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Yooka-Laylee developer Playtonic launches publishing division

Playtonic Friends signs three games but says 'this isn't about driving our revenue growth'

Another new indie publisher has emerged: Playtonic Friends.

It's a department of the indie developer Playtonic Games, the studio set-up by former Rare veterans that has so-far released 2017 Kickstarter success Yooka-Laylee, and 2019's follow-up Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

"We've always had friends, and friends of friends, and people saying: 'Hey, you know, you guys have got a lot of experience', which is a nice way of saying we're old," begins CEO Gavin Price. "We've done a few different things: we've been in that warm bubble of a first-party studio, we've broken out with our own business via Kickstarter, we've worked with publishers ourselves, and all sorts of stuff. A lot of people were saying to us that they need help, and we weren't in a position to help them until recently.

"It's just about finding those games and developers with real potential, that want to do something long-term, and that we can help them... that's the important thing. As an operation we're still going to be 90%, developer, 10% publisher, but with an eye on self-publishing in the future, we're going to have skills and expertise in-house to help other people. The net result is hopefully that more games not only come out, but they come out with more chance for the developer to be sustainable moving forward.

Playtonic boss Gavin Price

"We're not being corporate about this at all. We're not looking to become a publisher to drive our growth. We're not looking at spreadsheets and future forecasting and saying: 'Hey, this needs to go up to this point, and then go higher and higher, steeper and steeper.' It's still about making sure we can make the games that we want to make, and now we hope we can help others along the way."

Price says they're not about to sign a huge number of titles as they want to be able to focus in on a few select partners. The company has today announced it is working on games from Bullets Per Minute developer Awe Interactive, Slime-san creators Fabraz, and Ok Golf studio Okidokico.

"As with any new venture we are very choosy -- we look for a good fit in terms of what we're capable of doing and doing right. We've set aside an initial pool of money and we're thinking of it as its own separate business. It has to stand on its own two feet, and hopefully that means we get good at what we're doing and we scale up and can get bigger.

"Those three companies... they're all about the same size -- maybe just a small core team of two, three or four devs. They're all very experienced people that are at different stages in their careers. One of the founders of Awe Interactive was also a founder of Bulkhead Interactive in Derby, and what they've been able to achieve already is incredible.

"It really isn't corporate driven, or about milestones and all these horrible words that makes your spine shiver as a developer"

"And then Okidokico, one of the founders is ex-Rare and a former colleague of mine, so it's been great to find a reason to connect with them and help them on their journey. Him and his business partner were at Ubisoft Montreal, and they released the game on the App Store on the side as a pet project. It was App Store premium, which is $3 as you know, and they ended up earning a multiple of their annual salary from this one game, which Apple we're particularly fond of and pushed really well. That enabled them to follow their dream and jump to being an independent developer full time. Now they're looking at how they go from here. That's something where we're really able to help with our experience.

"And then we've got a team like Fabraz, who are young, they're exciting, they've had brilliant success already with Slime-san. They're really on the ball, they know what they're doing in terms of development under the hood and setting their business up for future success. Honestly, we'll probably learn a few things from them. They have a game which has an incredible scope, certainly when you take into account the amount of devs they have in that team. And the production values for the game... they've ticked off quite a few boxes that I am particularly envious of, which we've not been able to do. Again, they're very exciting people to work with, and the game they've got is a really good fit with our brand and audience."

Playtonic Friends is the name of the division

Price says the key to Playtonic's offering is the 'friends' element. They'll offer the same services most other publishers do, but it's how they go about it that's different.

"You could go to any indie publisher's website and copy and paste the list of things they offer, and we offer the exact same in terms of funding, marketing, PR," Price begins. "We are going to partner with Renaissance PR. It's such an amazing cost-effective solution that Renaissance offers us. You couldn't hire anybody in to do a job half as good as those guys. So it's getting the best people in to do the best job for our partners where we can't do it ourselves.

"It's just how we do it that I think sets us apart. It really isn't corporate driven, or about milestones and all these horrible words that makes your spine shiver as a developer. For us, it's about finding great content and enabling them to stay exactly as they are, but with less pressure. They can pick and choose and create something totally bespoke in terms of how our relationship needs to work. So it's just a very friendly approach. We're very good on terms, as well. Recently, there's been a lot of chatter out there with people sharing terms, and when we looked at how ours compared... we realised we were going to be the new kids on the block and we're going to be a lot friendlier."

"Developers have often poured a lot of time in to get to the point where they need a publisher. And there are so many deals that ignore that fact"

He continues: "You know, developers have often poured a lot of time in already to get to the point where they need help from a publisher. And there are so many deals out there that ignore that fact. There's this potential for developers to be taken advantage of if you don't acknowledge all the hard work and groundwork and foundation and historical work that's been going into projects. We don't have a set template for our royalty splits or anything, it's totally built around the facts of what has happened. And we don't try and negotiate away from those facts.

It's not about finding one developer who might be wet behind the ears and has never negotiated before. We don't want a situation where if you're an excellent negotiator, you're going to get a much better deal than those with a lack of negotiating skills. That's awful. It's not a developer's responsibility to be an expert negotiator, and they end up not getting the deal they wanted or deserved. For us, it's not about the art of negotiation. It's about facts, what's happened, and presenting them an option that says 'we care about you and what you're trying to do'."

Price wouldn't be drawn on the level of investment that Playtonic can offer. He stressed that the focus is on smaller projects and that there is a ceiling on what they can do, but they are not concerned to take the hit and "go into the red for a couple of months" if the right opportunity comes up.

In terms of the publishing team, alongside partners like Renaissance PR, Playtonic has added former Green Man Gaming and Focus Multimedia exec Steph Darrah as business development manager, while internal executive producer Andy Wilson has also been moved to the Playtonic Friends team.

"We're also looking to hire a digital marketer," Price continues. "We have our own internal social media and community manager, who is also going to be taking on some of those responsibilities. We've moved Andy Wilson over, Mr. Spreadsheet as we call him. He has been with us a while and is ex-Rare as well. He's just so brilliant holding everything together and we're sacrificing having him on our own internal games and giving him to our external partners."

So what does that mean for the next Yooka-Laylee, or whatever it is Playtonic has in-store? The firm's last two games were published by Team17, so does that mean in the future the developer will be going it alone?

"It's too early to tell," Price concludes. "There are some many opportunities. If you look at Mediatonic... they have a publisher in their group [Irregular Corporation] but they saw that the right thing to do was pair a concept like Fall Guys with another publisher [Devolver]. You might think, why would you do that? They've got their own publisher. But it's about what's best for the game. If the answer is be self-publishing, then we'll do that. But if there is a really good company out there that we think will add value and be the best thing to go with, we'll go with them."

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Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
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