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Masters of their universe

Masters of their universe
He’s got some winning advertising slogans, that Garry Williams. From ‘great games that sell and that sell over time’ to ‘pocket money prices’, Mastertronic’s self-styled spokesperson knows a catchy maxim when it pops into his brain.

But the success of the company – which houses, amongst others, the continually prosperous PC Gamer Presents and Sold Out labels – has been built on a lot more than Mr. Williams’ way with words over the years.

Sold Out, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, is regarded as the linchpin of the business – and for good reason. The value proposition still flourishes on its PC re-licensing model, with recent big-league releases including Eidos’ Just Cause, Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: Warrior Within and Codemasters’ Brian Lara Cricket 2005.

And with a price proposition of £4.99, Mastertronic’s Andy Payne believes that the popularity of Sold Out’s operation is very popular with Europe’s top publishers.

“We started the business by republishing licensed titles at £4.99 – and we have never gone below that,” he says. “At the end of the day, a good game is a good game for life – and the consumers know that.

“Our model must work, because all of the major publishers want to be involved with what we do. The only company we don’t work with is Microsoft. We are always licensing – every day of the week.”

Williams adds: “When we started out, Virgin had White Label, which actually became the de facto term for budget, but their American owners wouldn’t let them go below £9.99. So Sold Out came in at that price point. Everyone said it wouldn’t sell, but within three years, the rest of Europe was copying us.”

Of course, Mastertronic’s success story has heavily relied on the support of retail. As anyone who has ever seen the ubiquitous (and instantly recognisable) Sold Out ‘spin towers’ can attest, it’s a fair assumption that no other UK publisher reaches consumers through such a broad range of outlets.

The firm’s 2,000 vertical FSDUs can be found in a myriad of stores such as PC World, GAME, Tesco, Toys R Us and Comet. Payne says that such a wide variety of retailers are keen to stock Mastertronic titles because they offer so little risk compared to the new releases of major publishers.

“The full-price business model is expensive and risky in terms of producing games,” he opines. “You’ve got to get the investment right and the risk is getting ridiculous at the top end.

“The cost of goods on proprietary formats is also madness. It’s about five to six times the cost of budget-end PC goods. Retail knows that and appreciates us because our product doesn’t put as much pressure on them as much as console stuff from the major publishers.”

The company’s £9.99 PC Gamer Presents label has shared in the success of the Sold Out range, and is equally ubiquitous on the High Street and in supermarkets. Publishers such as EA, Vivendi, Take 2, Atari, Ubisoft, Codemasters and Eidos have all enjoyed evergreen sales from titles under the publication’s banner.

Payne says that Mastertronic’s PC Gamer partnership with Future Publishing has been beneficial on both sides – and offers retail a guarantee that the product comes with a star score from a notoriously stringent magazine.

“The PC Gamer brand gives us a number of advantages in the value space, and both ourselves and Future have been very successful off the back of it,” says Williams. “We’ve got products in our portfolio we’ve been waiting to bring down from £9.99 to £4.99 on Sold Out, but we don’t need to because they just go on selling.

“Publishers that we re-licence from feel confident that we’ve got a brand that will give them some equity. And retailers haven’t always got the time to know about every single game – especially back catalogue stuff – so it gives them something to go on.

“Also, consumers know that they’re buying a title they will get lasting enjoyment from. It might be £9.99, but they still want to feel confident that they’re getting their money’s worth.”

And giving customers their money’s worth is something Mastertronic knows all about. Whether it be for a fiver or a tenner, the firm’s republished gems will no doubt go on selling by the bucketload – providing Mr. Williams with plenty more excuses to come up with his inimitable catchphrases.

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