Whether it’s physical or digital sales, the divide between retailers and publishers has generally held. Yes, some publishers exclusively sell their own games digitally, but it’s hard to think of broader retail players that have made a serious effort to bring new games to market.
That makes Green Man Gaming Publishing a most intriguing outfit, and one that has some great insight into our traditionally siloed industry. Development and publishing may have been moving closer for some time, but publishing and retail is a far rarer mix.
With the recent release of its gorgeous new title, Aporia (see Speechless Noir, below), we sat down with executive vice president Gary Rowe – a veteran who has previously done stints at Sega and Codemasters – to talk about the advantages of having your desk just across the room from the people selling your games.
CROSSING THE STREAMS
“The relationship we have with the retail side of GMG is just like any other publisher. We have an account manager, he just happens to sit in the same office. We also publish our games through all numerous other digital platforms,” Rowe begins.
“It’s an interesting church-and-state relationship. We harness the power of GMG retail to really drive awareness and work with that community, and we use all the great stats and digital techniques that GMG can employ.”
That’s an enviable advantage, as Rowe explains: “GMG has sold nearly 8,000 individual titles over seven years, so we have a really good database of sales. We know roughly what ratio we are of the overall market, so when we’re looking to put together forecasts, I don’t have to rely on SteamSpy. I can look at my own data and see what performs.”
That data helps secure financing for developers, too, with GMG able to provide added security for potential investors and lenders. “We’ve analysed through our data that we think it can sell this number of units quite comfortably on this forecast, and we’re pretty accurate. They then see the product has a route to market and we put in marketing guarantees.”
Our sales window for publishing games is February to October, and we wouldn’t publish anything outside of that window. It’s too competitive.
Gary Rowe, Green Man Gaming
And, of course, there are more obvious advantages to having an in-house retail outfit: “We get a really high presence on the store – and Aporia has been on the front carousel of the store for a couple of weeks. It appears next to triple-A games, so we’ve certainly benefitted from that.”
That’s just one element of the marketing push, though, which is key if a game’s going to succeed: “It’s really important to do as much as you can to raise awareness and get your IP known – and as publishers, that’s what we worry about day-in and day-out.
“The vast majority of games that get released don’t make any money. There are very few games that do sell more than 20,000 units on Steam,” Rowe says, adding that even some massive titles only sell an average of 32,000 copies. “So if indie games can sell north of 20k to 30k, then they are doing pretty well.”
The team has been working hard for months now to bring new title Aporia to market, but Rowe tells us that “if we didn’t have all [the marketing] pushing at just the right time, in pulses on a plan moving up to launch, it would be so hard. It’s hard even with all that – we’re incredibly nervous about [its release], and about how the game is going to do.
“I think you’d be in the hundreds of units without that coordinated [marketing] push from all areas. That’s something that GMG is very good at. We have all sorts of channels. We have email that does very well for us, [paid for] performance marketing. If we have YouTube assets, we send it out socially. We have a big social network, we’re really heavily invested in PR, and we have a streamer network.”
GMG has been working with streamers and influencers over the last two years to create an official affiliate network. Rowe expands: “It’s not a free-for-all. We care about who comes onto our network. They get the opportunity to work with us on marketing promotions, and so we’ll supply them with keys and prizes to give away, supply them with codes to play. We mutually promote each other, and in return they have a ‘Buy Now’ button in a link on the bottom of their stream and they direct sales to us.”
Twitch may have been making the headlines by selling games through its streamers, but it’s obviously not the only one driving sales through these kinds of tie-ups. However, Rowe is still happy to see the streaming behemoth provide a new opportunity.
“Speaking as a publisher, every time a new channel opens up we’re delighted. The more channels, the better, the more places we can go.” More specifically around Twitch and its parent company, he says: “Amazon has huge potential to transform the digital marketplace, so we kept a very careful eye on what they are doing, and we sell our games through Amazon right now.”
We are hopefully bringing out our first console game this year. We thought it was a logical expansion.
Gary Rowe, Green Man Gaming
We ask about GMG’s strategy when it comes to picking a release date for its titles. Rowe has a simple first rule: “Our sales window for publishing games is February to October, and we wouldn’t publish anything outside of that window. It’s too competitive.”
So winter’s out for Rowe, but picking a date at GMG does have its upsides: “When we come to look at finding an actual release date for our games, we are blessed to an extent, as we tend to know as a retailer when most games are coming out.”
We suggest that others must trawl through Steam to get this data, but Rowe argues that even this doesn’t provide a clear enough picture: “Most developers will stick a date up and when they come to that date, they realise, ‘Oh my god, we’re supposed to be releasing today,’ and they’ll move it.”
Of course, poor pre-order numbers might also be the cause of such last-minute moves, but Rowe says this isn’t always the best measure of success for indie titles.
“For triple-A games, we worked on pre-order being about ten per cent of your first year sales. However, in the last year, a few high-profile games have disappointed, and people have become a lot more wary of pre-order. They are a good indicator, but if you have an indie game and a new IP, it’s different to pre-ordering Mass Effect – where you know what you’re going to get. Pre-ordering indie games takes quite a bit of commitment. We value that very highly.”
Green Man Gaming Publishing looks to be making great use of the wider business, and its next move will see the division taking on console games as well, with the publisher following suit, Rowe tells us: “We are hopefully bringing out our first console game this year. With my experience in console, having spent the bulk of my career there, and good relationships with the guys in the first parties, we thought it was a logical expansion.”
It’s not just a hunch, either, as the company already has the consumer base: “From our data, we know that 65 per cent of our customers who buy PC games from us have a frontline console, and 23 to 24 per cent have two.”
It’s a compelling story, and something of a unique selling proposition for the company’s publishing arm, too, as it’s not something any other up-and-coming publisher can offer. Valve may have moved away from publishing in recent years, but it’s clear digital marketplaces still have their advantages. As a result, we expect Green Man Gaming Publishing to make great leaps forward in the years to come.
Aporia: speechless noir
Green Man Gaming’s latest big release is Aporia (pictured above), a Danish-made title that comes with some of the sensibilities of Nordic Noir, though not at first glance. Instead, it comes through a “passion for story-telling,” executive vice president Gary Rowe tells us, that is “based around the environment, with rich complex themes and nuance.” The game started out as a post-graduate thesis on environmental story-telling and stands out due to its complete lack of speech and text (outside the initial menus). It’s “a beautiful first-person puzzle game,” Rowe adds, with an open world and multiple layered puzzles surrounding a larger mystery.