Koch Media is an incredible success story, not just for itself but for many, many others in the industry as well. From its co-publishing partners, such as Square Enix and Codemasters, to the development studios working with publishing arm Deep Silver, Koch Media has made an awful lot of very good friends over an almost 25 year lifespan – an anniversary coming up this February.
“It’s true that over the years we’ve established ourselves as a partner-orientated company,” says CEO Klemens Kundratitz (pictured top).
A great example of how those friendships can synergise is apparent on the very day we meet, with publishing arm Deep Silver announcing a release date for Shenmue III, which comes some 18 years after its predecessor.
As well as publishing the third game for Ys Net, Koch Media is partnering with original rights-holder Sega for the retail versions of the remastered Shenmue I & II.
“It’s a symbiotic business relationship and we enjoy it a lot. We’re glad to see Sega going back to their classics and we’re happy to publish them physically in Europe,” Kundratitz tells us.
Shenmue III’s release date is surprisingly precise for a game to be launched next summer.
“We owe it to the fans to not leave them in uncertainty,” Kundratitz explains. “But we must all be aware some games take longer than others and some wines need to mature. I would say you need to give that game the care, attention and time to really come to its full potential. For that reason, we said today our release date is August 27th next year, but at least it is clear. They have to wait, but they know how long they have to wait.”
Being involved on both sides of the Shenmue renaissance is just one example of how Koch Media can sometimes feel like it has more industry partnerships than anyone. But Kundratitz is keen to note that it’s still very selective: “We’re trying to be with the right partners, we’re not trying to be everything to everybody, that can be dangerous.”
Indeed with multiple partners all looking to Koch to handle their precious titles, plus the company’s own games, it must be something of a juggling act to keep everyone happy.
“We need to give justice to every single game we handle and every single partnership we nurture,” Kundratitz says. “We’re very proud of our track record, working with big companies like Sega or Square, Bethesda or Codemasters. They trust us. We do a lot of business with them. We’re quite famous for having very long-term partnerships. If you mess something up then normally you don’t stay with them for a long time!”
And Koch Media’s longevity is becoming increasingly impressive in an industry that is well-known for its rapid changes. From distribution, into publishing and then into development, Koch Media has certainly changed with the times, but while it’s expanded, it hasn’t given up on any part of its foundations.
“Unlike other companies we have different business models that we can apply to different partner situations,” Kundratitz tells us.
And that means that just because a partner wants something different, it doesn’t need to go elsewhere.
A COMFY KOCH
And speaking of staying put, it’s worth bringing up that Kundratitz is still around. After the buyout of Koch Media, by THQ Nordic, it gave him an obvious opening to make a move, either immediately or in the near future. So is he still excited and challenged by both the company and the industry?
“It’s still very much a passion,” he states. “I wanted to take the company into this new phase, coming out of private ownership to being a public-owned company, being part of a bigger family, full of great IPs and with a greater number of studios. It’s just a bigger play that we make,” he smiles. “And I like to make bigger plays.”
It certainly sounds like he’s here to stay for the foreseeable future then. To date, the changes following the acquisition have been relatively minor, with THQ Nordic in Vienna and Koch Media in Munich remaining as “operationally seperate units,” Kundratitz explains. The biggest change being that Koch Media now distributes THQ Nordic products in Europe.
“We are quite complementary, and we both have a full slate and a full pipeline of products going forward. We’re very challenged by our own throughput of products, there’s no need or immediate reason to think about more than just soft synergies.”
He tells us that the companies are “trying to learn from each other” and that the studios are “fostering collaboration.” He accepts that “it makes sense” for them to avoid each other’s release dates to some extent.
And that’s no bad idea given that the publishing arms of both companies look to be stepping up. THQ Nordic has both the open-world, post-apocalyptic kung-fu RPG Biomutant and Avalanche Studios’ new title Generation Zero coming up. Meanwhile, Koch Media’s Deep Silver has had recent success with Kingdom Come: Deliverance and of course there’s Metro Exodus coming early next year.
Speaking on Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which was launched earlier this year, Kundratitiz is happy to tell us that “it exceeded [their] expectations,” though it wasn’t without its issues, being a huge and ambitious title for Warhorse Studios, its Czech-based developer.
“Critically speaking, we could have launched it in a better state than we did, but the community was briefed about the situation. We just said to the community, very honestly and clearly: ‘Guys, this is an amazing product, bear with us’, and they were very kind to us, which doesn’t happen always.”
We ask upfront whether Metro Exodus is the most expensive game the publisher has ever had on its books. “Emotionally maybe!” Kundratitz laughs, adding: “It’s an amazing looking game, it may even be the best-scoring game of all time, we’re betting on that. We shouldn’t talk about budgets, [developers 4A Games] are known for extreme quality, they are also known to take their time – not only with this game, it was always this way.”
In addition, Koch Media picked up the Timesplitters license recently, “a great acquisition,” says Kundratitz. And one which it can pair up with Nottingham’s Dambuster Studios, a direct descendent of the franchise’s original developer: Free Radical Design. And that’s not a one-off as Kundratitz tells us there’s an ongoing strategy to acquire more IP for the company’s studios.
Looking at Deep Silver’s line-up, the publishing arm still largely concentrates on single-player titles: Metro Exodus and Kingdom Come: Deliverance are two, and then there’s Shenmue III as well. That could be seen as a strategic decision, especially given that THQ Nordic has numerous co-op titles on its books.
“We have multiplayer games and we certainly aren’t avoiding multiplayer games in the future,” Kundratitz tells us. “On the other hand we still believe there’s an awful lot of gamers who love single player experiences. If other people leave that space, there’s more room for people like us to fill it,” he smiles.
“It’s not a philosophical question for us, being here or being there, we just want to offer the best entertainment for gamers, and as an organisation we will gradually learn and get more involved in multiplayer games,” he explains.
And he’s happy to talk about the current live game darling too: “I find it fascinating how new brands come in, offer something new, and take the gaming community by storm, like Fortnite. Yes, it takes gaming time away from other games, but I think it’s great to see not only the established players always at the top. The unpredictability of our business keeps us all interested and engaged.”
TAKING A PASS
One new area of the industry in which Koch Media has been keen to get involved is the subscription model, in this case Xbox Game Pass specifically. Though Kundratitz does have some reservations.
“As an industry I think we need to be careful about how we approach this new business model,” he tells us. “It’s a good additional source of income, a good way of keeping brands alive, and touching audiences that we normally don’t touch so easily, so I’ve got a very positive attitude toward this.”
Most notably in Koch’s case is the presence of Metro: Last Light on Game Pass at present, providing a way into the franchise for players keen on the upcoming Metro Exodus.
“But I’m adding a caveat to that: as an industry we need to be careful of following the example of first-parties to put front-line products into it. I would think long and hard about that,” he adds.
Koch Media’s continuing success, especially in physical formats, has come in part due to its mastery of the complex European region. Arguably, in fact, as physical retail shrinks, Koch has and will continue to do better still, as large publishers look for a single pan-European partner for distribution and co-publishing, rather than running numerous local offices of their own.
Of course that brings us around to Brexit, a particular consideration for Koch Media with its sizeable office near Reading. Kundratitz is as concerned as anyone.
“On a personal level I’m sad to see Britain exiting the EU,” he says. “It’s an unfortunate decision and I would have loved to have continued to have the voice of Britain in the concert hall of the EU. But we need to respect the decision and deal with the reality.”
From his position, the reality is that the company remains committed to the UK.
“We are invested in England as a company and we will continue to grow and support our UK entities… We still love England and we travel to London more than any other European city,” Kundratitz says.
Before we get round to March, though, things are looking bright for the industry in 2018.
“I think it’s going to be an amazing Christmas,” he says, adding that “as an industry we’re in an altogether very healthy state.”
And based on past-performance, a healthy industry almost certainly means a healthy Koch Media as it nears that big 25th birthday.