It's incredibly competitive in the indie publishing market. It feels like a new publisher has formed every couple of weeks for the past few years, each one hoping to find that next acclaimed hit.
Playdius was no different. Originally founded four years ago as the publishing arm of European distributor Plug In Digital, it has published a wide variety of games from JRPG Edge of Eternity and fast-paced parkour outing Hover to more challenging offerings like the BAFTA-winning Bury me, my Love.
It's this variety that inadvertently held the company back, so a new publishing strategy -- supported by a €2m funding round -- will enable the firm to continue building towards its original ambitions, and all under the new banner of Dear Villagers.
"We didn't manage to build as powerful a brand as we wanted [with Playdius]," Guillaume Jamet, head of publishing, tells GamesIndustry.biz. "One of the reasons is we went in too many directions, because we met many incredible developers working on all platforms.
"When we started, we wanted to only do PC and console games, but then we had meetings with developers that led to us publishing mobile games like Bury Me, My Love or A Normal Lost Phone. In the end, we had a very mixed message for Playdius -- it was a brand that offering both cool indie games on PC and console, and mainstream, meaningful games on mobile. It was hard to make a link between that."
The solution, Jamet and his team decided was to relaunch under a new brand. To avoid the mixed message of the past, the company's portfolio will be very clearly split between two labels. PC and console titles targeting midcore and hardcore players will be released under Dear Villagers, but the publisher still wants to pursue those topical narrative mobile games, this time keeping them under Plug In Digital.
While Jamet can't give an exact figure, most of the €2m its parent raised will directly benefit Dear Villagers. The team has continued to sign new titles, sourcing more and more as it geared up to the relaunch. In fact, the publisher already has a full line-up for 2020, including titles larger than any it has released before.
"We haven't had any million sellers so far. That's what we're looking for"
Part of the investment is also to help Dear Villagers invest directly into games themselves. Historically, Playdius was rarely able to pour more than €200,000 into a title, but this is increasing under the new brand -- although so too are sales expectations.
"We've had some successes in the past but we haven't had any million sellers so far, and that's what we're looking for," says Jamet.
He continued: "We're not focused on one particular genre -- that's not our strategy right now. If you look at a game like Edge of Eternity, that's the kind of game we're looking for: indie games that reach for higher, maybe AA-style games. What we're looking for right now are games with very nice visuals, something visually astonishing, and great gameplay with a twist. That sounds very generic but every game we announce, you'll see that each will be very different to each other and compared to what we've done before.
"We're trying to find the best indie games that could be AA games and help bring them to market."
The initial wave of titles is going to be announced this week (hacking adventure Recompile unveiled this morning as the first) and Jamet is also hoping that it will cement the sentiment behind the new name. He says the team wanted "something friendly", a brand evocative of a fun social space where friends share good times.
Initially, they explored a food theme, the idea of gamers browsing a delicious menu and enjoying the dishes that suited them. As a France-based company, it proved to be particularly popular among the team, but they soon realised: "every idea connected to restaurants and bars was either already used or wasn't so cool."
"We came to the village idea as an extension," Jamet continues. "We're based in a very nice place in Montpellier in the south of France, [and the area around here] reminds us of a village. Dear Villagers came to us as the idea of an invitation: dear villagers, welcome to our cool place. We want to invite people to join us in our cool village where studios are free to create the games they want and where we hope players will find cool games."
Jamet tells us it's also a reflection of how much the company has changed in four years. When Playdius began, there were only five members of staff; today, there are nearly 20, all bringing different experiences from their past employers and their own passions for where they hope indie games will take the medium in future.
"Everyone has to reinvent themselves very often if you want to succeed in the market," Jamet concludes. "We have a lot of new people -- I myself came to the company two years ago. With new people comes new ideas, and part of that was a desire to change the name. We wanted to have a much cooler name, something exciting to work with... [one] more fitting to who we are now rather than the company we were years ago."