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Time For A Change

TimeGate boss Adel Chaveleh on why the Section 8 and FEAR dev is embracing self-publishing

Texas developer TimeGate Studios made its name with the critically-acclaimed Kohan real-time strategy series in 2001, but in recent years has diversified into first-person shooters - including two expansions for Monolith's F.E.A.R. and its own Section 8. The latter's PS3 version was download only, following a breach of contract case against controversial publisher Southpeak.

Next up is Section 8: Prejudice, and the revelation that the studio is to fully embrace self-publishing. Following this news, GamesIndustry.biz chatted to CEO and president Adel Chaveleh about what this meant for TimeGate, the changing shape of the games industry and the pros and cons of working with publishers.

GamesIndustry.biz You're moving into self-publishing - what's the plan there?
Adel Chaveleh

First and foremost, our business is still development - that's how we see ourselves. So the move to enable self-publishing capability that we now have is really more about further enabling our development initiative. Working with the platform providers, a lot is dependent on having things set up with them in terms of getting products approved, and even being able to take the products to market at the end of the day. What we wanted to do was enable ourselves to not have any hurdles in terms of development or taking the project to market. And what that does, by building the entire channel out from concept through being able to take it to retail ourselves, it gives us basically the ultimate in flexibility in terms of what kind of deal we want. And if there's no deal, then we take it ourselves. That's the beauty of the scenario for us.

So we began the initiative about a year ago - as one might imagine, the process of becoming a true publisher, not only in terms of building your own internal infrastructure and that kind of stuff, but getting the approval necessary from the platform guys, it's a fair bit of work. This is our thirteenth year in business, but we've got a solid track record, a solid foundation - we're in a very strong position in that we can take our own products to market.

GamesIndustry.biz So there wasn't a specific "oh, we can't do this anymore" moment that inspired the change?
Adel Chaveleh

Certainly, there were contributing incidents over the years, where we would finish a product, kill ourselves on the development, then get to finish line and then we're hands-off at the point. Because as a developer you're not empowered to do the marketing, or handle the sales stuff - anything - you're basically just doing exclusively development. That's just a part of the window, as anyone in the industry would agree. There's development, but then you need really strong sales and marketing, distribution... we saw that as a big part of the equation. Especially on our own IP - nobody cares about it more than we need to. So we need to be very hands-on in that aspect, or at least have the flexibility of taking bits and pieces on if a partner comes to us to work with, and they have strings - let's say they're only one territory or one platform. Just because they're the only people at the table doesn't mean we have to give them everything. A lot of independent developers find themselves in that scenario, where a deal is being offered - but is it the best deal? Is it playing to the partner's strength, or are you just taking it because it's the only way to get your product to market, it's the only choice we've got and times runnin' out?

So this enables us to basically be very strategic about how we take our games to market, but the nice thing from the development team's perspective is that, when we start a project, they know with 100 per cent certainty that that project is going to be released. We've got a 100 per cent track for that .Whenever we greenlight a project and we've started pre-production, 100 per cent of those products have made it to market in two years or less. This is just now more of a guarantee than ever. So by default we are publishing it, but if a great partner wants to come along and blow it up, and do incredible things, and it makes good business sense - then yeah, we'll open it up. We're just not sitting around waiting on it.

GamesIndustry.biz It must be pretty scary though, knowing that if the next Section 8 or suchlike doesn't work out, you can only blame yourselves?
Adel Chaveleh

You know what, I would rather that. I look forward to that. Because we're going to do our best. Looking back to Kohan, our first product out the gate back in 2001, it was serendipitous, but the way this project is playing out is very similar to how that one played out. We started the company, we had some seed capital and we had our great ideas for the game, we funded the game entirely, we did every aspect of it from A to Z and we just got to the end and thought 'hey, we don't have a way to get this into stores', so we ended up signing what ended up being more or less a distribution deal with Strategy First. Even in that deal, we had approval of everything - every single marketing aspect, every press release. We were very engaged. That was one of the most successful stories we've had from our own IP perspective over the years. Now we're kind of back to where we started, and we didn't realise how strong a position that actually is. Obviously the consoles introduce a different hurdle - anybody can theoretically burn CDs and sell them in stores for PC, but you can't do that on consoles. That added one extra necessary step to be able to do this.

Yeah, it's scary and exciting at the same time. It's a strategic move for us; we think of ourselves as a very conservative company. It's funny that we started out in strategy games, but we think of running TimeGate every single day as playing a strategy game. There's a new frontier out there - do you send out a little team to set-up a settlement, but they might get eaten by the wolves? Or do you just turtle and build... We've been building up our base and building up our base, and occasionally we throw out a settlement team and make a new IP to start to nurture - and that's what Section 8 is now. So we're now we're starting to build up the walls around that IP, and it's becoming self-sustaining, and that sort of thing.

GamesIndustry.biz You really have thought through that metaphor, eh?
Adel Chaveleh

Oh yeah. Seriously, you can tell that we're all gamers here.

GamesIndustry.biz How different has been working with your own IP again compared to when you were contracted to do the FEAR expansion? What kind of say in that project's development did you have?
Adel Chaveleh

Again, I'm not saying that we're moving away from work for hire projects, but specifically we have more or less one foot in either camp - work for hire and new IP, and I think that's been one of our strengths over the years. Most independent developers - at least that I see - are either focused on one or the other. If they're exclusively in the new IP camp, that's a tough business. You've gotta be able to carry it across the finish line yourself - waiting for someone to come along and fund your project and being able to keep ownership of it is a tough proposition. And then the other side is equally risky - waiting for someone to come and give you a project. It's somebody else's baby, but it's possibly a very big franchise, working with a big publisher, and there's definite gains out of that. So you can see over our history that we've done basically that, one or the other. There's value from our studio's perspective in both sides. We wanted to do new IP because we're innovative people, that's what drives us, that's what motivates us, and obviously that's where those big wins are going to come from. On the work for hire side, FEAR and Axis and Allies, these were great projects that came along and played well to our decision to go into different genres. Doing all that helped us, as a studio we grew our experience and variety.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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