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Magazin: interview

„Generate revenue through every possible channel“

Fresh on the scene, the label „Modus Games“ was established earlier this year. We spoke with Maximum Games CEO Christina Seelye for details.
IGM: Ms Seely, please give us a short overview of Maximum Games!

Christina Seelye: Maximum Games is our parent company and one of the fastest growing, top 20 video game companies in the world. Modus Games is our new publishing label that's specifically focused on independent studios and the creative content coming out of the indie sector of video games. Maximum Games works with many different partners all over the world, primarily in North and South America and Western Europe, sub-publishing and distributing a wide variety of games, from AA to AAA. Modus works with independent studios globally on what we like to call „Triple I“ games, taking them all the way from concept to launch and beyond. For us, Triple I is an indie game that we bring our years of refined AAA publishing expertise to in order to achieve the best results both critically and commercially.

IGM: What are some of the clients of Maximum Games?

Seelye: Some of our partners on the Maximum Games side of business include Focus, Bigben, Microïds, and Milestone, to name a few.

IGM: There are already a bunch of other indie game publishers. What are you doing better than them?

Seelye: There's a whole set of indie publishers that are really just working on getting the game out the door and launched. We're very different than that. We have all of the capabilities of a AAA publisher to provide a very professional, elegant launch process – but targeted to what's appropriate and relevant for the independent studio. The services we provide extend far beyond what many of the smaller indie publishers offer. For example, our production team does all of the QA, localization, playtesting, and contingency work when things don’t pan out as planned. We handle all digital and trade marketing, PR, and customer support. We handle global digital and physical launches – which is different than most of the indie publishers that aren’t equipped to facilitate a truly global launch.

„A positive, symbiotic relationship between developer and publisher“

IGM: You offer a wide array of services. But not every indie studio can afford them, I guess.

Seelye: True. And that's why in our publishing model, we come in at various stages to provide funding along that path. Independent studios tend to have very creative and interesting content. And usually they're led by a couple of super-talented people who decided to make a company but lack the infrastructure to make their games truly successful. What we do is just help fund that effort and bring all the resources that we have to the table. The reason why we're focused on independent studios is because we have a very similar world view and ethos about how to approach work, life and launching games. This tends to naturally build a positive, symbiotic relationship between developer and publisher. We feel that our scrappy, get-it-done philosophy is a really good match with independent studios.

IGM: So which games do you present here at gamescom? What are the main titles?

Seelye: We're presenting Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, which comes out on October 8. As part of that launch we're also doing Trine: The Ultimate Collection, which is the first time all four Trine games will be available in one comprehensive collection on all platforms. At Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live we announced Remothered: Broken Porcelain. This is our new horror game that's coming next year, in partnership with Chris Darrill and Stormind Games. Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is a very funny, quirky Monty Python-esque boulder racing game that will also come out in 2020. This time it will contain a level builder, which is a great addition providing even more hilarious gameplay. And then there's the JRPG Cris Tales. Cris Tales was announced at E3 and won several game awards at the show. Internally, it's a kind of darling that we really love. It was the first game from Colombia that had ever been announced at E3. Also, we are showing the adventure game Ary and the Secret of Seasons, a unique spin on action-adventure where the player can control the seasons.

IGM: In Germany you cooperate with astragon...

Seelye: Yes, we established a great relationship with them this year. They're our physical partner for all of Germany, for our whole line-up.

IGM: So you always publish digitally yourself and then you find partners for physical distribution...

Seelye: Yes. And actually, we do the same thing on the Maximum Games side, but reversed. We work this way with a lot of different partners. It’s important for us as a business to focus on what we can do well and where we can add value to our partners – on the flip side, we recognize what partners can do better than us. That's what our relationship with astragon is like. They're very knowledgeable about the German market and they give us a lot of guidance on what we should be doing in the German market. For us, it was a no-brainer and it’s been a good partnership.

IGM: So all of the titles that you just mentioned will also have physical releases in Germany?

Seelye: Yes, exactly.

„We're going to make money for everybody along the supply chain where we can“

IGM: The revenue from physical sales is shrinking. Why is it still important to you?

Seelye: For a couple of reasons. One, there is still money to be made in physical, so we shouldn't be walking away from it if we know how to do it. We've been releasing games physically for a really long time, so we're very efficient at that channel of the business. We're going to make money for everybody along the supply chain where we can. Another reason is, when you launch a game both physically and digitally globally, there's much more awareness, a lot more opportunity to build community, and a much better return on your marketing dollars. It’s much more profitable in the long run to market and sell through different channels instead of just focusing on one. And that's one of the big messages that we have with the independent studio community. A lot of times developers think: „Oh, maybe I'll self-publish.“ That may be a fine idea, but realistically you are only going to be able to self-publish into a couple different revenue streams, or possibly just one: Steam. Whereas, when you're working with us as publisher, our view is: „Let's create a plan and schedule that will generate revenue through every possible channel – and not leave anything on the table. You're only going to launch the game one time, so you might as well try to get it everywhere.“

„You have to make sure that you understand that supply chain very clearly“

IGM: What's the key to success for making money with physical games?

Seelye: Being very, very good at the supply chain of the release management process. There's lots of scheduling involved in making sure you can set a proper release date – and making that release date. One of the challenges – even for large publishers – is that you get used to creating something digitally only. And then you just publish it and it goes live, and you’re immediately selling it, hopefully! Whereas, with physical product, there are a lot more steps that happen once the game is ready to go. In order to make money in this channel, you have to make sure that you understand that supply chain very clearly. If any one part of that system falls apart along the way, you can lose your margin. The other thing is you have to know the basics of retail business: inventory management, making sure that you're putting the right number in the right stores at the right time, etc. Whether you're selling a phone case or a bottle of water or a video game, it's a matter of managing consumer demand and inventory. But that's why we bring those services to a studio so that they don't have to worry about that. We have a whole team of people worrying about that. (laughs)

IGM: What are the biggest differences between the US and the German retail market?

Seelye: The biggest difference I see is that the German market is still very spread out. And so, it's a bit more complex, because you're selling to a lot of different independent decision-makers, whereas in the US the decision-makers tend to be buyers in a corporate office. We have found that we’ve had to adopt a different structure in order to manage physical in Germany, which is one of the reasons that we partnered up with astragon – because they're really good at that. We would rather work with people who are really good at something instead of being arrogant and assuming that we can do it all by ourselves. (laughs)

IGM: Have you seen any German games at gamescom that could be interesting for your portfolio?

Seelye: Yes, but nothing that I can talk about yet. One of the reasons that we came here to gamescom is to specifically look for German content and find interesting German independent studios that would like to launch their games globally.

IGM: Your company is growing fast. What are your next goals?

Seelye: In the coming years we're really trying to focus on Maximum Games as a global source for physical distribution and sub-publishing. Within the Modus brand, we’d love to have a roadmap of strong indie games that we are growing and nurturing so they have a long lifecycle ahead of them. Right now, we're putting about eight games a year out. We would like to move that up to 12 to 15 games a year and not just to have the numbers, but to really support these independent studios so that they can grow along with us. (Achim Fehrenbach)