How Midnight City is establishing itself as the 'record label' of indie publishing

How Midnight City is establishing itself as the 'record label' of indie publishing
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

January 31st 2014 at 10:30AM

VP Casey Lynch explains how the Majesco-owned firm differs from traditional publishers

Launched in August 2013, Midnight City is the indie label owned by Zumba Fitness publisher Majesco Entertainment.

The company is run by former IGN editor-in-chief Casey Lynch and Reverb Publishing CEO Doug Kennedy, who have built Midnight City with a single goal: aiding indies as they try to get their games through the Xbox, PlayStation and PC approval processes.

The company has already released a handful games, such as Blood of the Werewolf, The Bridge and Slender: The Arrival, and future releases can be seen on the official website.

We caught up with Lynch, Midnight City's VP of Publishing (pictured right), to find out how the firm is faring nearly six months on.

What qualifies as an indie when it comes to studios looking to work with you?
Predominantly teams that control their own IP, their own timelines, their own budgets, their own everything. Developers that don’t need help making and finishing their games. Indie, to us, means working with people who do things on their own terms, who aren’t beholden to anyone to get a game or concept finished. We work with an assortment of teams, from one to two-person shops to larger teams that are much more well-known and have more experience. 

What can you offer indies that other publishers and platforms can't?
Midnight City works a bit more like a record label than a traditional publisher, and one with its own editorial side to boot. This means we provide both non-development support services, and we’re in the process of developing and launching our own content production, which gives us the ability to produce creative video. This will allow us to tell the story not just of our teams and games, but of the indie game space as a whole.

We want to steer that conversation and shed light on all facets of making and publishing games, and the team we’re assembling is in the rare position to both release games and build a platform from which to discuss them. From there, we’re all about helping with everything that small developers would otherwise have to oversee themselves while trying to ship games. We offer support on everything from first party relationships, QA andtesting, marketing, promotions and PR, community building, and event management to branding and business development. 

Most devs are surprised to discover that we allow our teams 100 per cent ownership and control. 

Why is it important to let studios retain ownership of their IP? 
Frankly, it’s their game. They should own the rights to it and be in charge of what happens to their properties. It’s a point of pride, ownership, and a position of power. Most devs are surprised to discover that we allow our teams 100 per cent ownership and control. When studios start to build an IP portfolio, it allows them to build value in their studio and have options when looking to drive revenue.

It’s our opinion that when a studio isn’t worrying about money, they are focused on making great games. When they have to worry about making payroll, they aren’t focused on games. Owning IP allows studios to truly chart their direction and it’s something we strongly encourage.

What are you looking for in new clients? Any particular types of games or studios? 
We view our dev teams as partners, not clients. That said, we’re most interested in working on games with a voice, a perspective, with something original or provocative to offer or say. And provocative doesn’t automatically translate into something shocking, or dangerous, or anything specific. We love games that make us think, that make us talk, that make us feel. We all love to play to games and then sit around and talk about them endlessly. If a game doesn’t make us talk, we’re probably not going to be working on it. 

How are you reaching out to new studios? 
We reach out to developers when we find their games, whether in Project Greenlight, on Kickstarter, on Twitter, on TIG Source, or at an event. When we connect with a game, we reach out to the team and begin a conversation. We can’t work with everyone, but we do make a point to contact everyone we see potential in. 

What successes have you seen since opening in August? 
We announced 10 games at PAX 2013. We’ve released three so far and we have more games signed that we’ll be announcing in the coming months. I’d say that’s very successful for a business not even a year old.

We’ve had a ton of inbound interest since our launch as well, which affirms our decision to work with indie developers on digital games, and do it with a certain style and sensibility. We’ve subsequently had lots of developers sending us pitches. And it’s been everything from small teams we haven’t heard of, all the way up to some of the most well-known developers in the business. We’ve also had interest from all the first-party platform holders, who all reached out to us to talk about working together, raising the profile of our teams and games, and discussing how we might cooperate on bigger launches for our games.

We’re most interested in working on games with something original or provocative to say. If a game doesn’t make us talk, we’re probably not going to be working on it. 

How do you plan to grow Midnight City in 2014? 
Right now the biggest area of growth we’re focusing on is community. We’ve got the games, we’ve got the interest of developers and platform holders. Now it’s a matter of getting the community excited about our games and engaged with us. We have some crazy plans to accomplish that – more news on that very soon. 

What is the long-term goal for the company? 
Our goal is to become the group that people associate with indie games – not just our games, but all indie games, indie events, news, commentary, entertainment. We believe in the future of indie games and we see ourselves at the center of that story, helping to bring it to life for the ever-growing audience. 

Given the ever-changing nature of the indie landscape, how have you future-proofed the firm in case indies lose relevance or find alternate routes to market? 
If you got rid of all the publishers, you’d still have games. If you got rid of the developers, we wouldn’t have any games. I think there will always be a place for upstart teams with brave ideas. Indie is definitely riding a bit of a wave right now, but indie teams have always been around, and they always will. We’re here to take the business, logistical and marketing burden off of these teams so they can focus on the most important thing: making great games.