Last month, publisher Iceberg Interactive acquiring the publishing rights to three upcoming space games, StarDrive, Endless Space and the boxed collector’s edition of SOL: Exodus. Wondering if this was a trend, I contacted my press contact over at Iceberg to see if I could do a Q&A about all this, and more. I recently received the answers from CEO Erik Schreuder, which give a lot of insight into these recent acquisitions and much more. Please read the answers below, and enjoy! :)
Brian Rubin: Hello, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. First off, for people who are unaware, could you give us some background/history of Iceberg Interactive?
Erik Schreuder: Iceberg Interactive was formed early 2009 by a team of industry veterans with a collective game industry experience of about 70 years. Some of us have been involved in the industry since the early nineties. Most recently, some of us were on board at Lighthouse Interactive which was the publisher of the first Sword of the Stars game. That’s how we first got involved in space games.
Brian: Now, to dive in, in May your company announced three publishing deals for some upcoming and existing space games, including StarDrive, Endless Space and the collector’s edition of SOL: Exodus. You guys have published space games before, but is this a new focus on space games in general?
Erik: At Iceberg we picked up several more space games; Armada 2526, then Starpoint Gemini, Star Ruler and before the trio of May 2012 you mentioned, we signed up Gemini Wars as well, which will have its release next week (Brian: These questions were completed before the release of the game). So it is not so much a new focus, I guess it was more a case of 2012 being a good year for lots of great space game projects nearing the finish line and us being able to pick them up. We definitely think the space games genre is a category that still tends to do well in (European) retail, as well as digitally, and therefore it is one of our targeted genres. But we also definitely do look at other genres, so it is not a case of space-games-only.
Brian: How did you come to pick up these three games, specifically, and in such a short span of time? Did they reach out to you, for example, or vice versa? What’s the typical process of putting a publishing deal together?
Erik: Our Business Development Director Raymond Snippe is the one always on the lookout for games that fit the bill for us. And sometimes you go on a roll, I guess. We met up with the guys from StarDrive at GDC and took it from there. We also always look on forums and that’s how we found Endless Space. And Sol: Exodus had been on our radar for a while actually. And there could be more on the horizon!
Now that you’ve entered into an arrangement with these specific games, how does Iceberg specifically help them reach a wider audience?
We are a publisher for which these games are definitely flagship titles and not just some game in a huge line-up filled with triple A titles. So they get our full attention. We combine local retail presence with a global network of digital partners to ensure the market penetration the games need, and also assist with other things such as age ratings, testing and to a certain degree, funding (don’t think of us as a bank though). And of course we invest in supporting the games with PR and marketing, varying from game exhibitions, presstours, launch events and much more.
Brian: When Iceberg enters into an agreement with a developer, how much influence does Iceberg have over the pre or post-release development of a game? Do you work together with the developer, for example, or do you leave them be to develop the game in their own manner?
Erik: We are quite hands on, but in the end it is the developer’s baby. Opposite to larger publishers, we don’t claim to want to own the IP, because we realize only the developer is entitled to that. So while we will aid with testing and co-producing to a certain degree, we are not going to sit in the developer’s chair and take over. We don’t have the expertise for that. We can’t design, program or pretend to have any of those skills. We’re all about PR, marketing, product management and sales. Each to his own right? So they can develop the game how they want, but we will closely monitor the direction of the game and whether milestones are met. Often projects get delayed and we have to stay on top of that, because it is pivotal to synchronize that with your PR and marketing effort.
Brian: What kind of qualities do you look for in a game that you’re thinking of publishing?
Erik: For the very large part, these will have to be games that we like to play ourselves. We are gamers ourselves after all, so our motto is ‘for gamers, by gamers’. Also, we have to think there is a market for the game and it has to be affordable financially obviously. That being said, I can tell you that we do not have a single game for which the contract is the same. Every deal varies. Sometimes certain rights are already gone, or sometimes we just buy a selection of rights. We’re quite flexible.
Brian: The fact that you’re publishing a collector’s edition of SOL: Exodus brings up something I’ve been wondering about. It seems to me that one way to fight piracy is to add value to a product beyond the game itself, such as special features do for movies. Is this something you would like to see more of in gaming, or do you see items such as the SOL: Exodus collector’s edition as more of a special case?
Erik: Yes. Most definitely having unique items in a boxed edition is necessary to stay afloat as a retail alternative for digital sales. Piracy is still and will remain a huge enemy of the entertainment business, and from that perspective having collector’s items in the box is also a way to push a product beyond its claws.
Brian: In keeping with the subject of SOL: Exodus, there is a planned boxed version of the game as well. With the rise of digital distribution, do you see boxed PC games as still viable in this day and age, or do you see them eventually going away entirely, and why?
Erik: In some markets boxed sales are still viable. We still do decent business in Europe, especially in countries like Germany. I know that in North-America, the trend of the boxed market shrinking and the digital one growing, is a process that is a bit further down the line than it is in Europe. But in the end, these market trends will cross the big pond, and they’ll become a reality here as well. That’s happening already, we’re just slower. At Iceberg we are definitely changing our business model and are adapting, but at the same time, we don’t want to leave good business on the table either. So, we will release games boxed where it is still opportune. We have witnessed the decline of several smaller European markets already though, especially in South-Europe with the crisis and all. Localization is also an issue, so if a boxed market becomes too small, localization is no longer rewarding and the avenue is closed from that angle.
Mind you we are also excited about the opportunities of digital sales. Digital shelves are unlimited and games can stay on them forever, and you can put the price back up after a promotion. Retail doesn’t offer that. And in digital, the margins are better. Which is good, because games have only gotten cheaper and salaries and the cost of life tend to go up, so for publishers the spoils have gotten smaller. And only a growing market can help you there, or a different model. Or in this case, both.
However, things never go as fast as people think they will. People tend to exaggerate because they want to be heard. I remember people saying, adventure games are dead. Not the case. Now they say retail is dead. Not the case, well not yet anyway. I remember guys at ECTS in 1999 who were trying to launch digital sales then and while they had the right vision, they went bust because they were just too early and it didn’t happen fast enough. Only the ones with deep enough pockets survived. And things are never just black and white either. So it is not just-digital now, retail still works too – there is still plenty of people out there who like to go to the high street or to a specialist shop. Meet people, ask questions, it is a social thing too. And some people just want something tangible in their hands and something to show on their shelf at home. But maybe all that is more a European tradition than an North-American one.
I do feel that boxed sales will eventually be very limited and that just triple A titles with additional items in the box may stay, while it also possible that retail will just sell a key code in a box. The growth of digital will continue over the next years for sure and it is already at 50% so there is your answer, but that does not mean that retail will become extinct in the near future.
Brian: If you’re allowed to say so, do you have any other publishing deals in the works with other space games that you think my readers might be interested in?
Erik: We’re looking at a few projects but obviously nothing we can reveal right now, as we’d be under NDA. :)
Brian: Finally, besides the aforementioned space games, what other games are you guys excited about over at Iceberg that you’d like to share with us?
Erik: We’re now in our fourth year with this company and we feel we’re starting to notice a rapidly increasing awareness for who we are and what we want to accomplish; being a viable alternative for smaller developers to get to market. Some people think that publishers are no longer needed because of direct lines to digital sales channels for developers, but think of this: how big could your digital sales be if you had a legitimate publisher effort behind it?!
As far as games go, we just signed a game with a big name behind it, Cristiano Ronaldo FreeStyle, a casual soccer game. I am very curious and excited to see how that goes, so we’re looking at more casual tiles as well, another one is Tiny Troopers which is reminiscent of a game like Cannon Fodder. And we have a few excellent horror adventure games coming up too. Yeah, we’ll have a busy year for sure.