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Rebel Without A Pause

Start-up digital company RebelPlay on why "publisher" isn't a dirty word

Announced officially earlier in the year, RebelPlay is a new UK start-up. But this isn't yet another digital games developer, RebelPlay intends to be a complete publishing operation. Set up by two ex-Sony Liverpool producers Leo Cubbin and Phil Gaskell, the company also boasts financial support from Will Clarke and Paul Higgins, founders of UK movie distribution house Optimum Releasing.

Now the initial set-up is complete, sat down with RebelPlay to discuss the longer term business plan, how it can help independent developers succeed in digital markets, and why the term "publisher" isn't a dirty word. Can you tell us a little about the catalyst to start-up? Why production roles at Sony?
Phil Gaskell

We felt that we'd gone as far as we could get at Sony. We could have carried on there but it would have taken a lot longer in terms or commitment. I finished producing Dead Nation and that was number one in the internal first-party downloads and Leo had just mastered LittleBigPlanet 2. So it felt right, time for a new challenge. Initially we talked about setting up a game developer. Despite us being external producers, effectively on the publishing side we were part of the development arm of Sony Worldwide Studios. But we thought it was kind of risky and with the best will in the world I don't know enough programmers to do that, or they are all very happy where they are. So we thought we'd set something up that people don't do - a publishing company. It snowballed from there. We were zigging when everyone else was zagging. Liverpool's synonymous with Psygnosis and Manchester with Ocean and we just thought, 'let's do that'. You production roles - both internal and external - must have been incredibly valuable as you hunt for talent to work with?
Phil Gaskell

Having five years of solid business development at Sony was great because we would go out and find the game idea - whether on paper or prototype - nurture it through to green light and if lucky enough produce it all the way to the end. If not me then one of my team, so we were managing it from day one to finish. It was an extraordinary end-to-end experience with the game. I'd often talk to my counterparts at Microsoft and they have different departments so they would find it and pass it on to someone else, who would pass it one to some one else… It gave us a really holistic view of inception to release.

A lot of people die with great ideas that are never developed

Leo Cubbin, RebelPlay And that's exactly what you want to replicate now with Rebel Play…
Leo Cubbin

Once we got the business plan together the big thing was meeting Will Clark and him telling us that what we propose to do might be unique to games but it's not unique to entertainment, this is a business he's ran for the past 12 years.

Phil Gaskell

Having those five years of biz dev enabled us to understand what developers thought they were missing from their relationships - not with Sony but with publishers in general. I was very aware of what was missing contractually and in terms of how developers were remunerated when it comes to the PlayStation Network and digital games. It was quite easy for us to set up a business model that was very weighted towards the game developer. Almost too much so, our first utopian vision was like a charity. If an investors money is going into this they are going to want something for their risk. And that's got to be the intellectual property.

We always said we want three big changes, to change the business model in three ways: No advance on royalty, higher revenue shares, and the way in which a project gets funded. Traditionally you try and push as much to the back of the project as you can with master payments, beta payments and alpha payments. They tend to be much bigger than milestones one, two, and three. So more often than not the developer is sweated early on - you've got to make that payment last three months. That won't work for us. If we're dealing with university graduates that have just set up or young guys who are setting up their own business for the first time they need an easy cash flow. So we bankroll games. In the same way that Optimum funds a movie - if there's 25 people working on a movie that month they pay 25 people's wages. But intellectual property is something that we really need to own. So is that the big deal-breaker?
Phil Gaskell

When we talk to developers they realise that the ownership of the intellectual property isn't as important as being associated with it and going on a journey with you when you exploit it. Something we do with all our contracts is that by default all developers get first refusal on sequels and ports to do with that IP, so they are effectively intimately connected to that IP through its lifetime. They can exploit it with us and benefit with us.

Leo Cubbin

They get to earn off it whatever happens. So if it becomes a film they earn off it, if it becomes a toy they earn off it. I think a lot of people die with great ideas that are never developed. Everyone has ideas at some point and if somebody is investing in an idea to develop it you have to expect that they are going to take some ownership of the IP. It's a partnership, we don't see it as a big issue and most developers we speak to don't either once they know how we work.

Phil Gaskell

We can rebalance the situation by saying they can recoup costs 100 per cent. They only need to effectively sell 50,000 units of this game before you and us are earning a revenue stream on it. Under a normal deal you'd have to do half a million units or more and you'd be looking at years rather than months to start earning on it. You're gotten this far with funding from investors who understood the movie market, but did they understand the games business? In the past when movie people declare their intention to get into games it’s a big announcement followed by either nothing or an embarrassingly long silence and then… nothing.
Phil Gaskell

I always liken it to actors who want to be singers and singer who want to be actors. It's always pretty awful, I've seen David Bowie acting and Sting dancing in Quadrophenia…
Leo Cubbin

But games and film have always been pretty close. There's always been a good connection.

Phil Gaskell

If you look where in film Will and Paul are coming from, they're not coming from $100 million hit-driven Hollywood part. They are actually coming from the indie UK scene - Shane Meadows, up and coming directors, they're involved with Attack the Block, Richard Ayoade. These guys are big supporters of the up and coming indies, and we're the same for games.

Leo Cubbin

They are forward thinking as well they're not looking at what's happening right this second.

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Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.