In the wake of news that Cambridge's huge developer Jagex is to move into third party publishing with MMO War of Legends, Develop spoke with CEO Mark Gerhard about the studio's plans.
While the RuneScape company is keeping details about the developer of War of Legends very close to its chest, it had planty to say about its decision to broaden its remit, and why it is positioned as 'the developers publisher'.
Develop: What were your motivations behind moving into third party publishing in this way?
Mark Gerhard: We do things very differently at Jagex in terms of the way we run the company, with our proprietary tech, and our business model and so on. We’d had to forge this road anyway, and even though we’re out of our comfort zone, we wanted to take what we’ve done beyond our own product.
We know how hard it is for a talented studio to start up and get out there, and we really want to help other people come to market. We definitely want to position ourselves as 'the developer's publisher'. Working with these guys on War of Legends, we didn’t really look at it and say “this will suit contractual terms”. The first thing we did was play the game and say "We like this game. This is something we would of built". We've spent the last half-year or more actually working with them to make the game even better, before we actually do publish it.
The developer has actually got a game out in Asia already. Just because that game is successful there I don't think that it will translate necessarily well to the Western market. We understand that, so we worked quite a bit with them ‘culturalising’ War of Legends and now I think the game is there. This whole new endeavor, if you will, is really something we're looking to gear up. We're looking to find more talented studios that are looking to get into the online space, and bring them to market.
And what positioned you to leap into publishing?
What we've seen is that not only do we have an epic sized community that enjoys Runescape and our other games such as the Fun Orb titles, but with our iPhone title Bounce Down that shot up to number one in the charts, and with our Golden Joystick awards success, I think Jagex is making an enormous amount of good noise.
At the end of the day it is only going to work with great games. You've go to have great games, over good marketing. Even if you market the hell out of something, if it isn't great people aren't going to tell their friends about it. We've always worked on that basis just as we are today. We're still looking for good content, and stuff that is worthy to fit our criteria, and align that with our online strategy.
So you say you’re planning on more third-party publishing?
Absolutely. We're really trying to gear this up. We're actually trying to build a complete division out of it. War of Legends isn't even built around our tech or our platform. It's Flash based and has got a Microsoft.net back end, which is very different to our own technology.
Jagex is in many ways defined by how far you take the notion of proprietry tech, and right down to the byte level, you’ve created you’re own platform. How does that gel with publishing the work of another developer?
Our Jagex team of course know, and see the advantage of our own tech, and it gives us this scaleability having our own platform, but equally we don’t want to hamstring any other partner we might be working with out there, by saying that they have to use our tech and have to be on our platform.
All we want to know is, do they have a great game? At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. That’s what matters. I fully accept that if War of Legends goes absolutely exponential we will have that conversation and say ‘Look – we can scale this for you, and let’s talk about version two’, but until then I’m very happy to work with what they’ve got. The primary criteria is ‘Do they have an online game and a game that’s good?’ and if they do then the rest is just details.
And what have the challenges been in taking on War of Legends?
Internally we control all our own deadlines and talent, and we can move them around on a penny if we need to or if the opportunity presents itself. In terms of a publishing relationship, at the end of the day, it is their content; it is their game. We’re partnering with them to make sure that they build the best game possible, but they control the quality of the product, they control the assets, the delivery and everything else.
We are all gamers though, and I think real gamers all speak the same language anyway, and I think that’s great, and that even helped transcend the language barrier, working with an Asian partner.
We haven’t found it that difficult though, and not as difficult some may have, but that’s down to the quality and professionalism of the guys we’re working with. These guys are hot.
So the team fit well with the approach and atmosphere of Jagex?
Absolutely. That’s it. They understand us and we understand them, and again the beauty of this is that when we first saw them and what we have we said ‘You guys are just like Jagex'. That meant we really wanted to work with them. They have the DNA of a good company.
Publishing a browser game is very different from traditional publisher. How does the model you have in place work in terms of maintaining and running the game?
All of this is going to live inside our infrastructure, and be handled in house. In fact, that highlights the other thing we bring to the table as a publisher. Being commercially competent and experienced as a developer means we can be a real partner, rather than leaving them to handle everything.
What are you future plans with regard to War of Legends and publishing?
For us, right now we’re just watching it with great interest as it’s our first published title. Having said that there’s a few more in the pipe for this year, not to mention our own products.
The main message we really want to get out there is that we’re looking to do this on a bigger scale. We’re looking to work with more people and help more people. We don’t have a commercial team of 50 people, so we’re pretty much going to be relying on people coming to us and saying ‘We’ve got this really great game. Do you want to check it out? Do you want to work with us?” If the quality of the game is good, we’ll definitely look for an opportunity.
The main thing is that for developers looking for a publisher that understands development themselves, Jagex will probably be a great partner, and a great choice out there.