INTERVIEW: Marek Tyminski/Jon Goddard, City Interactive

City Interactive got a taste of the big time last year with Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and now it wants more. We talk to Marek Tyminski and Jon Goddard about the experience…

When you appointed Jon Goddard to your team, you stated that you were ‘repositioning’ City and following through with aggressive plans. What are these plans and why do them?

We started as a budget games developer and publisher in 2002. Since that time things have changed, and you saw that last year when we released Sniper: Ghost Warrior on Xbox 360 and PC. In 2008 we said we didn’t want to be a budget video game publisher anymore and we underlined that with Sniper. You can expect much more quality content this year and beyond.

Did the success of Sniper change your ambition at all?

Definitely. It was a huge success for us. It sold very well in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, so almost everywhere. And that just proved that we were right in what we were thinking in terms of strategy, product portfolio and where we want to go. And how we can succeed on an international scale. Of course we didn’t expect that relatively large success. It just means we are ready for more, much more than what we had last year. We have got used to this new situation very quickly.

This is a question many in the industry will want to know the answer to:How did you do so well with Sniper?

It’s not that easy. There is a number of factors you have to consider when launching a first-person shooter, and we did very well with those decisions. Quality-wise we met the expectations of mainstream consumers and the proof of that is in the sales, which were steady – there wasn’t a huge number of sales for a few days and then a sudden drop. We had a situation on Sniper where it stayed on the charts for a long time. It is a very good basis for the potential success of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, which we want to make more successful than the prequel.

We’ve had new dawns for City Interactive in the past. What is so different this time?

First of all our companies were hit by the economic crisis just like everyone else in this industry. That was unfortunate for us. We made a lot of good decisions and made good progress on several fields, but in other areas we didn’t progress and made some poor decisions. It’s common that when you are making such large expansion you will get some decisions right and some not. But I think it was the economy that had the biggest impact as to why we had to first grow and then reduce, regroup, and now finally grow again.

The major difference now compared to 2007 when we had our IPO and we wanted to grow rapidly to deliver on our promises to investors, is that now we are quite different in terms of the quality and potential of our content and the league we are playing in.

Poland managed quite well during the economic downturn. Did that fact not help your business?

The economic situation was bad around the world. Poland had a much better situation than most of the other countries, but unfortunately for us our major sales are across Western Europe and the United States. So although Poland wasn’t influenced that much by the crisis, we were.

So what is the end goal for City Interactive? How far does this ambition reach?

We want to be a larger player in the industry, in digital, at retail, on consoles, on handhelds and that includes iOS and smartphones.

What are you investing in to grow the business?

We are investing in building new studios and growing studios we already have. We currently have six studios, five in Poland and one in the UK in Guildford. But we are seriously considering opening new studios, and soon we will be able to announce it.

We are also growing the current studios that we operate. Every studio we have has an open recruitment processes running. Every studio will be growing over the next year or two. And apart from that we are also seriously looking at working with third party developers. We see an opportunity to get a lot of products into our pipeline from all different spectrums, so 360, PS3, PC, handhelds, iOS and online games. I think the online, free-to-play model is an area we would like to have a presence.

And you’ve been investing in technology, too. You’ve recently secured CryEngine 3 and Unreal.

Yes, we made an agreement with Crytek to bring the CryEngine to two of our products. It is a natural step forward in building bigger, better games, and CryEngine is a great platform. We have also licensed the latest Unreal Engine from Epic for another game of ours that is out early next year. So we are working with the best technology out there and that’s a natural way of building the business.

What response did you have to the games you showed at E3?

Yes, very good. I think Jon could perhaps say more.

Jon Goddard, Global PR and marketing manager: There is a great deal of interest in Sniper 2, primarily because of the technology. We are going to be the first, full-priced, packaged product that uses CryEngine that isn’t a Crytek game. So there is a focus on it to see what the engine can do. We are working closely with Crytek to maximise that relationship and make people more aware that we are going to be implementing the latest CryEngine upgrades into our game. People recognise that the first game was a success, and the core mechanic was a lot of fun and it did a lot of things right. We took it on the chin elsewhere, but we are learning and these are things we will be implementing into the sequel. It is a learning curve.

For Combat Wings, the response has been extremely positive. It’s an interesting game because there aren’t many titles like that. There are other arcade flying games, just not so much in the WWII space anymore. It has that fun, up close and personal, almost FPS gung-ho mentality applied to a flight game. It seems to have really excited people who have come by to see it.

What are the expectations for Sniper 2?

Marek Tymiski: We want to make Sniper 2 bigger than Sniper 1, and that game is approaching 1.5m units. I think it is just a matter of time before we break 2m units sold across three platforms. That is our benchmark and we want to hit that soon after the release of Sniper 2. We know how to do it. It’s not to say it will definitely the case, I think we will most probably sell significantly more than the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior. And we have solid plans to support that.

Goddard: The PS3 version of Sniper 1 has only just shipped in North America and it’s done extremely well in the UK and across Europe, in fact.

Tymiski: Very strong. It was No.1 in Germany for many weeks.

Goddard: And if you read the critical reception to it, it is scoring significantly higher than the Xbox 360 and PC versions. It is still the old technology and the old design, but we had time to refine things and improve the areas that worked.

In what way is the UK market significant to City Interactive?

Tymiski: It is very important, of course. The UK market is currently the second largest market for us in terms of sales.

So when can we expect you to open a UK office?

Tymiski: It’s a good question. Hard to answer. The sooner the better.

What did you make of the new announcements at E3. What did you think of Wii U and PlayStation Vita?

Tymiski: We’d like to have our titles up and running on these platforms, hopefully soon, if not at launch. They are definitely interesting platforms and we want to be part of that field as well. It is a natural expansion for us to be on these as well.

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