INTERVIEW: Green Man Gaming

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Green Man Gaming

Green Man Gaming occupies a unique position at the intersection of possibly the two hottest topics in the games industry – digital distribution and trade-ins.

It couldn’t be more zeitgeisty if it dressed itself in a calendar and stripped off a layer every morning to reveal the new date.

The firm’s USP is quite a concept to grasp because, of course, as a purely digital distributor, there is nothing physical to trade in. Rather, players relinquish the code that gives them access to the content and, in return, get credit to put towards new games.

Their ‘old’ codes, however, are then sold to other customers as ‘second-hand’ games, even though, obviously, none of the digital content they can access has been denigrated in any way. Revenue from these ‘second-hand’ sales is passed back to the publishers.

CEO Paul Sulyok admits there were some raised eyebrows when the scheme was first mooted, but insists it brings nothing but benefits – for gamers and for the industry: “From a consumer’s perspective it means we monetise your digital collection. And from a publisher’s perspective we’re the only retailer out there, as far as I’m aware, who pays them on an ongoing basis every time a traded product is re-sold.”

More and more firms would seem to be in agreement: “We started out with around 200 games and we’ve currently got just short of 500. And we started with a dozen or so publishers, we’ve now got 50 or so and we’re adding one or two a week.

“We’re starting to get a nice spectrum of publishers. From the very big outfits – like 2K, Square Enix and Sega, who we’ve done some really nice work with – to excellent indie developers like Introversion.”

THE POWER OF CHOICE

On the other side of the transaction fence, Green Man Gaming currently boasts around 40,000 accounts, and claims they are buying, on average, three or four products a week (with the average ‘hold time’ for a tradable product being 25 days) – which obviously puts them at the seriously active end of the gaming scale.

Sulyok certainly believes that the GMG model is influencing how they shop – emboldening them to take the odd chance and maybe look a little more leftfield.
“Because of the trade-in option down the line, they are prepared to take a risk. They won’t just consider the games they know they’re going to enjoy, they will look deeper into the catalogue and take a punt on games they think they might enjoy.”

Nearly a year after launch, Green Man Gaming recently underwent a refresh that spruced up the front end and tightened up the back end. And was probably as painful as that sounds. The result is what Sulyok calls GMG v. 2.0.

“The original site was put together under time pressures. It wasn’t particularly beautiful. There are parts of it that look suspiciously like spreadsheets because that’s what was originally drawn.

“We also included some functionality at the beginning that we now find we don’t need as much as we thought we did, and any extra functionality that we did need was just bolted on. And the result is that the experience wasn’t as smooth as we’d have liked.

“The new version looks better and runs quick – and it actually offers more. We didn’t just want to redesign the buttons, we wanted to improve the experience. For instance, if you buy a game from Green Man Gaming, after seven days you’ll now receive a note asking if you’d like to write a review, and if you do then you receive credit in your account. So, we’re increasing interactivity and beginning to create a community.”

KEY PARTNERSHIPS

And, of course, it continues to try and grow that community. The site entered into a partnership with CVG last year and also works with PC Gamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, as well as featuring on global price comparison websites. It claims to reach 4.2 million unique PC gamers per month.

Sulyok concedes, however, that GMG, which recently received an injection of investment from technology specialist VC company Eden, still has a lot of bulking up to do. “In this field we are far and away the smallest player. Everyone else in this market, all the way up to Steam, is significantly larger than us. So we have to make sure we are quick, we have to be responsive and we have to be different.

“Obviously the trade-in model is the key USP, but we’re also, for instance, the only digital retailer who gives a direct phone number. We’re a small team and we’re incentivised to get the job done – every employee owns a piece of this company and I think that shows.”
He also thinks publishers are noticing the difference:

“There are a number of companies that are working with us because they believe in us as a business.

“We are different, we are responsive and we will go that
extra mile.

“With Sega, for instance, we were delighted to work with them on Football Manager.

“We were one of 15 digital retailers and we expected to come in at a glorious 13th or 14th position. In the event, we were actually fourth, globally. That was a great way to repay the faith Sega had shown in us.”

EUROPEAN AMBITION

Interestingly, the company has been surprised by just how global its business has been, and is now looking to capitalise on it by rolling out versions in more languages, especially targeting Eastern Europe.

“I thought we’d be a UK business”, admits Sulyok. “But last week we sold games in 39 countries.”

He sees this as a reflection of one of the PC market’s general strengths. “It’s strong in so many countries, including those where consoles never really took hold. When I came up with the concept of Green Man Gaming, the biggest push back I had was that the PC market was sickly and in decline. The number of times people waved boxed market graphs in front of me…

“It was difficult to do a preliminary analysis and the estimates we came up with I now believe were two or three times smaller than the market actually is. It’s one of the big growth areas from a digital perspective. We’re hearing that from all our publishers.

“Everyone recognises that there are issues with the physical retail model, but if you look at the market as a whole our feeling is that it’s growing and we’ll get to the stage where digital is the dominant distribution method very, very quickly. I actually don’t think the bricks and mortar guys have looked after PC games as a sector, so it’s not surprising.

“The customer base is well aware of digital distribution. With GMG they’re also comfortable with the concept of sampling a game and, if they don’t love it, cashing it in.”

As for how long that particular USP will remain wholly U, Sulyok can’t say: “I’m a realist about it. No one is copying now and you would have to make some significant technical changes to your platform in order to incorporate the trade-in model. It would take a major business decision. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen at some stage.”

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