Hollywood studio Paramount wants in on the games biz â?? and plans to build its reputation with development deals, hiring former Eidos and Kuju man John Kavanagh to lead its efforts. Tim Ingham caught up with him to find out what we can expect as movies and games collideâ?¦
What’s the story behind Paramount’s move into games and your appointment?
We started with iPhone publishing, and we’ve had five iPhone games out now. They’re all legacy titles, like Days Of Thunder and Top Gun. Days Of Thunder and Shooter did really well, so well in fact that we’re exploring other platforms. We’re also eager to launch our new Top Gun game in early May. Our next step is into XBLA and PSN. We’ve done a game based on the new Star Trek movie for both of those and we’re taking our legacy titles onto XBLA and PSN as well, including a remake of The Warriors.
What’s the thinking behind releasing the Star Trek game as download only? Why not go the traditional route of getting a co-publisher on board?
We’re not doing any retail at this point as a standalone publisher. We’re only going with digital distribution at this point.
As we’re all seeing, downloadable is playing an increasingly important role in the industry. Downloading movies and interactive content fits well with Paramount’s strategy. That’s what our group’s focused on. We will continue to work with out licensing partners on boxed product.
You’re not alone in releasing a download-only major movie tie-in – Warner did so earlier in 2009 with Watchmen. Is this a trend you can see growing?
Yes. I think establishing our presence in that market early on is very key because it gets hard after a while to find your products in online. We have to set expectations early. Placing game downloads to go with our movies is good, because being able to associate a download with a movie marketing campaign is a very good thing for us.
Do you have any retail strategy going forward?
We’re also looking at DSiWare and PSP’s download service, but you won’t be seeing Paramount’s name alone on a box at any
time soon. We recently developed some female-skewing casual games based on our licences including Mean Girls, Pretty In Pink and Clueless, which were distributed by 505 Games in Europe. Boxed products require sophisticated sales infrastructure especially with complexities surrounding inventory and more – that we don’t currently have. My hat goes off to anyone that follows this path, but it’s not something we’re actively pursuing at the moment.
Will we see boxed products with the Paramount logo on in the future?
I couldn’t say because that would be a very big corporate decision to put that kind of infrastructure in place. In our current form as PDI, I would envisage us relying on partnerships with third parties. If you look as far ahead as to when that would be discussed, you’re looking at the next generation of consoles. Then we start discussing things that haven’t even happened yet – the platform holders’ strategy for their next hardware, for one thing. As we’ve seen with OnLive technology – which my old friend Mike McGarvey is involved in – things can change pretty fast.
I’ve seen that working – and it seems to run pretty well. But it’s a prime example of deal changers that make any predictions in this business difficult. They’re rolling out fibre-optic cables into homes now – that could also have a huge effect. You have to ask: how will these things affect the creation of the new Xbox or PlayStation? How will they affect the consumer’s thinking? Because of these new technologies, it’s hard to make predictions.
Warner admitted that they didn’t want to risk investing in retail with Watchmen – due to a feared lack of exposure. Is that something you’re aware of?
The Star Trek game is a light experience. It was developed in conjunction with the film-makers for that purpose and was designed around tightly focused gameplay. It’s going to be 800 points – around £9.99. And that’s representative of the experience gamers are going to get. That isn’t a retail title these days. It wouldn’t be right for the consumer or in terms of return on investment.
Would you be keen on working with other third party publishers?
Where there’s interest, we’ll have a discussion. Our primary focus is on digital downloads, but we work with partners in two senses: one where we build the product and someone else does the sales and marketing, and one where we offer a straight licensing deal. For instance The Godfather II is just arriving from EA, which is a straight licensing deal.
Will we see you farming out less licences than you have in the past – and more of you using your own franchises for downloadable games?
I wouldn’t say that. We don’t have a strict percentage or whatever, but we know our limits – building an XBLA or PSN game is much less complicated than building a triple-A title for retail. Where we think it appropriate, if it’s a big franchise, we might consider doing one of those ourselves online, but we’re still very keen to keep working with partnerships. Certain publishers have a level of expertise we don’t have yet, so on other such titles we’ll call on them. There’s always a commercial decision there, too.
But on the partnership side, we’re looking to be involved more and more. We’re very keen to be actively involved in making quality games like The Godfather series, making sure the right design, the right, team, the right budget are all in place. We want to be involved in our licensed games more in the future. Our partners do a good job of generating awareness of our product and we both want top-notch products, too.
Are you planning on expanding internationally? Will we see a UK HQ for Paramount’s games division any time soon?
Not at this time. Things move very quickly, but we don’t have any current plans. That’s in the next 12 months or so, at least. Longer term, it might be something of interest.
You recently worked with Freeserve for Days Of Thunder – but they’re a fairly little known outfit. Why did you pick them?
Freeserve are very respected studio on Mac, so it makes sense to get them in for iPhone. They’ve made a product we’re proud of in Days Of Thunder and on Top Gun. We’re working with larger developers for larger products.
Would you be working with developers that are well known names in the industry?
Yes. We’re working with a bunch of guys that are recognisable names in the business – and will continue to do so. We like to pick the right developers, even for our licensed games.
Do you have an internal development resource?
All of our development, testing, and QA is external; however, we have an internal Production team that oversees all aspects of these processes.
Would you be interested in acquiring a studio or building an internal team?
We don’t have any plans to build a team and we don’t have any set strategy to go out and find a team to buy. We’re looking at all strategic opportunities on a case-by-case basis. If there’s synergy that, maybe that’s something that could affect our decisions. But having managed internal development teams before, it’s a lot of work. It’s hard to focus on that and on publishing.
Are you interested in working with developers you haven’t yet struck up a relationship with?
If I say yes here, I’m going to get ten million phone calls – but of course we are, with certain conditions. We are actively in talks with new studios all the time. We want to work with people who deliver on time and high quality product. When it’s tied into an active movie, it needs to be both day and date – and high quality.