Over five years ago, three industry professionals turned up to MCV's offices with a laptop and a pre-prepared speech.
These men - including current CEO Paul Sulyok and founding director David Clark - pitched to us their new online business: a PC digital retailer called Green Man Gaming.
We were sceptical. We had sat through a number of pitches by companies threatening to take down Steam by that stage, but GMG were different. They already had publishers (26 by launch) and games (500 initially) on-board and, what's more, it was offering gamers the chance to trade-in their digital games.
It was certainly a unique concept and we left that meeting thinking to ourselves: ‘You know what? Maybe these guys could make it.'
Five years on, it is selling some 5,000 titles from over 350 companies. It has its own social network that it uses to gain insight into consumer behaviour. It is even now publishing its own games.
The original idea behind Green Man Gaming was hatched at a Golden Joystick Awards event when a number of us were considering where the industry was going,” Green Man Gaming founder and CEO Paul Sulyok tells MCV.
The thought of creating an online iTunes-style store mixed with an eBay exchange model for digital games was lodged in my mind. If anyone could build a digital store that would also offer a trade-in service [former EVP of engineering] Lee Packham could. And he did.”
When Green Man Gaming was first announced, there were sceptics (including us). But it turns out the industry at large were excited about Green Man Gaming's offering.
The first Green Man Gaming HQ was the smallest office you could ever imagine,” Sulyok says. From there, armed with only a handful of industry contacts, we launched. We set off networking and the response from those publishers that were eager to leverage more out of the digital landscape was incredibly supportive.
Suddenly, we were a real commercial entity. And it wasn't long before a whole line of triple-A publishers and industry publications were keen to work with us.
Even though I sincerely believed in our aims, seeing sales flooding in on the live sales dashboard was confirmation that we had got it right, and the sentiment from gamers about what we were trying to do was a massive boost.
In business, you spend a long time making sure that the thing you are building works, but it's easy to get sidetracked, lose sight of, or even forget to keep making sure there is a true demand and desire for your product.”
"The very nature of Green Man Gaming
is to always be pioneering and
disruptive within games."
Paul Sulyok, Green Man Gaming
And since those early days, Green Man Gaming's focus has shifted somewhat. Now the business is largely centred around the Playfire social network it acquired in 2012.
This gives the retailer data and insight into consumer behaviour, and informs the firm's decisions.
When we acquired Playfire in 2012, it wasn't a shift in focus but another string to our bow,” Sulyok explains. Building communities, and giving consumers reasons to stay engaged is crucial to any retailer where relationships with customers are built solely online.
Our aim has always been to go beyond a sale, and Playfire allows us to connect to our audience at the very point where they live their lives and chat about games online. We're not just about the retail offer. Playfire offers us data that helps to drive our digital strategies and directly impacts operations, which is vital to the business.
Giving our customers the option of tracking in-game activity, and creating a space where they can compare and discuss titles, compile want lists, read special features around product launches or go behind-the-scenes with developer interviews, goes towards making sure we are delivering what they want - Playfire helps connect everything together. Add on top of that Playfire Rewards for playing games in your library and you have a very unique proposition within this industry.”
"Even though I believed in our aims,
seeing sales flooding in was
confirmation we had got it right."
Paul Sulyok, Green Man Gaming
The retailer is now taking its business into an entirely new area: games publishing.
Opening Green Man Loaded was a case of doing something positive to meet demand, at the right time,” Sulyok says. We had so many developers coming to us saying they had a great game, but needed some support marketing it or help financially getting it over the line. The one thing we know how to do, and do very well after five years I might add, is sell games.
We're not interested in making games, or taking ownership of developer's IP. We know how to overcome so many of the challenges that selling a title in the modern market brings, and we can get games out on a global scale.”
And looking to the future, where does Sulyok see Green Man Gaming in five years time?
The very nature of Green Man Gaming is to always be pioneering and disruptive within the games industry, and I will always celebrate that,” he says. Whether it's things like us launching Bitcoin when the vast majority of other games retailers are yet to adopt the currency, or creating a unified social worldwide gaming community, I hope we can always continue to lead and set an example for all digital product online retailers.
If we continue to help change the perception and value of digital gaming, then I will be happy. Green Man Gaming will become more of an integral part of the digital games conversation as we focus on expanding into some of the fastest growing markets in the world - having reached into Russia and China last year with Brazil and India later this year.
The transformation of digital economies, the increase in awareness of games as culturally important, and the range of downloadable options to access gaming will become more and more crucial to the industry, and Green Man Gaming will be leading the way in bringing those options to a worldwide audience.”
In an interview with MCV in 2011, Green Man Gaming boss Paul Sulyok told us that he had expected Green Man Gaming to primarily be a UK brand. Now 90 per cent of the retailer's business comes from overseas.
When we spoke back in 2011, we'd been operating for around a year, and I remember when we originally launched, we were going to focus on selling digital games across the UK and Northern Europe for the first 18 months,” Sulyok explains.
What we hadn't anticipated was that within the first six hours of launching, over 400 games were sold to Japan. From the very start, we had to think globally, and the internationalisation of Green Man Gaming was set about in earnest to meet that demand.
We've implemented local payment methods with local currency options, fraud prevention, taxation, and language translations that's been crucial to our growth. It's our dedication to creating a world class platform that individu