The last few years there's been a trend for console developers to give it all up and head for the mobile hills. But Michael Schade, former CEO of Fishlabs and new CEO of Rockfish, is bucking that trend. He's waving goodbye to mobile and the demands of the free-to-play business model and heading to next-generation consoles with his new studio's first project.
Fishlabs had a tough 2013. In October it was declared bankrupt, and the company and staff were snapped up by Koch Media. With new studio Rockfish Schade and Christian Lohr are heading in a whole new direction.
Q: So you're starting a new studio?
Michael Schade:Rockfish is brand new. Christian [Lohr], my long term partner, and I started it, so it's still the same team as the last 20 years. Now we're completely platform agnostic but of course we're going to stick with high-end, 3D action games. The first project we're doing is most likely going to happen on next-gen console, unfortunately I can't reveal too much about it at this point in time. But hopefully we can announce something around Gamescom.
Q: Are you nervous about making the move from mobile to console?
Michael Schade:A lot of people are wondering why we're looking into console and next-gen, even though our pedigree and our experience for more than ten years is on mobile.
"The paid market is almost non-existent on the App Store"
The reason is that it's really hard on mobile, and we experienced this ourselves, the paid market is almost non-existent on the App Store anymore. On Android it has never existed. So you have to go free-to-play and it is expensive. The free-to-play business on mobile is now just for the big guys that have deep pockets and/or billions of active users a month so they can cross promote their own titles.
We'd been very successful when paid was still a business model that worked, but now everything has gone free-to-play and although we understand how the mechanics work, and we tried and had some respectable results there...it's a very very tough business.
But with every new platform that's coming there's a disruption in the market and there's certainly opportunities. We're excited about these new platforms, and you have a chance to rethink your whole strategy. And we have the chance to really carefully think what Christian and I as a team are really good at. And this is basically me going around and spreading the word and signing deals and Christian making sure that we have a team delivers a kick ass game. That's something that we have been doing for the last 20 years.
Q: Is part of the attraction that console and PC users are still willing to pay?
Michael Schade:Absolutely. Lots of people ask me about the business model for the new game and we're saying we'll just sell the game. That's it.
On console I believe even if you could do free-to-play games the audience is a different one. Console players accept the risk that they pay for something that might not be the perfect game, but that's also why they read reviews and magazines. Because if you spend $60 on a game it makes sense that you get information about the game.
This means it also has a positive impact if you do PR, whereas if you do a free-to-play game PR hardly matters because if a couple of million people download your game, a top thousand game, they might read about your game but that's just a blip in the ocean.
So bottom line, we're going back to paid, and not being mobile for the next one or two years. Then in two years from now maybe there'll be a renaissance of paid games on mobile, who knows?
Q: How has founding a company changed from the last time around, when you started Fishlabs?
Michael Schade:We're back in the game and we have 100 per cent control. At Fishlabs our lead investors held 50 per cent and we had some angels that helped with 11 per cent, so Christian and I were down to 39 per cent, we were in the minority. Every discussion where we had different opinions was really tough and as a founder it's very difficult situation. That's definitely a learning, I would never sign a deal again where in an A round we had to give away 50 per cent of the company.
Back then we had no choice, but this time around we're trying to not get ourselves into a situation where we have to sign a deal like that. If we go back to investors we will make this very very clear: that only a minority stake for investors would be acceptable to us. It doesn't make sense that the investor has control because the founders run the business so they need to stay in control - they know what's going on, not the investors. All the promises that we heard generally from investors, that they contribute to the business - I'd say it's the exception to the rule that investors really help founders to get along.
So starting with 100 per cent equity was very refreshing. It feels great and it's always exciting to work on a new logo and think about the name and everything.
Q: So was crowdfunding ever an attractive option?
Michael Schade:We've talked with various partners already so we might get project funding, again I can't say too much about that. But at this point in time we're not looking for investors, but maybe at the later stage?
We've been thinking about Kickstarter, our impression is that Kickstarter works great for PC titles if you have a game that's under-represented in the general market, it's niche and there's a small but really hardcore fanbase. Obviously if you have a great track record in the early days of PC gaming then you have your fanbase that will support you.
"I would never sign a deal again where in an A round we had to give away 50 per cent of the company"
We've also seen some mobile teams trying to fund their games on Kickstarter and our impression was they mainly failed and our take is that the mobile community doesn't look at Kickstarter and again, as the perceived value of mobile games is fairly low there's too many free offerings so they don't bother. So we wouldn't go back to Kickstarter to fund a mobile game but if you're doing a next title on PC or on next-gen consoles Kickstarter would definitely be a platform that we would look into, particularly with our background in space games.
Q: So what stage are you at with the first project?
Michael Schade:Of course it's early days but we're already working on game design and we just kicked off a pre-production phase for the very first title. We're already working with a team of roughly around 10, we're co-operating with another studio, were definitely moving on.
It's not like we're sitting here and we don't know what to do, it's very busy!
Q: And finally, why Rockfish?
Michael Schade:The fish thing is like... people from Hamburg locally are called fish heads, literally translated. Because we're close to the sea, we've got the harbour, we love to eat fish and we think fish are also cool animals. There can be plenty of fish of any size, any colour, so it shows a lot of variety... and they live in 3D space, and we do 3D games. So we came up with Rockfish because 2013 had been a tough year, but Christian and I, we're unbreakable. And last but not least, we're fucking rockstars.