GameStop launches full publishing division and signs Ready at Dawn, Insomniac, Frozenbyte and Tequila Works

US retail giant GameStop has launched a publishing division called GameTrust.

The firm has signed new games from well-known independent studios including Ready at Dawn (The Order: 1886), Tequila Works (Deadlite, Rime) and Frozenbyte (Trine). The company also announced in March it was working with Insomniac (Ratchet and Clank) on a new game called Song of the Deep, which is due in the summer, but at the time the firm said this was a one-off project.

GameStop has since changed its tune, with VP of Internal Development and Diversification Mark Stanley telling MCV the firm is in discussion with 20 other developers.

In total, the company intends to launch between five and ten games every year.

The new publishing division acts more like a games label (think Curve, Koch, 505 Games or Team17) as opposed to EA or Activision, with developers retaining full rights to their properties and GameStop having no involvement in the creative side of development.

There is no cookie cutter offer,” explains Stanley.

Having been in the publishing part of first-party for many years [he worked for PlayStation in Latin America], there are many pieces in traditional publishing that have prevented many independent developers going down the publishing route. A lot of these included lack of creative control and the inability to make some of the game they always dreamt of making. We are trying to solve a lot of pieces there with GameTrust, and the model covers a lot of things. We can help if a developer needs funding to finish a game, or even kick-off a game.

"We may partner in a full development funding mode, or we may have a development partner who has a game that is almost finished and are just looking for someone that can treat their IP in a great way and bring it to market."

"We can help if a developer needs funding to finish a game,
or even kick-off a game."

– Mark Stanley, GameStop

He continues: Also, every IP that we are working with from these developers are smaller-scale games, it’s an area of games development that is pretty much ignored by traditional publishers… we are talking of games with development budgets of up to $15m. Publishers today really focus on the larger franchises and triple-A, where budgets are $30m and above. We are working in this sweet spot that is largely ignored, but we are treating these IPs as if they are triple-As.

We are not just going to put a disc on a peg on a shelf, we are going to treat these games as triple-A by expanding the media. As an example, with Song of the Deep we are publishing a book with Barnes and Noble, and we are also looking at potential TV and movie deals. We are also looking at putting all of GameStop assets behind the game – we will be promoting it as if it is a triple-A, if you walk into any GameStop store today, you will see Song of the Deep reservations and pre-order signage is all over the prime front part of the store.”

"With Song of the Deep, we are publishing a book
and we are also looking at potential TV and movie deals."

– Mark Stanley, GameStop

GameStop will be utilising its physical stores, its online website and its rewards scheme in an effort to push these titles – plus external above-the-line marketing activity. It is also planning to team up with its ThinkGeek division to produce merchandise before the games even launch.

The big part of the demand for independent games is coming from the gaming community, our PowerUp members of which we have 44m, have come to us and said: ‘We would like to see more and more independent games’. And these folks have been purchasing and demanding a lot more merchandise, too,” says Stanley.

Towards the middle of last year, we purchased ThinkGeek, which is a leading business for licensed merchandise and collectibles. So we are able to leverage that partnership and be able to develop very limited edition exclusive merchandise along with these IPs. For example, with Song of the Deep we are launching about eight to ten collectible SKUs. So, treating this as an entire 360 degree approach allows us to partner with each of these developers, and depending what the game and developer needs, we will create a very customisable deal with that game.”

Stanley says the firm is targeting all platforms, including VR. It can also work with mobile by utilising GameStop’s Kongregate sister business. But currently the firm wants to work with more established developers.

When Netflix was going to move into doing original series, they signed up pretty hardcore directors and impressive screenplays,” he observes.

We are taking a parallel approach. In setting up a new vertical, it is important to place bets with established developers that have similar philosophies. This first four that we are announcing, Frozenbyte, Insomniac, Ready at Dawn and Tequila Works, all have a very, very established pedigree of quality. And they all have an established pedigree in innovation. That is what is key to us, bringing innovative content to consumers. At this stage you will see us partnering with established companies, but in the future I think it is an opportunity, as we see how this things grows, that we would be able to take risks on lesser known developers that may have the potential to grow and be successful.”

"When Netflix was going to move into doing original series,
they signed up pretty hardcore directors and impressive screenplays.
We are taking a parallel approach."

– Mark Stanley, GameStop

It makes sense, at least in the US. GameStop has over 6,000 stores worldwide, and it says it will be selling these games over PSN, Xbox Live and Steam, too. The firm also has deep pockets and so can fund larger projects.

The challenge could come via its primary retail business. GameStop makes its billions by selling games supplied by Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two and the rest. By launching and funding its own titles, the firm is effectively competing with these companies.

Although there could seem to be a potential conflict of interest, this is why we have established GameTrust as a separate vertical within GameStop,” explains Stanley.

We have an existent and robust relationship with all of the major publishers, as you know, and we have a large merchandising and marketing teams that work day-in and day-out, to make sure all of the publishers’ titles are marketed, promoted and sold in the best way possible. We are talking about much smaller games here, so I don’t think there is a conflict in terms of content. We have separate teams that work out how best to develop and leverage our retail space, but we are still massively focused on our bread and butter business, which is traditional triple-A titles.”

Of course, analysts will inevitably suggest that GameStop’s publishing move is a potential game changer for the company. It’s a move that could future proof a business that some view as being over-reliant on a challenged physical games market.

"Right now that there is no big expectation
for this to be the next billion dollar business for GameStop."

– Mark Stanley, GameStop

Stanley isn’t getting

About MCV Staff

Check Also

The Building of Bastion, Part 2

After speaking to founders and former employees last issue, Richie Shoemaker sits down with three of Bastion’s johnny-come-latelies, for a view of the veteran PR agency’s more recent and soon-to-be history