Open Season

Open Season

By Stuart Richardson

March 19th 2010 at 11:03AM

Reef Entertainment CEO Peter Rezon explores the potential of Wii porting

Reef Entertainment have ported several popular PS2 titles to the Wii over the past few years.

They have formed a strong working relationship with Rebellion, but have eyes for expanding both the titles they publish and the markets they work in.

CEO Peter Rezon had a chat with us about the oppourtunities he sees in porting, and the ways in which he plans to take advantage of them.

In your own words, who are Reef Entertainment and what do they do? Also, how good are they at ‘it’?

(Laughs) I like that one. We’d like to think that we are in the business of publishing computer games!

I started Reef five years ago, and for the first eighteen months we cut our teeth on publishing PC games and learning what it was that we wanted to do.

I mean, I know I am a good manager, but when it comes down to who is going to find product, who will handle operations, who will make the boss a cup of tea and the like, you need to build that up from the ground.

After that we moved into console games and put Freerunning out on PS2 and PSP as well, and then we moved into the Nintendo arena with Rouge Trooper and Freerunning last year.

I wanted Reef to be a small publisher providing a service to developers that have a product needing to go to market. When you’ve got the big boys doing the spreadsheets and you can’t see doing 100,000 or 200,000 units, there are things you can do that get the product to market with smaller numbers leaving everybody happy.

Developers looking to take titles and new IP that won’t get a chance otherwise, because they are too left-field or whatever, we are looking to fill those gaps in the market. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, while being selective.

When looking for titles to port/publish, do you look for game quality or potential sales performance?

It’s probably a mix of both. As with our Rebellion work, for whatever reason there are titles that have never come out, or there are titles that have not been released on a platform, say Wii, when you know that it did well when it was out on PS2 or Xbox years ago.

Is there any specific title you’ve worked on that you think best shows the potential for what you can get out of a game?

Freerunning is a good example of a game that worked well for us. It was a Rebellion title that had been discontinued by one of the bigger publishers – they simply didn’t want it anymore.

We found it in a cupboard, and it needed needed finishing off. Rebellion kindly agreed to do that for PSP and PS3, and we put the Wii game out across Europe and we sold close to 200,000 units.

Sometimes people say that we are just making ports, but we don’t like to see it like that. The game is the game that people know, you don’t expect to see it any other way, but you see a game that has been updated and refreshed as much as possible, we have given it what enhancements we can, its not just a straight port.

So that’s what we are looking for. We’ve taken the same route with one or two others. Now I am speaking to other developers who are looking back into their cupboards and seeing what they have got.

We are in a very interesting situation at the moment which the industry hasn’t had for a while. There isn’t a new console coming any time soon, people are only producing for PS3 and 360, and small publishers need to crop accordingly.

What would you say to studios about the potential of the Wii as a method of getting new business out of back-catalogues?

There has been that chance for devs in the last couple of years where aging platforms like PS2 aren’t getting any new titles. You’ve had the DS and Wii situation where prices at retail have been decimated for whatever reason and the big developers work on unit sales. So they have the big plans for the PS3 and the 360.

The Nintendo machine is simply a gaming platform, they say: “These are the rules, this is what we have got. If you want to be involved, come on board.”
Its very easy to say that the market is oversaturated on Wii, but many people have moved away from it, leaving things much more open again.

Are there any particular projects that you would like to see on this platform?

Well I am looking around at the moment. One of the things that is interesting is that people say that the Wii is very family friendly and aimed at younger age groups. They don’t see it as a platform that a hardcore gamer wants to be on.

But look at some of the more ‘adult’ games that have been out on the Wii, and I’m not talking about the biggest titles; sales figures in general, and particularly on the American market, are not too bad at all.

I would even say that they are probably better than some people would give them consideration for. What I fear is good titles not getting the pushes they deserve because people worry too much about sales targets.

But what may not make sense for a bigger company may be a great project for a smaller set-up like the one we have. It’s quite remarkable how quickly sales can be made, if you put the work in.

Do you think that the current economic climate may contribute to future successes for your business?

Well I would hope so. I mean it is obvious that developers are moving into DLC and methods of cheaper production for games, which can negate the need for people who produce finished products like myself.

What is going on in the games business is no different to what went on in the music and film industries. In years to come there will be a swing in the way people bring in revenue. This doesn’t mean that people like me will drop off the end of the cliff, however. In that sense I hope that there is a good future ahead.

Where would you like your business to be five years from now?

What I find interesting is that when I started this, looking for these titles, I was essentially just Europe based. With both Freerunning and Rogue Trooper, however, I have been able to break into the American markets.

You know, I struck a deal with a smaller publisher with big designs to get product into the marketplace.
That means that when I am doing the numbers I can sit down with a developer and talk about a title that I am interested in, or that they are interested in, we can do the work together and everybody will get paid.

Even if the profit is only £1, the bottom line is that we will be in the black. Then, everybody is happy. What I hope for is as much of that as possible. And to start working with other platforms.