4mm Games was officially formed in May this year, with the management made up of two creatives from Rockstar, Jamie King and Gary Foreman, former Def Jam Enterprises and Warner Brothers exec Paul Coyne, and Nicholas Perrett, most recently with Image Metrics acting as the CEO. The core team has managed to raise a significant amount of funding, and secured the the Def Jam license for its first title, Def Jam Rapstar
Here, Perrett details how the company intends to merge music and videogame properties across multiple platforms, use external development teams to create its products, and leverage online business models to establish 4mm Games as a distinctive company on the videogame landscape.
Q: Can you begin by giving us some background on how the company was formed?
Nicholas Perrett: Image Metrics has a big relationship with Rockstar for facial animation and it still does, and I basically worked with Jamie King there for a long time until he left in 2006. He set up his own little company and was figuring out how to do that and we just kept in touch. I actually had some ideas on solving the problem of finance for games, because I get to meet with a ton of developers and internal teams at big developers, and I hear the indies can't get money and they often feel like they're squashed by the big publishers. Because of my background I thought there must be a way to solve this problem. So I started working with a few financial institutions in New York to try to figure out some kind of a fund for videogames. During the course of last year Jamie and I had a few meetings, and I'm not really a financier in that sense, I don't really want to run a fund, but I was really interested in starting a company and funding it properly. And we realised we actually share the same vision of the future of games and the company we could build. He introduced me to Gary Foreman and we just decided to set up 4mm Games as an actual company rather than a side project.
Q: And how about Paul Coyne from Def Jam Enterprises, how did he get involved?
Nicholas Perrett: Paul has done loads of things in big media and he just wanted to do something on his own, and he had some really good funding contacts as well. He filled a lot of gaps that I never had and I felt very strongly that there was a real role in online distribution, and we had a very strong interest in music as well. He ticked the boxes as the ideal person to do a lot of our commercial deals. And that completed out initial management team.
Q: So how does 4mm intend to do things differently and stand out from other developers and publishers?
Nicholas Perrett: There's several aspects to it. From a content perspective there are loads of games that aren't being made that we'd like to make. Def Jam Rapstar is just the first of many games were we think there are segments of the market that aren't being catered to what-so-ever. We felt there was a really unique game we could bring to the music market. The same goes for some of the other titles that we've got, some of the browser-based games that we're working on to address different types of gameplay, different platforms that other people aren't doing that we think should be done. There's lots of blue ocean out there that we should be making games for.
Q: How about from a business perspective?
Nicholas Perrett: There are two things that are really important to us. Firstly, from an online perspective we believe very strongly games should not be limited to any one particular platform. We're really into the idea that games can be accessed across all platforms. Not just being able to connect them all but being able to create distributed communities around them. In some ways Rapstar is a bit of a red herring in that it's a console game. But primarily for us the box is just the means to get that game into someone's hands. It's about how we use mobile devices to message users about things that are going on in the game, so when you turn off the console the game doesn't just stop. And there's stuff that you can embed on various socials profiles, there's it's own online community as a destination where you can get users to see the turn-based multiplayer aspects of the game that have more in common with social games on Facebook than they do with traditional console games.
That online aspect is crucial for us. It's not about creating an online box and sticking it on an online distributors website. It's about a much more pervasive thing. And it's important for us to build the team that can cross the web and other platforms properly. And that is also reflected in how we deal with companies and the music business. Because we're an entrepreneurial company we can actually allow anyone we want to have an equity position in titles that we're making. We're not against the music business, we're working with the music business to get all the incentives aligned so that they are willing to share all of their marketing resources, share all of their launch dates, early content and all of that stuff in a true partnership. Which is very much what our relationship with Def Jam is all about.
Q: 4mm Games isn't a traditional development studio, can you detail how you work with other developers?
Nicholas Perrett: We don't really think of ourselves as a developer. If you take Rapstar, our developer is Terminal Reality. We're sort of in a weird spot because we're not a publisher in the traditional sense because we don't have the ability to manufacture discs. But we do have a marketing team. We deal with all the licensing, the music clearance, so we're doing a lot of things that a normal developer wouldn't do. These go back to the frustrations that I felt as a developer who couldn't get access to the right information and the right funding. So for us it's about finding the best development talent for a game we're making and then contracting them and giving them real upside potential that a traditional publisher wouldn't. We can bring the funding to it. We don't envisage 4mm as having 1000-person studios. But we see 4mm having really close partnerships and it's like a network that we can call on as and when, to keep overheads as low as possible.
Q: So you're working with other developers as you have with Terminal Reality?
Nicholas Perrett: Yes we are.
Q: So you're outsourcing your work to other development studios...
Nicholas Perrett: From a content perspective it's more like emulating a film production company. Think of us as a small team that are focused on creative direction, art-style, with a game designer, and a very small team that plays a very consultative relationship. They are important to embody the philosophy and vision of the games we want to make. That's super important for Def Jam, to get that vibe and the visual style of it right. That's our development capability. In Terminal Reality's case they've got a great cross platform engine, great technology - we saw that in Ghostbusters. Even though they haven't done a music game before we needed a really solid tech partner. You're going to see that in our choice of development partner. And we're not above working with a number of freelancers, it doesn't have to be a full studio, it can be a guy who happens to be the best designer for this type of game.
Q: Does the music industry understand the games business, and vice-versa?
Nicholas Perrett: I think there's just a huge amount of misunderstanding and misinformation. Some of the things that have happened in the music category over the past few years have created a number of high-profile head-butting incidents. There's definitely a jockeying of “my industry is better than yours”. There's an element of that and I think actually the music industry is trying to reinvent itself. People are attacking them as dinosaurs who just want their $3 million pay check every year, but that's not right either. I just firmly believe if you approach these situations with a mutual respect and a mutual understanding of what each other brings to the table you can create a partnership that will deliver value to both sides. It shouldn't be a win/lose relationship. Why not have a music label invest in the game? Because then their interests are absolutely aligned with the game. The better they pimp their music, the more royalties they will make on games. It doesn't have to be one at the exclusion of the other. There's a lot of potential to work with the existing establishments and some of the more emerging new kids on the block in distribution and online distribution. Look at Spotify or Pandora, there's a lot of interesting things being done with music at the moment.
Q: You're looking at new online business models to incorporate into the 4mm Games business - is that more important than the console business model?
Nicholas Perrett: We don't look at this at a platform level so much as at an entertainment property level. If you look at a social gaming company as they exist today, they're actually extremely limited in terms of the gaming experiences they can offer. But the principles of playing with friends and sharing achievements over social networks, or free to play and micro transactions, these can co-exist with an entertainment property on a home console. I don't think of the portfolio of games that 4mm is developing the console is going to see the majority share by number of titles but it may still be by dollar value. We have to think what's the most amount of fun people can have playing a game? That may be on your TV or your mobile phone, with a different business model on each, and the achievements are shared across the board - maybe there's a minigame of managing talent on your iPhone while videos are uploading on a console. We're thinking on that level. We're not afraid of doing console games because the console has the potential to grow even bigger than a lot of networks and platforms online.
Q: And when it comes to future titles and projects, you're more interested in something for a wider audience and than the 'men with guns' style game.
Nicholas Perrett: Very much so. Some of the things Jamie was looking at when he wanted to start his own company – he was looking at virtual worlds and so on – building something with broad appeal that can become more mainstream is what we're about. We don't want to build a sci-fi MMO.
Q: Do you have a target for number of releases for next year, or a optimum number of projects in development?
Nicholas Perrett: We're discussing that very thing at the moment. Right now we have a small number, less than ten, that are in various stages of development. We're no going to release too much information at this point. But will they all be as cross platform as possible, as interconnected as possible? Yes, absolutely. And they'll be chosen so that they compliment each other.
Q: Was it difficult raising your funding in the current financial climate?
Nicholas Perrett: This is going to sound somewhat unbelievable but it's true so I don't know how else to say it – it was actually pretty easy to raise money. That really came down to two things. Firstly, I come from that background so I know how to talk to investors about what returns they can expect, I've been through several fund rounds at other company's, I knew the process very well and I knew what to demonstrate and where to find people. But to be blunt, I'm not the guy that the company raised money off. We raised money because Jamie and Gary have a phenomenal pedigree in games and Paul is hugely respected in the music and media industries. So it was a combination of a killer team with the right connections.
Q: How did you secure the Def Jam licence, as it was previously with Electronic Arts and being used in fighting games, not the music genre?
Nicholas Perrett: Def Jam is in its 25th anniversary this year, and Kevin Liles, the former president and CEO of Def Jam was focusing on games and he'd worked very closely with Warner Music, so they had a real mutual respect for each other's business connections. Paul introduced James and Gary to Kevin and creatively they gelled. Def Jam is interested in taking its brand into more entrepreneurial, risky directions. Once they got together it felt like the right partner for where they're at right now. It's not that the relationship with EA was anything but good but more that they wanted to do something different. We are very high risk for them. For them to go with a company that's young as we are is a big risk but it's testament to the team. We may well end up working with one publisher on distribution for Def Jam Rapstar.
Q: Is that EA Partners?
Nicholas Perrett: We're not announcing yet who's going to be doing the distribution, suffice to say there's a small number of company's you know of, one of whom will be picking this game up very soon.
Nicholas Perrett is CEO of 4mm Games. Interview by Matt Martin.