When you think of a Top Ten PC game, the likes of StarCraft II, World of Warcraft, The Sims and Football Manager probably spring to mind. You certainly don’t think of Farming Simulator 2011.
But this quirky little niche game not only raced into sixth place in the PC Top Ten, it did it during what was a very busy November for new releases.
Even its publisher Excalibur was surprised by its success.
“I remember our product manager phoning me up about Farming Simulator,” Excalibur’s MD and industry veteran Robert Stallibrass says. “I laughed, and he laughed. And when we took the game to our buyers, they laughed.
“But it topped the All Formats chart in Germany and we sold thousands of copies in the UK. We even ran out of stock for a few days. The buyers take us seriously now – and that’s great for us little chaps.”
As a specialist PC publisher Excalibur offers one of the widest ranges of simulation titles available, including Bus Driver, Digger Simulator, Garden Simulator and Police Simulator. Even Circus Simulator and Surgery Simulator are on the cards.
There may not be a first person shooter in sight, but Excalibur’s strengths lie on targeting and understanding a more niche audience.
“There are people out there who don’t want to shoot an in-game army or drive a Ferrari at 200mph – they just want simple fun,” he adds.
“We have two main audiences – children between seven and 12 years old, and adults over 35.
“There are a lot of casual gamers out there and our budget range of titles are great impulse purchases.”
Today Excalibur has its own in-house development team, distribution arm and partnerships with Computer Bookshops, Alliance and Gem. These help distribute Excalibur’s games into specialist hobby stores, Diggerland parks, GAME, PC World and more.
The publisher also allows customers to purchase digital versions of its games through its website and on Green Man Gaming, although it wants to expand this offering further with another publisher or digital service.
“In business, it takes two hands to clap,” says Stallibrass. “We want to grow our digital business with someone else.”
Stallibrass believes more retailers and publishers should team-up to grow in digital.
“Publishers are missing a big opportunity to work with retailers’ websites,” he adds. “You need to get product into every single avenue.
“It’s a good thing for retailers to have digital distribution. Consumers are more likely to go to the GAME, PC World or Amazon website because these are brands that they’re familiar with.”
Stallibrass has also backed retailers who say they want to ditch PC boxed games that have Steam built-in, as these stores are just ‘giving customers away.’
“I’m on retail’s side with this,” he says. “If I have sold a product to a consumer then I want them to come back. I wouldn’t be happy for someone else to have that consumer.”
Excalibur grew its business 30 per cent last year, and predicts continual growth of around 25 per cent each year moving forwards. It is also looking for ways to enter the Mac and iPhone markets, and wants to break into the US.
Stallibrass adds: “We’re a £2m turnover business – we’re the chewing gum on the street, we’re the people who clean up the cinema and the dust on your shoe.
“But we have grown 44 per cent in two years and will continue to expand at our own pace.”
Proof then, that there is room for smaller publishers like Excalibur on the market – regardless of the economy, the decline in boxed game sales and the fact that the industry is more competitive than ever.