FEATURE: Rising Star and stripes

The UK publisher has kicked off 2012 with the formation of a US office and a new digital label.James Batchelor asks MD Martin Defries what this means for Rising Star

Why have you ventured into North America?
The reality is there are challenges in the European market where we’ve been publishing products for the last seven years – particularly across markets like Italy, Spain and Greece. And as a business with ambitions of growth, we have to look for commercial opportunities to replace those we’ve lost in other territories and to substitute those declines with income from somewhere else.

We were given an opportunity to take over the US publishing business of our former parent company Marvellous Entertainment, to rebrand that as Rising Star Games Inc and to build a successful subsidiary.

It’s a whole new market for us. We’re able to take products that we’ve only been releasing in Europe and deliver them to the US as well. I’m not suggesting we’re going to replace the business we’re missing here with what we get there like-for-like. But it is too good an opportunity for us to turn down.

Rising Star Games is not unknown in the US. We’re not working with a blank page before we’ve even started. Our website traffic tells us that we have visitors from the US, people are interested in what we’re doing. And forums across the internet suggest that consumers know what Rising Star is about, so we’re not an unknown property at all.

What challenges do you face in the US and how will you overcome them?
I am anxious of the sheer scale of the market and the barriers to entry that any new business has in the US. Things like administrative and legal issues, corporation tax and so on. But by taking over the existing business of Marvellous USA, we are able to hit the ground running.

More interestingly, and of more substance, is getting our products to market in the US, and that challenge we’ve overcome by attaching ourselves to an existing publishing business in the US. We’ll become a third-party affiliate label to them, which will allows us to put out Rising Star products quickly. I can’t tell you who that partner is yet, but they have strong roots into market and existing channels that will help us get up and running quickly.

By the end of the year, I hope we have used the skills of our partner to get products published, to build a profit and lay the foundations that will carry us in the years ahead.

Rising Star is known for its specialised portfolio of titles – Japanese RPGs, ‘bullet hell’ shooters, and so on. Is it a suitable line-up for the US?
I don’t agree that we’re specialised – by extension that only delivers us a limited audience. A couple of years ago, we came across with a strong marketing communication that worked for us at that time: The Home of Japanese Games”.

It’s not the case that we’re only publishing games for a core audience. The success of the two Hello Kitty titles and the Cradle of Rome series would indicate that we’ve got a broader portfolio than Cave products, SNK products and Japanese RPGs.

That tagline was useful for us. It gave us a position in the market, it gave us the ability to say quickly what we are about. To a certain extent, though, it may have pigeonholed us and given us a reputation that put is in a smaller category than the one we actually operate in. Hello Kitty is not just a game for core Japanese RPG fans, nor is the Cradle of series. We operate beyond that label we’ve been given – we’re more than just a specialist publisher.

A few years ago, you could be a specialist core game publisher and deliver to a massive retail base in the UK. Now, the retail base we have – dominated largely by supermarkets – aren’t interested in some of the games we have.We’ll launch products in the US from our portfolio that play to our strengths, be that title for core players or for a broader audience.

What will the creation of RSG Inc allow you to offer your developer and publishing partners?
It’s a broader territory package. Previously, part of our parent group was Marvellous Entertainment Group from Japan and they restricted us to the PAL or European market. So I’ve been on the edge of securing publishing deals that would have been for Europe and the US, and we’ve had to walk away. So having a US office allows us to deal with products that are available for both markets.

Along with its new US business, Rising Star has also launched a new digital division.

We already have products on PSN and Xbox Live,” says Rising Star Games MD?Martin Defries. So clearly there’s no revolution there, but this is more than a simple ‘badging’ exercise that falls in line with what everyone else is doing.

Like everyone else, we recognise the growth in these areas. But rather than race to market with an ill-thought through strategy, we’ve paused, taken stock and developed a long-term plan.

In early February, we will announce our first digital-only products that will be available through the PlayStation Store, and our first iOS-only products.

We’ve secured four iOS titles from a California-based developer. We’ll announce the first game from them in February and have it lined up for an Easter release.

We don’t think the income that we can drive from digital will replace what we are receiving from our packaged business. So it isn’t a case that we’re switching course – we adapt our course.

And it’s not that we’ve suddenly realised ‘oh hell, this digital thing is going to last, we better be a part of it’. It’s something we’ve considered for years, but without a robust strategy behind it, we weren’t going to broadcast.

What we have to do is develop a business that operates in physical and digital markets. We won’t switch off packaged and just go digital, but we won’t ignore digital because we’ve always done packaged.”

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