Since then the site has been gradually added more content, and relaunched last week with a new look. Here, Payne outlines some of the challenges in the digital download space, and explains why Get Games is approaching the market from a slightly different angle.
Q: So where did the idea for Get Games come from?
Andy Payne: In essence, the lead was that there were a lot of indie people contacting us through different means trying to find a place to sell their games - good or bad. That was the headline - that there was no real place outside of Steam, and indies just couldn't get a voice.
Of course, they couldn't get their products into Hight Street retail, whether at specialist, grocer, or even Amazon. There was a real issue there in terms of getting product out - XBLA was at a reasonable point in its development, and PSN a little bit behind, but we felt that the PC as a platform that people could just pick up and get on with was a viable platform for content creators.
Q: The site's been live for a while in a beta phase, and initially launched with a single game - the Serious Sam promotion. How did that go? Were you pleased with the results, and was it the right thing to do at that point?
Andy Payne: Good question - it was an indie product, somebody we knew and somebody that wanted us to help them. So we did that. Were the results as good as we expected? Well, we didn't actually know what to expect. Looking back on it, it did rather well for us - because there was only one other outlet to buy it from (Steam), we priced it as well as they did, and we put a special offer out to the Eurogamer network.
We got some people buying it, which was cool, but that was the initial offering of the business, and obviously after that we needed to get more content, real quick.
Q: After that, and for a while now, there's been more product on the site - varying levels of games at different price points.
Andy Payne: That's all to do with the content owners - whether developers, publishers or somebody else - effectively having faith in us as a business. So stage two, after we'd decided to build this platform, was making sure we'd got content for the platform - which is really a logistical and confidence issue.
We had to use our contact and business reputation at Mastertronic - and at Eurogamer - to go and put ourselves in front of content owners large and small. So from EA and Activision, down to Terry Kavanagh, a one-man developer. We had to go and make the case for them to trust us with their content in front of the customer base we're building.
Our challenge is to make sure we've got plenty of content, and that we price it competitively. And within that you need to constantly add and refresh it - which is quite a task to undertake, because business owners are fairly sizeable organisations... and the legal complexity of those deals is fairly unprecedented.
So you find yourself in a business environment where you're pitching to somebody who's in charge of the digital section, or in marketing, or a product manager - because the skill levels aren't yet necessarily defined - and those are fairly easy discussions.
You then get into the contract stage - and it's always somebody else's contract... because the one we've got is perfectly good, but it's not their contract. You've got to get through that stage - and that could take hours, days, weeks, months or years, and that's a business challenge that we're getting over as we start to move forward.
Q: It's breaking new ground in a lot of ways - but it's more complex than dealing with High Street retail, that's what you're saying?
Andy Payne: It is more complicated than High Street retail, and there are a lot of things that people haven't thought about yet - though they should be. So the customer's right of return - how does that work? At the moment it doesn't really work, because the consumer - if you look at the licensing agreement you have with the IP owners - is only buying the license to play the game.
So what we've decided to do at Get Games is treat consumers with a bit of fundamental respect - if they don't like what they've got, we'll give them their money back. Of course, the danger is that you'll get people just using you as a lending service, so you've got to put systems in place to prevent that.
Q: So the Get Games site has just relaunched - but how do you market digital services effectively? There's been some marketing to the Eurogamer readership, but is Google the gatekeeper?
Andy Payne: Well, first of all, we haven't marketed to the Eurogamer readership as much as you might imagine, because we haven't until now had the offering that we really want as a business. That's now changed - but in reality the website's going to be changing the whole time, a constant evolution.
But that's the first step in the marketing - to talk to the Eurogamer audience, now we've got something that's up to the standard they'd expect. Secondly that's going to be a factor of more content, and coming behind that is making sure we've the positioning right. So there's a lot of technical work we need to do to make sure that people's eyes see different things depending on what they want - that's a challenge, but we're comfortable we can meet that, it'll just take a bit of time to make sure we have the right variety.
In terms of simply bringing more people to the site, then yes - Google Adwords is a big area, and we'll spend some time and money doing that. We've hired Andy Wingrave to run that - he knows his stuff.
Q: I've spoken to people that have strong relationships with Valve because they make very high profile PC games - but even they sometimes struggle to get on that platform now. It's getting harder - and let's not beat around the bush, but it's because they're successful.
Andy Payne: It is getting much harder - and if we do our job, then some time in the future, we'll be in exactly the same position.
Q: But does that play into your hands in the short term, and push people your way?
Andy Payne: It does, and it gives us the opportunity to fight back. Steam is the market leader, the gold standard - and there isn't really a silver or bronze standard in my view. There are a number of companies that do this - people like Metaboli, Direct2Drive, GamersGate, Good Old Games, Get Games and one or two others.
Some are well funded; some are well funded but coming to the end of that funding; some are very good ideas - but the bottom line is that it requires a lot of resource to do this properly. If you look at Steam they've got technology, content and the gold standard. We can only aspire to that, but we can exist in the same ecosystem. We're one of the few - if not the only one - who actually tells our content providers that even if their product ships with Steamworks, we'll still sell it.
We know full well that as soon as we've sold the product that effectively that customer has now gone over to Steam - they don't necessarily have to buy from Steam, but people in general can be pretty lazy, so if Steam has the same price and it loads up on their PC when they kick off...
Q: It reminds me of a conversation I once had with Creative Labs and their mp3 business - when asked if they hated Apple's sector dominance, they replied absolutely not, because they'd sold many more units thanks to the higher awareness of mp3 players than if the iPod had never existed at all...
Andy Payne: And Steam is giving core and casual gamers alike - probably more core - a very good, very convenient technological solution, and demonstrating how much pleasure there can be when it comes to buying things digitally. The immediacy, the snacking, the pricing - and not having to trek down to the shops... a lot of people don't want to do that.
Q: Talk us through some of the newer clients.
Andy Payne: In terms of the people that have come on recently, we've got Codemasters and Ubisoft, and should have some other big players on soon. SEGA's been on there for some time. There are about 150 games on the site now, give or take.
Q: As more and more games become available, while there's infinite shelf space, of course there's not infinite visibility, so how do you meet that challenge?
Andy Payne: I think we have to ensure that we're doing the best by our partners, ourselves and our consumers. If we've simply got a system that puts you on the front page when you're new, but two days later you go to the back, and something else new goes in its place, that's not really going to work for everybody.
What we'll be doing with our partners, who own the IPs, is to work out a strategy of promoting - and not just through price - via genre, developer, or customer profile a certain type of game. A retrospective now and again doesn't do any harm - that might be price- or cluster-driven.
We've got a number of developer focuses lined up - an Indie Developer Arcade, which is a place for Indies to put their products where they're not going to be overshadowed by mainstream products. As a consumer you can just go in there and have a look around, and that's distinctly different from the heavyweight products.
We'll be linking those through, looking at rising stars - what could be today's indie might be tomorrow's Valve, or something like that. But we'll be engaging the customers in an editorial way, and that's where the links with Eurogamer can really start to come through.
Andy Payne is MD of Get Games. Interview by Phil Elliott.