Rise & Rise

Rise & Rise
Fewer, bigger, better. While last year’s retail conference in Rome seemed to mark a new beginning for Midway, this year the publisher has the kind of forthcoming products that make Midway’s mantra much more than just an idea – it’s a reality.

The investment in development is there for all to see. Midway’s 2007 line-up of games are more ambitious, and to be brutally honest, a whole lot better than what you might have expected from the US publisher just a few years ago.

While treating its retail partners and your trusty trade press scribes to a lavish conference at a five-star hotel complex in Tenerife, Midway boss David Zucker oozed the kind of confidence that comes with knowing that the firm is not just publishing a string of average or second-rate titles.

It seems action and shooters is where Midway is looking to dominate – titles like Stranglehold, Unreal Tournament 3, Blacksite Area 51 and Hour of Victory all look capable of breaking into the upper reaches of the charts, and were received well by retailers during the presentations. And there’s no doubting the publisher’s ambition – doubling its market share on next-gen formats is the target, and it has a considerable amount of cash ready to ensure it does exactly that. MCV caught up with the man right at the top, David Zucker, to find out more about his masterplan.

What progress do you feel you have made so far in turning Midway around as a publisher?

We have been pushing this for two and a half years now, investing a lot and being very heavily focused on next-generation consoles like 360 and PS3. Really this year it’s about gaining market share. We’re around two per cent of the market – if we can go to four per cent that would be a huge win for us and it’s something we really believe we can do. We are looking to do that on next-gen platforms from now onwards. We’ve invested a lot of money and we have a lot of good product.

What do you think have been the most important elements of the changes at Midway?

The key is product development. There are a number of other publishers that won’t be able to make the console transition because there is such a huge investment in next-generation technology. We’ve really stepped it up. We have systems in development in parallel so that we don’t have to re-invent a lot of the technology – for example traffic and AI in an open world city is pretty hard to do, and you don’t want to re-do it every time you make a game. So we take the core module and upgrade it so everyone’s using the same language and it becomes a distributed, common development cost.
Ubisoft has done a pretty good job of that – and that’s really why in the last console cycle they went from non-existent to a being a major player. I think Ubisoft did a great job, and they did it with their product development.

Can you give us an idea of the scale of your investment?

We’ve spent $100m investing in next-generation technology. And $200m on next-generation games. We’re up to 650 internal development staff across our six studios. We might consider adding another studio but at the moment we’re focused on adding to our existing teams. Over the next couple of years that’s really our focus.

Will you be looking to sign up any more movie licences like Happy Feet or The Ant Bully?

We try to keep a balance between our own IP and licensed product – but we have some strong licences coming up. With kids’ movies there are so many out there that it is difficult to back the right one. I think we can say that Ant Bully was disappointing, but Happy Feet was fantastic for us.

What is your overall product strategy – in terms of formats – for the next year?

For the Wii, we had four launch window titles (Happy Feet, Rampage: Total Destruction, The Ant Bully and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) and we have more coming up this quarter and next quarter. We’ll also have additional titles coming up that we’ve yet to announce.
We don’t have launch titles for PlayStation 3, but we will have Stranglehold, Blacksite Area 51, Unreal Tournament 3 and The Wheelman coming out shortly after.

What are your thoughts on the European PS3 launch? Are you confident it can live up to the hype?

There’s been a lot of press about PS3 but I think things are really going to start moving this year. It’s early days. For the European launch it’s a lot more interesting because there are a lot more titles at launch. Sony is a powerful company and has always had a good marketing operation. This industry needs a strong Sony.


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