Digital retailer Green Man Gaming has been involved in games publishing for four years now, but David Clark, MD of Green Man Gaming Publishing, tells MCV that “now is the time to push forward.
“2019 will see us become increasingly bolder with the partnerships we enter into and the platforms we publish on – including console,” he reveals. “We will have a strong focus on investing further in the publishing arm of the business which will see us become more aggressive in the market.”
We talked to Green Man Gaming last year about its publishing arm, but since then Gary Rowe has moved onto Curve Digital, and Clark is heading things up. He’s not new to the business, though. In fact he was part of the 2009 launch team, returning full-time from a period running his own consultancy.
NOT SO GREEN
The obvious question is just why it has taken so long for the publishing arm to find its feet within the retailer. Clark tells us: “The synergies on paper match up quite nicely, it’s certainly something that you can exploit. But in practice a retailer marches to a completely different beat to a publisher. A publisher works in fairly long cycles whereas a retailer is coming out to sell whatever is hot at the moment… bam bam bam.
“And so one of the things that we’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years is actually put in place a method by which the two can sit comfortably together and deliver on that promise,” he explains.
In short it’s a matter of taking the business units of the retailer and making them more flexible, more able to serve the publishing business.
“The design team has had to learn a new approach, as it’s far more brand orientated than on the retail side, where you’re taking existing artwork and repurposing it for the store,” Clark says. “Then we’ve got a media buying team. And again the buying requirements for a retail store are slightly different to those of a publisher. I’m more interested in establishing a brand identity, whereas a retailer is largely about conversion.
“If I was a small publisher, the chances are that they’re using external marketing and design agencies in some way shape or form. Here, those are my external agencies, right there,” he says pointing across the busy office. “So that’s why it’s taken so long to kind of dovetail all right together.
“I’ve got a team of people that’s bigger than most other publishers out there, there’s a hundred people in this office. I can leverage that, there’s not many publishers of that size.”
It’s an enviable resource of manpower for what could be considered a ‘small’ publisher. Clark gives us a recent example.
“We took on a title over the summer called Destination Primas Vita, out of Canada. Now we picked up the title around two weeks before it was due to launch. So there was very little we could do with it [in terms of marketing]. But instantly we were getting it on to our emails out to our customer base and instantly our social media team was working on it. And I was able to implement, albeit a brief, marketing spend even.”
Of course, the key difference is that the publisher can draw upon the retailer’s experience and data, through its business intelligence team.
“What truly makes us unique in the market is our ability to offer industry expertise and insight by leveraging Green Man Gaming’s store and community data as well as marketing and trading experience,” Clark tells us.
“Green Man Gaming Publishing can draw on eight years of retail data – we know what has sold, how many copies have sold, what price it has sold for and where in the world it has sold,” Clark proudly explains. Plus it has considerable Steam data as well: “Currently 210,000 people have given us access to their accounts.” Effectively it’s the company’s own Steam Spy.
“I would argue that actually the data that we got is a better reflection of the gaming ecosystem than just about anybody else in the industry. We’re monitoring sales and our sales data covers the likes of Steam DRM, Ubisoft’s DRM... In fact we’ve got 14 different DRM platforms on the site at the moment.”
So how does he use that data to choose the projects he signs up, and how much of it is down to good old-fashioned experience? After all, predicting the desires of the industry two years in advance is an art not a science.
“I’ve always said that video games are as much about fashion as anything else and, as with the music industry, you’re always taking a guess on what’s popular tomorrow. You can map trends but you can never know for sure. So ultimately the final decision is a gut decision. The bottom line is still: ‘Is the game fun?’ And that is actually often remarkably ignored,” Clark says.
“You don’t base your business around the data, but the data helps you to develop your business. So our decision-making process, while data always has its limitations, is arguably better than anything that anybody else can come up with.”
TAMING THE BEAST
With that advantage, Clark is bullish about why developers should talk to him: “There’s a thousand and one self-proclaimed publishers out there. But what a developer should be looking for in a publisher is something different. What is it that sets them apart?
“Whenever I go out to any one of these ‘meet the developer’ sessions, I always say to those guys that it’s a bit like buying a house. You’re walking through the door and you know whether you like the property or not. Instantly. And it’s the same with choosing a publisher.
“They’ve got to offer something different, something unique, because that’s what separates them. It could be that they specialise in a particular genre for instance.”
He name-checks Team17’s experience with development and the unified style of Devolver’s releases.
“Green Man Gaming’s point of difference is we’re part of a retail beast. We can better help developers benchmark their titles and give them some sales forecasting, give them a better indication of what will happen with price over time. We know what sells, where it sells, when it sold and at what price it sold.”
And that figure is made crystal clear: “It’s that £19 or £24 price point. I think, maybe as we go down our journey, the £29 price point might become feasible, particularly if we go onto console,” Clark says.
“The sweet spot I think is £19.99 for now. It’s the slightly more established indie games. We’ve moved away from them when we first started dabbling – you know, the small one-man or two-man developed games. Now we’re moving into games developed by bigger teams, say around ten people.”
The company is in no hurry to pigeon-hole itself into a certain style or genre of games as many indie, or boutique, publishers have.
“A publisher needs to have an identity, even if that evolves over time,” Clark says. “The definition of an identity varies significantly – Green Man Gaming Publishing currently sees itself as a publisher of mid-core indie games.
“We have to sit under the parent brand identity and we’ve got to be part of that story. But at the same time I think we need our own identity as well and our own identity will be ultimately dictated by the type of games that we put out.”
That may be the one downside of an otherwise beneficial relationship, as the Green Man Gaming brand will always be seen primarily as a ‘sell it all’ retailer, meaning the publishing arm might labour to establish itself in its own right. The company’s most compelling title to date is Stormworks: Build and Rescue, published in February this year, which let players design and pilot their own sea-rescue vehicles, in a dramatic physics playground. With retail data and a big consumer community, plus marketing and PR expertise, the publishing business certainly has a good platform to build from.
“In summary, Green Man Gaming can deliver a totally unique package to our development partners,” states Clark. “We would encourage developers of all persuasions to contact us to present their game and to learn more about how we operate and could possibly work together.”