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Zombies Juiced

Doublesix studio head James Brooksby talks more about his quest for openness on digital sales numbers, and the transition to original IP

A couple of weeks ago Doublesix revealed that its PlayStation Network title Burn Zombie Burn had sold 70,000 units - something of an unusual move, as downloadable sales figures are normally kept under wraps.

Here, studio head James Brooksby explains in more detail why knowing numbers is a good thing, and talks about the studio's push further into original IP.

GamesIndustry.biz The original number you noted in our story on Burn Zombie Burn was 70,000, but you swiftly updated that in our comments section to 80,000 - has that gone up any further since last then?
James Brooksby

At the moment the figures are looking like they're over 82,000 - so steadily going up, which is nice, and we're very happy about that.

We're launching in the Asia region soon as well, which is cool - not really sure what that'll do to our numbers, as it's a whole new territory, and I don't know whether there's that much out there. I've never had a good look, but it's pretty exciting for us to be in yet another territory, and they're also following up with putting the Home space up there as well.

So it'll be really cool to see what impact all this has.

GamesIndustry.biz One of the interesting things to happen as part of the GamesIndustry.biz story being published was that a number of other studios got in touch with you about their own numbers - is that encouraging?
James Brooksby

Absolutely - the thing I found great was that these people got in touch pretty quickly. Some people were asking me questions, others were asking but also offering their information. With Gamescom coming up, quite a few people suggested meeting in Cologne as like-minded individuals, to have a beer and a chat about our experiences - so we can do some sharing there.

So it's been heartening, absolutely, and it makes me feel good that the digital developer space is actually a very vibrant and - it seems mad to say - but almost a caring, sharing environment we're building.

There are like-minded people who have been through the box product years and now feel like they're being let off the leash - if they can't do what they want, they can certainly operate in a way that they've wanted to operate for some time.

That certainly feels like the case with people we've spoken to in the UK, who we've met for dinner or drinks, and who have been incredibly open about the way they've been operating, teams they've needed to deploy, what kind of budgets they've gone for... it's certainly something I wouldn't have experienced in the work-for-hire environment, but then there wasn't much of a reason for it there.

Plus, of course, we were being more competitive in that space - things might change in the future, but right now that article has certainly opened doors. It's shown a really positive side of the industry, that I'm enjoying at the moment.

GamesIndustry.biz Boxed product numbers are tracked, and occasionally publishers will release them at certain milestones - but why the secrecy for the online platforms?
James Brooksby

Well, there are different contracts for every person, and some people's contracts mean that they can't talk about their numbers - or the numbers of the product they've worked on, because it might not wholly be their game to talk about. That might be their issue.

In terms of secrecy, I can see a whole series of reasons why publishers and platform holders might want to restrict talking about their numbers - certainly to large publishers with shareholders you could see why it's commercially sensitive information.

By know the numbers, and the retail price, and roughly how things work you can easily work that back to an estimate of profitability, and so on. I can understand that, and that might be a similar issue for everybody else - platform and developer.

Plus there's an element of competition between all the platforms. PC, XBLA, PSN, WiiWare, etc, and it's good to keep that quiet if you want to say that you're doing really well. You don't want to have people look at the numbers and tell you the percentages are sliding, and then getting quizzed on it. I'm not saying that's the case, just that it could be a reason.

So I'm sure there's a myriad of reasons why not, but for us as independent developers that are supposedly being encouraged to work in this space, it's vital that we do have the information at our disposal to do the right thing, and for us - and all the way to platform holders - not to make poorly-judged bets, lose money and never come back to the service.

Potentially, in the long term, that could kill these services, by everybody having lost money and saying they won't do that again - when in fact it was just a poor judgement, or they could have been close to something good. Who knows? There could be a bunch of reasons.

But it's all about avoiding mistakes, and it's hard to do that when you're operating almost completely in the dark. The important thing for us as well is that when we're talking about funding games out of our own pocket, that doesn't necessarily mean that we all have pots of cash just sitting in the back room not doing anything. It means alternative routes that don't involve conventional publishing companies.

Those are investors, and those investors are sat in front of people looking for money - whether that be a bank, or an angel, or any other funding operation - they want to see the evidence for the levels of sale that you say you're going to achieve. They don't want to hear you say that you're not sure, or don't know.

That's we're all going out for a lot of intelligence-gathering, to be more sure. But the only people who are sure are the people who have the final numbers.

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