Young publisher PlayStack intends to bring indie developers the money, guidance and marketing nous to make the most of their dream games. Jem Alexander speaks to CEO Harvey Elliott about the company's philosophy and how developers can get involved
"We set up to reinvent the games industry,” says PlayStack founder Harvey Elliott.
The publishing outfit has only been around since April 2016, but Elliott’s goals remain lofty. “There are a lot of things in the games industry that we think are broken and we are trying to fix them.”
These problems – at least the ones PlayStack is attempting to fix – relate to independent developers attempting to get funding, publishing deals and advice bringing a game to market.
“Smaller developers struggle to get access to funding,” Elliott says. “They might have the best game in the world, but they can’t fund it. And when they get funding, it’s usually just enough to finish the game but not to take it to market. Then they probably don’t have the expertise to scale the game, because they’re not necessarily marketeers. They’re people who have made a great game, a work of passion. Then if you have a game that maybe does start to break through, how do they scale it to be a significant game in the industry?”
PlayStack has many plans to fix all of these problems and is now actively looking for developers to partner with in a unique arrangement that fits with them. “Most publishers have their model which they’ll apply to you,” Elliott explains. “You don’t get to choose the right thing for you as a developer. We want to work with the development teams and integrate with them. We’d rather become part of the team stand-up, and be part of their game development pipeline, than have a milestone dropped every six to eight weeks which we review and sign off.
“It’s got to feel more like a partnership between us and them. If we’re advancing money or funding them, that’s great. We get to recover that, but any profits will only come when the developer’s making profits, so in terms of any success, we have to be successful for that to work. I think that alignment’s really important.”
A connection to the developer and the project is so important for PlayStack that if someone within the team feels strongly enough about a game, that excitement can propel that game towards a deal. “I say all the time that ‘we’re not a democracy, we’re a dictatorship’,” says Elliott.
“What I want is a passionate voice for a game in the team. It may be a completely opposing view to mine, but if they’re going to be a passionate force for a game and champion it, then that’s going to be more valuable to me than a few people saying they like it.
“We have play sessions every Thursday; every game that comes in, the whole team is invited to play. We have some sofas in the office, we pull them around, gather round, play the games, talk about what we like and don’t like, ask questions and create a nice cycle of reviewing and playing titles. The team are gamers, as you’d expect in any games publisher.”
Part of what makes PlayStack different from other publishers is its access to a large amount of capital. “We’ve set up a fund so that private investors can put money into a games fund to invest in development,” Elliott says. “And we’ve set up a marketing fund, so that if we think that a game’s going to be successful, we’ve got lots of capital to back it with.
“We’ve devised a structure where we can invest in companies, give them financial support, give them structural support, get them board and governance and all the relatively boring bits of the world sorted and dealt with, so they can focus on making games. And they get to be the CEOs and run their companies, but we want to help them grow it into a proper infrastructure. It’s rewarding to do that.
“We may be a small publisher – we have about 25 people in our team – but it’s the financial resource that we’ve got that makes the difference. We’ve got a real edge with that. People will be successful and there’s plenty of room in the market. There’s plenty of room for games and apps and content to come through, so now it’s just about finding the best ones to give them the best voice.“
(Dick Wilde - Oculus Rift, HTC Vive & PlayStation VR)
THE HUNT IS ON
PlayStack is now at a place where it is actively seeking out development talent to partner with. Everyone on the team is keeping an eye out and developers can contact Rob Crossley directly if they want to be considered.
“We’ve recently appointed Rob,” says Elliott. “His job is head of developer partnerships, so his role is to help build partnerships with developers, to find people out there, so he’s an easy place to start and get in touch. From there they can access all the people in the company, so let’s overload his inbox as a starting place.
“It’s really important to meet with developers and find out what they need and what they want, and in return they’ll get to hear our view of what they’re doing. They’ll get honest answers about what we think and whether it’s something that we can work with.”
Every developer who signs with PlayStack has the freedom to work with them in a unique way. “They can choose to work with us in everything,” Elliott says. “They can take advantage of the investment fund and publish and scale, or they can choose to dip in and out of the things that work for them and work for us. The job really for us is to fit around what the developer needs, rather than saying ‘here’s our solution, take it or leave it’. Because we believe we’ll find the best in each of the developers because of it. So we’ve set all that up since we started, we’ve signed eight games and companies. A few are in soft launch at the moment, one VR game is out live and selling, and then more to come over the coming twelve months. Everything we want to do is set up, now we’re looking to scale it all. So we’re out looking for developers.
“It’s quite dangerous, we’ll talk to anyone on any platform at any stage on any budget. What we recommend is that people have really thought through their ideas and ideally have prototypes. They have built their game and shown what it can do. We’re happy to meet developers with concepts and talk about it, but they’d need to have such a phenomenal track record, background. That might be harder for many people to put together. So we’d normally want to see prototypes. We have done some prototype funding, so if we absolutely utterly believe in the team we can support them, but if I was giving them their best shot, they’d want to come in with something which shows the intent of your game. Lots of ambition, but something we can start to get our hands on and around, and then get into a dialogue with us.”
You can contact Rob Crossley and pitch your game to PlayStack here: firstname.lastname@example.org