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Sidhe's Mario Wynands

The New Zealand developer's co-founder talks the local market, global reach and digital distribution

Continuing our build up to next week's Games Convention Asia in Singapore, here Sidhe co-founder Mario Wynands - who'll be presenting a session at the event - talks about how the developer has evolved in the past 12 years.

Specifically he discusses the ways in which a company in a limited population market, such as New Zealand, can set itself up to challenge on a global scale by harnessing the power of digital distribution - and treating the global market as one.

GamesIndustry.biz You'll be presenting a session at GC Asia this year - you're based in New Zealand, so Singapore is your neck of the woods. Does that make it an easy decision to make?
Mario Wynands

I think we've always looked to try and support local events where we can, and I'm certainly of the belief that a strong local industry - whether it be within New Zealand, or Australasia, or the South-East Asian region - the stronger it gets, the better for our own position.

I think that the Singapore conference really is one of those key events that's going to help lift the region over time. It'll take a while for it to get there and start seeing some results, but I think what we've seen so far has been quite encouraging.

GamesIndustry.biz Is there a question of trust, when there are so many countries within the region, in terms of coming together and working more closely?
Mario Wynands

I think it's one of those events that's significantly more multi-cultural, made up from many different types of country. It's not dominated by Australians, like the Australian event. It's not dominated by Americans, like GDC in San Francisco.

Singapore does have the benefit that it's pulling in from a wide range of surrounding countries - I think it will take time for the different communities to work each other out, and work out where the collaborations and opportunities are.

But I think the great thing about that sort of event is that it's very friendly and open - people are there to share, to genuinely learn, and I think people coming to it with open minds means that it's setting itself up to be very meaningful in the long term.

GamesIndustry.biz And what's the subject of your talk?
Mario Wynands

It's basically looking at cross-platform development - one of the things we're committed to in terms of our own strategy is looking at how we can leverage the content that we create across multiple platforms, to really get the most out of that investment that we make.

There'll be a little bit of a technology spin, and something on logistics, but also I'll be trying to open people's eyes to the opportunity of taking games to multiple platforms and trying to demonstrate ways that it can be done in ways that can work for small players.

GamesIndustry.biz So for anybody that may not already know, tell us a bit about Sidhe [pronounced "She"].
Mario Wynands

Well, we've been around since May 1997 with three original founders including myself. We all had jobs and other things in the real world, and we just got together one day and decided to make a go of console development.

Sony had just announced the home-programmable PlayStation, and that seemed a way to get into what was previously a bit of a closed platform, so that was the spark, and then we set about building a company and starting from there.

I guess we had all sorts of grand dreams, but the harsh reality of the games business hit us and we really had to learn - because we were quite isolated in New Zealand, you have to travel to get anywhere. Just having a meeting with a publisher was an investment of thousands of dollars.

So it took a number of years to get on the radar, build up the contacts, and get our first contracts. We started out doing some work for Chrome Studios, which really set us on the path, and then we gradually started to deal more directly with publishers. Probably the first big title breakthrough was the Rugby League game we did for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC - that was a big success sales-wise, and it's eventually led to doing Rugby League 3 for the Wii six years later.

Probably the next milestone for us was moving onto projects using our own original IP, like Gripshift, where we wanted to make that transition from that factory, service-based model to being an owner and creator of IP - we continued to doing licensed IP in that time, but now we've transitioned even further to capture more of the value chain by being the publisher or distributor of content as well.

We anticipated a lot of what's happening in the market place right now a few years ago, the credit crunch aspect of it aside, and really backed ourselves to find a way in the digital download side of things. We've moved aggressively from being a work-for-hire shop to being a developer and publisher of our own products - as well as looking at co-development and publishing other people's products as well.

It's been a long journey over the last 12 years, going from three guys starting up in a living-room in a flat to over 100 employees now, 20 titles later. The thing that's rewarding for me personally is that we're doing the best work we've ever done, right now.

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