Established in 1999, Piggyback Interactive has since become a market leader in the field of videogame guides. The company publishes guides for four games in PAL territories per year, all released simultaneously in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. Piggyback also releases at least one guide in North America annually.
Recent titles have included Tomb Raider Legend, Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy XII, which was also offered in a special hardback limited edition. GamesIndustry.biz talked to company head Louie Beattie about why Piggyback decided to make the move into collectors' editions, how the company is adapting to changes in the market and what the future holds.
GamesIndustry.biz: Let's begin with the limited edition Final Fantasy XII guidebook - does the special cover, the emphasis on artwork et cetera represent a shift in the way you put your books together?
Louie Beattie:This is the first time we've done a limited edition hard cover for a game, but it also exists as a standard guide with the normal production values that we offer. In terms of content it's exactly the same.
Our positioning statement is that Piggyback guides are 100 per cent complete. If you look at it you can see it's pretty thorough. It covers all aspects of the game and presents that in a single volume. Traditionally, that's not always the case with our competitors.
Also, we spend a lot of time and money on our production process. All of our printing is done here in Germany on Heidelberg machines using 135 GSM paper on a sheet fed process, they're stitch bound. That's something that other guide manufacturers don't offer.
That's part of our whole process; we focus on 4 titles a year and do them absolutely completely. So that's 100 per cent completion but also 100 per cent production values as well - that's our differentiating factor.What made you decide to do a limited edition for FFXII?
We got feedback from the market that it would be an interesting offering, particularly that the die hard FF fans would be interested in a guide which was not a complete guide but also a collector's item. It's a reward to those people in terms of what they're getting. The idea of limiting in terms of quantity was a way of adding collector value.How closely do you work with the publishers and developers when making the guides? Do you just get the code and work it out or do you work with them directly?
PB: Both. We get the code and work it out then work closely with them. Everything is submitted to our licensing partners for approval so on that basis everything is vetted. We get certain artworks exclusively for instance which is useful. A lot of work goes on here in terms of back office preparation and then all of the material is worked on closely with the licensing partner.Can you tell us what other projects you're working on at the moment?
We're working on three titles at the moment, none of which have been announced. Typically we'll spend about six months writing a guide, so we'll have 20 to 30 people working on that guide for six months.Your company holds a relatively unique position in the industry. From your perspective, how is the market looking? Is it a good time to be in games?
Yes, absolutely. The new hardware platforms are really exciting. Historically there's been a sort of complacency which sets in with the hardware manufacturers. We saw the disappearance of SEGA, there was a certain complacency at Nintendo at one time, then they were overtaken by Sony and now they've come back all guns blazing - it's unbelievable what they're putting together with the DS and Wii.
And likewise with Microsoft and the technology they're offering, particularly XBLA and consequently Sony's response, plus their addition of Blu-ray. It's pretty amazing, really.It seems that XBLA and casual gaming in general are proving ever more popular - but those aren't the kind of games you can write guides for. How much does that concern you?
That's part of the reason we focus on just four titles a year; they tend to be the larger titles which need guides. We don't have to offer a full range of guides to games which don't actually need guides.
You're right, a lot of games are getting far simpler - especially on the Wii side - but a lot are also getting much more complex. If you look at something like FFXII it's just unbelievable. A seasoned FF player is still looking at 150 hours of gameplay; it's phenomenal.Looking to the future, where do you see Piggyback being in five years' time? Do you think you'll keep following the strategy of producing different editions in different languages? Or as digital content becomes more popular, will you need to find new strategies?
I would hope the former; that's what we do and what we're good at. It's a publishing model which at the beginning was difficult to establish. Now, on the licensing side and the consumer side, it is established - and people on both sides are seeing the benefits.
Louie Beattie is head of Piggyback Interactive. Interview by Ellie Gibson.