Scotland does social gaming
New publisher Outplay's Douglas Hare on a changed industry
Brothers Douglas and Richard Hare have been in the games industry for a quarter of century with CVs boasting the likes of Virgin Interactive, The Collective and Foundation9. After a couple of decades in the US, they've now headed back to their homeland of Scotland to found social and mobile game publisher Outplay Entertainment.
With VC backing and the public support of the Scottish government, the firm hopes to eventually provide in the region of 150 jobs to the Dundee area. Just following the new firm's announcement, GamesIndustry.biz spoke to co-founder and CEO Douglas Hare about his plans for Outplay, the future of mobile/social and traditional games, and the current state of the British gaming industry.
Q: You've revealed you'll be focusing on mobile and social gaming, but can you share any sense of your long term plans?
Douglas Hare: I think product portfolio plan is really to try and not fixate particularly to begin with on any one particular model. That there's still, I believe, a lot left to understand. The story's as yet unwritten, really. There's things that are becoming popular but it's changing rapidly enough that there's still a lot of opportunity for experimental stuff. We're not hitching ourselves to any one particular monetistation strategy out of the gate we're looking at a sort of hybrid model. I think that largely our content will be free, but as to how you pay for it, there's lots of different ways you can do that which are appropriate to the type of game.
There's a tendency for the monetisation to drive the design, to the point where it becomes hard to move outside a particular design constraint, and we think that there's opportunity to do other ways of monetisation that allows for different styles of product, and for them all to co-exist. We're not out to do this type of monetisation, this type of product and that's the one that's going to be successful we think there's still room for experimentation.
Q: You're not planning on FarmVIlle and Angry Birds clones, then?
Douglas Hare: I think there's lots of room. There are types of products that have become successful and it'd be silly to not look at them and try and determine aspects to them that maybe you feel are cool and you're interested in recreating yourself, but in terms of just doing raw lists from other successful games... There's certainly quite a few Angry Birds rip-offs and there's millions of Farmville games as well. In terms of doing straightforward rip-offs of successful projects, we're not really interested. That's not our game plan. I think you can learn things from looking at those types of products but that doesn't mean you have to try and recreate them.
Q: You guys have been around the block with games, seeing the industry change an awful lot during that time as you're moving into social and mobile, how much do you feel 'traditional' gaming is over?
Douglas Hare: If you actually think about what is happening to the games industry right now, we have more people playing games now than ever before. The fact is they're playing some types of games that maybe people having been making, so I think there's pain going on right now across the board. But in the long term, in 10 years' time, 20 years' time, absolutely everyone on the planet or at least a vast percentage will have games as part of their lives. That can only ultimately be positive. I think that traditional games, huge products, they're not going away it don't think it's going to disappear I just think all we're doing is expanding the styles of offering, we're not shrinking it.
Part of our interest in doing is these games is because they're so rapid. Having started in the games industry during the early years, there's something really exciting about having small teams working on rapidly-created products. It's a very cool sort of indie vibe, but it doesn't have to be marginalised. Indie doesn't necessarily mean no success, it can be big. It can mean massively successful, and there's already examples of that. There's clearly an audience for lots of different type of product. I don't think it's the death knell for anything, I just think it's an expanding thing.
Q: How confident are you feeling, as a new publisher in a tough climate, and in a sphere which suddenly became very crowded?
Douglas Hare: The approach that we're taking is to look at this is we're not starting the company up thinking "we'll make this game, it'll be an absolute smash hit and then we'll do another one, that'll be a smash hit..." Our business model in the way we viewed it going in was to sort of assume that there's going to be quite a lot of things that don't really take off. But at the same time by virtue of learning these things and going out and trying different styles of products and the types of things that people really do like, you can slowly move towards things that are more and more successful. I think that when you look at the sort of risks associated with doing this kind of thing, relative to the potential rewards, there's never really been a better time to do this.
The cost of development is, relatively speaking, really, really low. The audience size has never really been bigger and there's no cost of goods. It's not like we have to go off and manufacture hundreds of thousands of discs and then sit and hope that they get sold. There's no massive upfront capital investment and so we think we have an approach to doing this and a strategy about allowing games to co-exist across different platforms and the types of games that we're going to create that we think has a very good chance of finding audiences. But our model isn't counting on us going out and having a hundred million users. If we end up with that, it's fantastic but we didn't build our business plan around trying to recreate stratospheric success.
I think it's a time for not really being timid. I think there's a lot of opportunity and my feeling is that quite a lot of independent or smaller developers right now are busily at work on things that will become the next big successes.
Q: You're planning on 150 employees though that sounds like quite a big investment.
Douglas Hare: 150 employees is our plan to grow to. That number is tied into the idea of a long-term plan, and when we were speaking with the Scottish government about setting up and we've got a plan over multiple years to potentially arrive at that. Now we may arrive at that number sooner, we may arrive later but we're certainly not starting a company with the expectation that we're going to hire 150. We're starting with a very small kernel of very talented people, so we can establish core tools, technologies and the strategy to test product across a number of different genres and monetisation experiments. Then once we've established that we have a successful, replicable model, and then we can grow.
Q: Have you been recruiting already, and has there been any interest from people affected by the bad news at Realtime Worlds and Bizarre?
Douglas Hare: We've only really just started recruiting. Today's first press announcement is to some extent just to make people aware that we're up and running. We're VC-backed and we're looking to hire really good people to do something hopefully pretty exciting. That's really the function of it; we've just been so finished. The move back from the US... when I did it going the other way, from Scotland to US, I was in my 20s and single and it just felt like it was no bother at all. [Laughs] But coming back again in my 40s, with a family in two, has been a lot more effort than I could have conceived. We're glad to be back though, and I think it is actually going to be an exciting future for the industry. Unfortunately there are a lot of things that are happening in it that are just unfortunate and affect a lot of people. It's not great.
Q: : Do you think Britain, and Scotland specifically, is a good place for games at the moment, having come through hard times?
Douglas Hare: : I think it's whether you have the talent does Britain have talent? And I think 'yes', it's always really punched above its weight on the world scene. There's possibly things that could be done to help nurture that talent but is it doom and gloom for the British games industry? I just don't think so. It's how it's going to pan out over the long term.
Douglas Hare is the co-founder and CEO of Outplay Entertainment. Interview by Alec Meer.