There’s no doubt 2010 was a pivotal year for Codemasters corporately.
A re-structuring of ownership saw multi-gazillion dollar Indian conglomerate Reliance take a 50 per cent stake in the company and sit alongside joint owners Balderton Capital, in a deal that did nothing less than shore up the future of the veteran British publisher.
It was, however, also a pretty damn decent year in terms of product – with number one hit F1 2010 being the jewel in the crown.
And it is product that Codemasters’ EMEA VP of publishing Jeremy Wigmore is keen to talk about.
He knows the significance of the Reliance deal – and says that the most important thing they’ve brought to the company is “stability”.
But he also relates their backing to content. He wants their impact to be in the box as much as in the boardroom.
“Our ethos is to invest in products and to plan over the long term,” says Wigmore. “We want to develop fewer but better titles, and that requires investment. With Reliance onboard we can continue down the road that’s already proving successful for us.”
Publishers have, of course, been talking about concentrating on fewer, but bigger and better titles for years; decades, even. Codemasters has actually done it. It has gone through the pain of shearing its schedule and now genuinely only releases a handful of products each year, all of which get full focus (see ‘Pillar Talk’).
Wigmore says: “I’ve been at companies where I’ve been looking at a portfolio of dozens of titles a year and let me tell you, this is a much better way of doing business.
“I’ve also been at an E3 where a retailer, who shall remain nameless, came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been shown 400 titles all due in Q4. What I want to know is where the hell am I going to put them. Except they didn’t say ‘hell’.
“Long gone are the days when publishers could, let’s say, leverage in 10 titles because one or two of them were ‘must-haves’. It’s a different environment now and
I think it’s one that suits our way of thinking.”
KEEPING THINGS FRESH
Three of Codies’ four 2011 titles are new iterations of existing franchises. And it’s fair to say that the company’s goal is to have a selection of brands that it can constantly refresh and re-sell on rotation.
It’s not a huge roster, but one big and strong enough to allow certain IP to have a year or two off while, say, the core engine is overhauled.
Wigmore is certainly aware of the importance of keeping innovation near the top of the company’s creative agenda, even if the games themselves have familiar names.
He says: “Providing you’re moving the brands forward and looking to do new things, then I think it’s fine to work with a limited number of franchises that return regularly.
“If you don’t, you start to stagnate and that leads to ‘Police Academy syndrome’ – and it won’t take critics or gamers long to notice.”
He goes on to explain that, as with many publishers, feedback from consumers is becoming increasingly important when it comes to shaping and honing product.
“These days it’s about listening to the community as much as anything, and that’s certainly what we’ve done with Flashpoint. Not just the good stuff, but the negative comments as well.
“I think that in the same way as we surprised a lot of people with F1 last year, we might surprise a few more with Flashpoint this year.”
With Dirt 3 he believes the key has been shifting the emphasis back onto rallying, and again says that listening to gamers’ views played a big part in the rethink.
With Bodycount, of course, there is no feedback to listen to as it’s a box fresh franchise. As such it’s the riskiest release of the four – a fact that Wigmore is well aware of: “Sure, everybody accepts that launching new IP is a challenge. Creatively and economically it’s a bigger and riskier step that a re-iteration. You have to be diligent with your plans, but you also have to remember that you’re dealing with hoped for sell-through, not expected sell-through.”
After that, though, comes what Wigmore would probably wince at being called ‘the banker’ – F1 2011.
Full details are to be announced in a couple of weeks just ahead of the start of the season. For now all Wigmore will say is that the aim is to give gamers “a more complete experience, on and off the track”.
He believes that Codemasters has already delivered a game worthy of the brand, and will raise the bar this time round. And that this has coincided with a golden period for the sport itself, with brilliant young drivers all competing for the title, high profile rule changes making the races more of a spectacle – and the BBC really improving its coverage.
By the time F1 2011 arrives, Codemasters’ corporate story may have taken another twist, with most observers expecting Reliance to buy out Balderton.
Whatever happens, Wigmore will be more concerned that the publisher’s four big bets have delivered four big wins.