Earlier this month, Games on Demand provider Metaboli signed a long term deal with Eurogamer Network (the same company which publishes GamesIndustry.biz) to offer videogame downloads through Eurogamer.net.
Here, Paul Howes - business manager for Metaboli's UK and Scandinavian divisions - discusses what the deal means for the company, whether digital distribution is likely to overtake physical media and the benefits to publishers of entering the download market.
GamesIndustry.biz: What does the deal with Eurogamer signify for Metaboli?
Paul Howes: We know that Eurogamer engages really well with core gamers and the publishing community. For Metaboli, partnering with them not only puts our co-branded digital distribution services in front of a key target group, it is also a great endorsement - Eurogamer know the games market and can see the opportunities digital distribution can offer both their business, gamers and publishers.
Downloadable content is obviously a hot topic at the moment. How seriously do you take comments from the likes of Sony when they talk about online content overtaking physical media within five years?
We don't see it overtaking physical media in the short term. We believe it presents an opportunity to improve the way games content is marketed and delivered to a large number of end users, both hardcore and casual gamers.
It should complement traditional methods of delivery, and be regarded as an integral part of the multi-channel strategy publishers and retailers are beginning to adopt.
On the subject of the console manufacturers, how are you planning to support PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with your service, if at all?
It is not on our agenda in the short term. We have a hugely scaleable opportunity ahead of us to deliver games direct to the PC. We are of course considering other platforms; for example, we're working with Intel on their Viiv platform and we're involved in the developments happening around the Media Centre technologies that will see the convergence of TV, film, games and Internet delivered through one box into the home.
Are you planning on offering full retail downloads for new games? If so, when?
Yes, we already have some services live and we'll be extending this, with a variety of partners, into most major European territories. Our first full retail download services will launch in the UK before the end of 2006.
Do you encounter any problems due to the fact you're licensing games for various European countries? Do you actively stop users in, say, Spain downloading content from English Metaboli sites you don't have Spanish licenses for?
We are respectful of territory by territory licenses and our sites are all fully localised. Itâs unlikely that a German consumer would subscribe or buy for a UK service, for example, when they have their own service in the local language and local currency.
How are you planning on expanding Metaboli? Do you see it as a European business or do you have designs on the American and Asian markets?
We have a tremendous opportunity to grow the business in Europe. We are well established in France and weâre now concentrating on opening up the UK, German, Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian markets.
Once we've scaled up in Europe we'll look towards North America and Asian markets. We know we have a massive competitive advantage in Europe, and we intend to make the most of it.
How important is technological development to Metaboli as the service's user-base grows? What are the most demanding aspects of providing a digital download service from a technological perspective?
We are an independent company and not aligned to any single technology provider. As such we work with the very best technology the market can offer and keep a very close watch on new technological developments, which means weâre always looking to improve our service.
We also monitor very closely our customer demands and trends in portal and site development. Our services have evolved since 2002, improving all the time, and this process will inevitably continue.
Thankfully our customer satisfaction ratings are very good - they like the service - but that doesn't mean we can afford to be complacent. Obviously one of the issues effecting the development of digital downloads is broadband quality and bandwidth. We know this is improving rapidly across Europe and is a priority, not just for telcos, but for governments, so we can feel confident that this will be less and less of an issue.
How receptive are you finding publishers when you approach them with the Metaboli service? What are the main challenges you encounter in convincing publishers to use Metaboli at getting a "second bite of the cherry" with their games?
Generally publishers are very receptive. Most seem to understand what we are trying to achieve; some have been very pro-active in the digital space, having seen the benefits of a multi-channel distribution strategy very early on.
Others are more reluctant to enter into an area that they feel may impact on their traditional boxed product sales, but gradually they are recognising how digital can be used to heighten product profile, grow distribution and extend the life cycle of titles. Our advice to publishers is to get involved, partner with Metaboli and learn about the digital market rather than watch it grow from a distance.
Paul Howes is the UK and Scandinavia business manager for Metaboli. Interview by Patrick Garratt.