The VPs of Southpeak's digital spin-off discuss how to make a mark in an increasingly aggressive market
Splintering out of Southpeak, new Texas-based publisher 7Sixty will focus on the firm's digital portfolio. Already announced for the new label is upcoming strategy sequel Stronghold 3 for PC, but 7Sixty plans to release titles for download on all the major platforms.
Here, GamesIndustry.biz chats to the new publisher's VP of publishing Leslie House and VP for interactive entertainment Jeff Hutchinson about why Southpeak created it, who's calling the shots, what being a publisher in the digital age means and how developers are taking to the new label.
Q: Why start a new publisher now?
Jeff Hutchinson: Really, the point is that the industry is changing quite a bit. We've seen that with the growth of the digital side of the business. The packaged goods, retail market is still very strong, but we see this other section of the business that really has opportunities. In order to take advantage of these opportunities we really felt that we had to create its own label and its own team to support this digital business. As you know, a lot of the modelling is a little bit different - from the monetisation to how you market, you know your PR aspect, even development and the types of games, with freemium games and other types. So the thought was we developed this team that really brings in the resources needed to focus on the digital side. 7sixty will have various types of games, but they're all going to have some kind of digital aspect to them.
Q: And you'll go across all platforms you can, not be a PC-specific firm?
Leslie House: Right. One of the great things about having a digital strategy along with the retail boxed products is that we can develop a longer life on these products, and they can have a closer relationship with the consumers at the end of the day. We can learn more about the people playing them and develop games that are closer to what the consumers are looking for in terms of gameplay and their daily lives. One thing that's happening is gameplay's becoming part of lifestyle and that's the thing that is driving us. We want to be part of that lifestyle, wherever people are playing.
Gameplay's becoming part of lifestyle and that's the thing that is driving us. We want to be part of that lifestyle, wherever people are playing
Leslie House, 7Sixty
Q: What is the nature of the relationship to Southpeak? Are you an entirely separate company in both practical and financial regards?
Jeff Hutchinson: At this point, Southpeak really made the initial investment in 7sixty, and that is getting us off the ground. We are going to be using Southpeak for distribution as needed for any retail boxes - i.e. A PC game that has a retail aspect as well as the digital aspect. So we will be pretty much an affiliate label that will roll up under the Southpeak umbrella. That's the initial thought. But the plan is they basically gave us the initial investment to get started, but we are now pretty much responsible for our own internal P&L, so what we come out with will be used to help capitalise additional products etcetera. So we're under the umbrella, but we're treating it internally as pretty much a standalone label.
Q: So you have freedom of movement? They're not going to turn up and say 'no, that's a crazy idea, you can't do that one?'
Jeff Hutchinson: There will be discussions, but they're giving us leeway to really explore which projects make sense. As with any project, you're going to run your own P&L and see what the cash flow is, and what the return on investments is going to be. So there will be discussions, but for the most part with Leslie and her expertise and my own they're giving us some leeway to really greenlight some of the projects.
Q: Where did you both come from before this? Were you originally part of Southpeak or have you been brought in specifically for 7sixty?
Leslie House: I actually was not part of Southpeak originally - I was recruited for some special projects and this became one of them. I came from Vivendi Universal Games and before that Knowledge Adventure and Sierra. So, it's a long pedigree. And eventful. Mostly eventful. [Laughs].
Leslie House: I've been in the industry for 18 years. I started off with Capcom, and at that point I moved over to Sony right when they were launching the first PlayStation. I played different roles at Sony, but I was there for about 12 years and then I joined a sales rep organisation that worked with various publishers - Southpeak being one of them at the time, along with a number of other ones. So that's where I had an association with Southpeak as a sales rep, but as they started to get 7sixty rolling, I was pretty much recruited to come over and work on it.
Digital is becoming very competitive, and that's why having a label that helps independent developers become more aggressive and more competitive in this rapidly growing space is really important
Leslie House, 7Sixty
Q: How have existing Southpeak partners whose games have been moved to 7sixty reacted to it? I think Firefly's the only one we know about, but presumably there are more?
Leslie House: They seemed to be quite on-board with it. Most of the partners that we're talking to are very, very excited about the focus, which is what we're able to offer through 7sixty - that being on building franchises and not just coming in for opportunity plays. So most developers are really excited about the potential of developing franchises across multiple platforms again, which is starting to emerge as a real possibility and opportunity. So far everyone that we've spoken to has been very, very positive about it, including Firefly.
Leslie House: I think one benefit that Firefly and other developers that we're speaking with have is that they recognise that there is an infrastructure growth that will be dedicated to the digital side of the business, which actually just benefits them. There will be more resources, in the analytics side, in the marketing, so they not only welcome it but they really applauded it because they see that it's just going to benefit their success with their products.
Q: They're comfortable about their games being seen primarily as digital products, then? In some corners, there can be a perception that digital-only means smaller somehow 'lesser' games than retail.
Leslie House: I think that's changing a lot too, that thought that it's less spectacular. Certainly, if you're participating on PSN or XBLA the games, the demand that's coming up on them, is just increasing over time. That's true also on all of the mobile platforms as well. It's becoming very competitive, and that's why having a label that focuses on this, that helps independent developers really become more aggressive and more competitive in this pretty rapidly growing space is really important. So we're stressing quality, and that's one of the big things that we're communicating to all of our publishers and hopefully to the consumers as well as we branch out and talk to them.
Q: There's a lot of discussion that, in this increasingly digital age, there's not the need for a publisher in the same way anymore. Does that effect how much you push yourself as a full-on label?
Leslie House: I think the one thing really is there are some very, very talented developers out there and yes, they could absolutely self-publish. But there are so many things that go into creating a franchise or a line-look. Look, we're all gamers, we love getting games, and we want these developers to focus on getting these great games. There are some very time-consuming things in launching a game successfully. You've got to through all the press releases, you've got to do the QA steps, you've got to localise properly - a lot of things that take them away from things that they love doing, and their passion which is development. For all the people who don't want to go through these steps, that's where 7sixty is able to leverage those aspects of the business. I think that there is a place for someone like 7sixty to work with these independent developers and really help them maximise their games by handling a lot of these things that really would take time away from them doing what they love.
Q: What's the business model, from a developer's point of view? A revenue split, or will you be contracting people?
Leslie House: It depends on how we work with the developer. If we're taking games from them and they are not coming from any kind of internal idea that we're promoting, that we want them to have a commitment to be able to participate in the success of the game when it comes. So we're looking at royalty share on that. Obviously if the idea comes from us, it's a different play. XBLA is a good comparison model. One thing that 7sixty also brings to the table is that it's one thing to be an independent developer and go out on your own, but it's very hard. What we're hoping to do at 7sixty is create a really strong portfolio where people are trusting that label and we have access to consumers who are really aware of the label and we can really cross-promote within it. So to a certain extent there's strength in numbers there. It's hard to be a lone developer right now with the crush of games coming out.
Q: You've not announced products for other platforms yet, but we do know that you're putting Stronghold 3 out on Steam. Is that the de facto PC download service for you or will you be looking to others too?
Leslie House: We are actually working with all the key sites on Stronghold - obviously Steam being one of them, Direct2Drive also, Gamersgate… There are a number of them and we're working with them all on Stronghold 3. We'll work with them on future products too. It's really a great relationship. They do service a key part of the market and it's a model that's worked for us and we see it working for us in the future.
Q: No-one's complained about Stronghold 3 being Steamworks enabled, then? That's been the case in the past…
Leslie House: You're right, but we're not the first one that's doing it. It's one of those things that I think the other sites have accepted and it's a good partnership and I guess there's really not a whole lot else to say about it. It's a model that's working right now and I believe everyone's happy about what we're doing on Stronghold 3.
Leslie House is VP of publishing and Jeff Hutchinson is VP for interactive entertainment at 7Sixty. Interview by Alec Meer.