“The guiding light is to be the publisher that we would dream for us to have” – Behind the scenes at Playtonic Friends

Gavin Price

Playtonic Friends is the new publishing division from Yooka-Laylee creator Playtonic. Announced in celebration of the company’s sixth birthday, Playtonic is looking to use its extensive experience in the industry to help bring “fresh, creative and compelling” games to market.

Playtonic Friends has already partnered with the likes of Awe Interactive, Fabraz and Okidokico. The company has already announced its first two titles too, 3D platformer Demon Turf from Fabraz, and is bringing Awe Interactive’s rhythm-action FPS BPM: Bullets Per Minute to PS4 and Xbox One later this year.

The publishing division was announced in February this year, and was apparently seen as a natural evolution for the studio. To find out more about that, we sat down with Playtonic studio and game director, Gavin Price.

GROW OUT TO HELP OUT

“It was a few ideas coming together,” says Price. “We knew we wanted to get to a stage where we were self publishing our games, and to do that we’d need certain teams in house. And then those people would be good to help out with other developers, who want to go on the same sort of journey we went on ourselves.

“From almost the first day we announced ourselves, people were reaching out and asking if we could help them out. We tried to do as much as we could, but it becomes a really timely exercise, and you don’t want to do anything half-baked. 

“So when we’re looking at growth opportunities for the business, and what we would be really, really passionate about… It’s helping other people make the games that we really want to see get made. Games that we want to play, and we don’t want it to just come out and be lost in the noise and not give the developer any sustainability going forward. 

“Being able to go do that is really a big passion for the team. We’ve long said to ourselves like, ‘man, it takes two to three years, probably longer to make games at the scope we’re going to be making in the future. We want to be involved in more games than just the ones we’re doing.’ It’s also just about giving ourselves even bigger backlogs of games to play that we don’t have time for!”

With this developer-first approach, it’s hard not to wonder if this is at all informed by any negative experiences with publishers in the company’s history. But according to Price, it’s quite the opposite.

“Since day one, in one of the very first meetings we had with Debbie at Team17, she asked us what our plans were for Playtonic. When we told her, she said “well great, we’d love to be the publisher that gets you to the point where you never need another publisher.” 

“The guiding light is to be the publisher that we would dream for us to have – The Carlsberg of publishing, basically.

PUBLISHER SCHOOL

With their self publishing ambitions in mind, the team at Playtonic were eager to ensure they learned as much from Team17 as possible.

“So as we worked alongside them, we didn’t just passively sit there, we were constantly – hopefully not being too much of a thorn in their side – but asking questions like ‘why do it this way? Oh, that’s interesting.’ They were very positive in that regard, they really nurtured us in the business to not only be able to take that step to self-publishing, but so that we can actually help other people, having seen the value of having a partner like that and what it can do for people.”

Beyond just the lessons they learned from Team17, Playtonic has plenty of experience from years of development – in some cases dating back to their time at Rare. Does the team feel that their development experience gives them a unique edge in publishing?

“Yeah, I think it gives us a really good USP, that as a business we’re not going into publishing as a way of driving more revenue from what we do from our own games. We’re a developer that can help people publish, we’re not a publisher that can help people develop. 

“And the guiding light is to be the publisher that we would dream for us to have – The Carlsberg of publishing, basically. To be that for someone else, to take a lot of what we liked and didn’t like in the publishing landscape. We’re trying to get ourselves and other developers into the position where all the metrics of success, all the ingredients for success are fully in your own control and no one else can derail or deviate your plans.”

While Playtonic Friends certainly won’t be looking to control your project, they will nonetheless provide development support, given their extensive experience.

“We can talk to developers and say, what worked for us, what didn’t, what we’d do differently in hindsight… It’s the advantage of being old, basically. We’ve got a company with a lot of veteran developers, we have a lot of hindsight. 

“We knew where we went wrong in making games, whether it was at Rare or Playtonic. What worked, what didn’t work, what advice should we have taken on, and what advice should we have ignored? From a business perspective now as well, we’ve become kind of addicted to making the business work as much as making the games work. There’s a lot of similar transferable skills there.”

HELPING HAND

The kind of advice that Playtonic can provide developers is something that Price feels is rare in this industry.

“There’s not enough guidance to go around from a hands on perspective, which is a shame. We’ve got some great resource articles, talks, shows and things like that. But it’s important to actually have someone who has been on that journey, been there done that, putting their arm around them and saying ‘look, this is what I’d be telling myself two or three years ago, this is what you should do.’ Take the advice or leave it, we don’t mind, we’re not precious, but if we can help we’ll do our best to.”

So with all that said, what kind of projects are Playtonic Friends drawn to? What should we expect to see coming out of the company, and what kind of game is best to pitch to them?

A game that someone is excited about making, and feels like this is going to be the next stage in our business growing for themselves. You know, something I’ve quite often said to so many people, like first time out, don’t try and make your dream game, believe it or not. There’s a level of ambition where people realise often ‘wow, we were trying to do too much too soon.’ They’ll build up to that over time, but we meet some partners and they just know what they’re doing.

“There’s no remit for what type of game we’re looking for. Is it a game we think is great? Is it a game we think we can actually help, and be a good partner to the developer for? Whether it’s a horror game, it could be racing, it could be cartoony, it could be realistic. We’re not out there to close down our opportunities for who we could help. 

“We meet massive amounts of developers, and we try to work out: ‘who do we think we’re a good fit for?’ Our publishing strategy isn’t lots of lots of time in acquisitions, running them through the factory. We’re purely up in that bespoke service, meeting developers and asking them what they need from a partner. If we’re able to fix those boxes, great. We should keep talking. If we’re not, we’re not. It’s about more than just the game itself.”

Fabraz’s Demon Turf

DEMON TURF

Which segues nicely into Playtonic Friends’ relationship with the developer of its first game, Demon Turf, from Fabraz. A lot about the upcoming 3D platformer already feels like a good fit for Playtonic, but Price stresses that the partnership was born out of mutual admiration.

“Two things spring to mind with Demon Turf,” says Price. “One, it’s a 3D platformer, and obviously 3D platforming has a place in our heart. We kind of just spotted it, because we thought it was doing something really interesting in the art style. It’s this mixture of these 2D, sprite-based characters moving around this 3D world.

“And then the more we learned about the game, we realised that the structure of the game is really really interesting as well. That’s something you don’t get from a screenshot or a video on social media. So then we looked at who was developing it and we were like ‘Oh, my goodness, it’s Fabraz! These guys are great!’  I couldn’t believe it, these guys have really been around and made a great name for themselves. So of course we wanted to work with them. 

“We felt we should meet them and find out if they’re absolutely horrible, or really really nice guys. That’s one of the best things about the job. You meet so many developers, and 99% of people who you meet are absolutely amazing. And Fabraz are the nicest of the nice, like Topgun’s Maverick and Iceman, they’re in that group. 

“These guys are so positive about everything they do in the game, around the game marketing-wise, ideas… We knew we wanted to work with each other.. They were big fans of ours, we’re big fans of theirs… We were just fanboying at each other. From what started as us, as gamers, liking what they’re doing technically and in the art of their game, it just snowballed into just ‘we really want to work with you guys.’ We couldn’t be happier.”

This happy marriage is set to be followed by further announcements – Playtonic Friends has just recently announced that they’ll be bringing Awe Interactive’s BPM: Bullets Per Minute to PS4 and Xbox One later this year, and there’s that partnership with OK Golf developer okidokico to keep in mind too. 

And to be clear, Playtonic absolutely hasn’t abandoned its own development projects. In fact what shines through Price’s enthusiasm for meeting other developers is his love for game creation in general. 

“I think people are maybe concerned that we’re losing our focus on development, and we’re not. This is an entirely new publishing team. Our developers, they’re still doing what they do best, which is coming up with weird scenarios for colourful characters in different genres.”

On which note, Price leaves us with one final tease…

“What people haven’t heard yet, what’s coming down the road… Well, I don’t want to be too clickbaity!”

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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