Two former senior Sony Liverpool producers have established independent digital publisher RebelPlay.
Leo Cubbin and Phil Gaskell previously worked with a number of leading titles and brands imbued with an indie ethos.
Cubbin worked at Liverpudlian developer-publisher Psygnosis, then, after a spell with Codemasters, went back to Liverpool to work at Sony’s studio.
He was part of the LittleBigPlanet team almost from day one and worked closely with Media Molecule to create the original game and manage the online content and community.
Gaskell also cut his teeth at Psygnosis, Warthog and mobile gaming pioneer iFone. At the time of the PlayStation 3 launch, he joined Sony Liverpool where his remit was to attract content for PlayStation network. He signed up titles such as Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation, Lemmings and House of Kings, as well as managing the Buzz franchise.
Then, last year, they both had what Cubbin calls “a water cooler moment”, when they realised they had similar views on the direction of the industry – and how a new type of publisher could fit into the emerging new picture.
And so RebelPlay was born, with Gaskell and Cubbin up front and behind the scenes investment from Paul Higgins, with a history of building successful companies in a variety of media, and Will Clarke, who founded film distribution company Optimum Releasing, which was bought by Studio Canal in 2006.
“Leo and I had both got to a stage in our careers where we knew we could continue working at Sony,” said Gaskell. “I guess you could say we were at the top of our game. But we thought we’d like to experience what it’s like to branch out and do things outside of the Sony umbrella.
“It was a difficult decision because you’re moving away from a successful corporate career, leaving behind strong franchises and taking that leap into doing your own thing.
“We realised we had very similar ambitions – and that those ambitions didn’t really match Sony’s ambitions,” added Cubbin.
“Sony obviously do a really great job, and they have a very particular strategy. Phil and I decided that our preferred strategy was something different.”
That strategy involves a few core principles. The two most obvious are remaining digital only and working with small teams, often start-ups. But there are also crucial business model distinctions.
“We’re looking at disrupting the way games are funded,” explains Gaskell.
“We won’t work to advances on royalties, we’ll pay higher royalties in general, to offer a more equitable share of the gain, and we won’t push costs to the back end of a project – we will make sure the funding is even and reliable for small or new companies that don’t want their cashflow messed about.”
Cubbin harked back to his career in the music business for an analogy: “In the mid-70s you had big publishers who dominated: EMI, CBS and what have you. And there were talented bands, but you couldn’t guarantee they would sell a million records.
“And then this whole punk and indie scene started and suddenly you got these labels that were prepared to spend not the huge amounts that A&M would spend, but a decent amount to get something that they believed in to market and it might not sell millions but it would sell hundreds of thousands; it would sell enough for
everyone involved to be happy. That brought through a load of good bands who actually did go on to sell millions of records.
“I see us as being one of those labels for the games industry. We don’t have the budget to spend what the majors have, but we’ll give developers a chance to get their games to market.”
RebelPlay has already signed two titles, but have yet to announce concrete details; only that they will appear on PSN or XBLA, or both. The first will arrive before Christmas and the second will follow next summer.
Gaskell reckons the firm can publish around eight games per year – half on console and half on smart phones, tablets or social networks.
A mini-recruitment drive is currently on the way, with developers and marketing types on the wanted list. The maximum headcount will probably be around 15.