Charting a course through the changing simulation market

As its Excalibur label celebrates its tenth anniversary, MCV catches up with Contact Sales’ MD Robert Stallibrass and marketing boss Richard Barclay about the sim market, owning its own IP and virtual reality…

Excalibur is celebrating its tenth birthday. How has the simulation market changed in that time?

Robert Stallibrass, MD, Contact Sales: To start it was largely an uncharted territory, mostly left to Microsoft with Flight and Train Simulator. Then someone came up with Farming Simulator, we released it, then suddenly there was this massive market of people who want to play real simulation products. We backed lots of horses like everyone does, but we picked a lucky one. On the back of that, that market has expanded. The trouble is there is a hell of a lot of products now. Loads of people have jumped in and done ‘me too’ type products and that has watered the market down.

You’ve invested in a number of new IPs such as European Ship Simulator. Why decide to do this?

Richard Barclay, head of marketing, Contact Sales: We want to invest in new IP because you just have to be working on your own IP. There are fewer licensing deals to be had. We originally weren’t developing any titles ourselves, we were just doing licensing deals. Developers – particularly with digital distribution now – can just get a Steam account and start delivering products themselves. So we haven’t had a choice but to invest in new IP. And we want to turn European Ship Simulator into an IP the size of Euro Truck Simulator.

What’s the break down of physical and digital like for Contact Sales?

Stallibrass: In August it was 25 per cent digital, 75 per cent boxed.

That makes sense. The simulation market has an older audience. In the past you have told us that 65 per cent of your customers are over 50.

Stallibrass: Funny you should say that – our YouTube stats now show that 70 per cent of our viewers are between 18 and 35. A year ago, most of our viewers were over 35. Now we’ve moved into the mass market with our views. Why’s that? Is it because simulation is becoming more mainstream? Is it because the old people don’t want to play our simulation games now? We honestly don’t know.

How has YouTube changed the way you market your games?

Barclay: Social media has completely turned the importance of the press on its head. As with any social media campaign it’s all about what people say to each other about relevant products. We don’t get any interest from IGN or GamesRadar, but we get a lot of the smaller guys and YouTubers interested. On a product like Post Master, we had 100 Let’s Plays on YouTube and that product went on to sell really well. Very often that’ll include a link to the Steam page as well.

What impact do you see VR having on the simulation genre?

Stallibrass: I was lucky enough to try the Oculus Rift back in one of its earlier machinations. I was staggered how realistic it was. Whether it will become mass market, I don’t know. If they sell 1m units at $200 then they have their cost of manufacturing down, which means the next version will be cheaper and they’ll sell more. Eventually it’ll become a mass market product. The team behind Euro Truck Simulator think it’s fantastic as it’s very immersive. I’m sure if it becomes a large enough proportion of the market, then our simulations will follow it.

What’s next for Contact Sales?

Stallibrass: We’re very lucky with our distribution partnerships at Dovetail and Merge, and we hope to continue working with them. We’re not looking for more distribution work, but what we are looking for is to increase our own IP. That is the way forward, you have to own your own IP. Look at some of the businesses that have gone bust recently. They haven’t owned their own IP, and a lot of people have moved into the console market. In that sector, if you don’t sell every single unit that you make you are likely to lose money. The cost of goods is so high. Console isn’t here for the long term. PC is so much more flexible. Everyone has a PC.

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