duo will say only that we “might see her again sooner than you think”. So far, she doesn’t appear on the firm’s official 2011 release schedule, but the suggestion is she soon will.

As it stands that schedule only really starts to take shape with the early summer flurry of product – Supremacy being perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch (see ‘Five Future HIts’, right). Again, 505 will have found something it likes in these products, sensed a story to tell about each, and have in mind modest sales targets.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. 505 has the nerve to sign products other publishers might shy away from, but the risk is minimised by the company’s infrastructure: it doesn’t have to hit huge numbers.

Woodley adds: “Most publishers’ default setting is to be risk averse. And plenty of us here at 505 have experienced that culture. It leads to endless degrees of research and a reluctance to go with your gut.

“But we have a global scale. We can get to all markets very quickly in a very focused manner, and with a far lower overhead than EA, Activision or THQ. It’s a different way of doing things.”

It’s certainly the 505 way. And with boxed sales falling and mega hits hard to come by, it’s also a pretty modern and certainly smart way of video games publishing.

FIVE FUTURE HITS

Brunswick Pro Bowling
Developer: Point of View
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3
Released: February 4th

Zumba Fitness

Developer: Pipeworks
Formats: Wii, PS3
Released: March

Michael Phelps: Push The Limit

Developer: Blitz Games
Formats: Xbox 360
Released: June

Tim Woodley, 505’s head of global brand says: “The question we had was, why has no one done this before? Is it because you can’t make a swimming game fun?

“That was the Blitz crew’s first challenge: show us this will work. And they answered the question with their vertical slice. We were convinced straight away.

“It’s a tremendous fun, racing game, but also gives you a pretty bloody good workout. It’s about the millisecond on the touch. It’s about doing the right things to make that infinitesimally small but absolutely vital millisecond.”

Supremacy MMA

Developer: Kung Fu Factory
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3
Released: June

Ricci Rukavina, CEO of Kung Fu Factory, says: “Our game may be unlicensed, but as a result it’s also unrestricted and uncompromising. And I think that’s the better deal for a gamer.

“We’ve been able to focus on making the best gameplay experience in Supremacy, without worrying about not representing the brand correctly or getting the size of fighter’s nose right.”

Dawn of Fantasy
Developer: Reverie
Formats: PC
Released: June

“The shortest and snappiest way of describing it is as an MMO RTS,” says Woodley.

“Reverie has been working on this project for a number of years now. 505 Games is helping the team finish it and bring it to market.

“It was a project we signed with the full intention of exploring and exploiting the digital landscape in a way that we haven’t to date. It will also help us educate ourselves in the practises of the digital world.”

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