A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on.
Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.
The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.
We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry. You can see our previous retrospectives here
Today we are talking to Mario Kroll from Kalypso Media USA. Kalypso is a game publisher who has been around for years in the PC space. This year though they are starting to branch out into console games as well as expanding their push into digital distribution.
Looking back at the last year what were the things that Kalypso did right? What things could you have done better?
In response to a number of key retailers’ decreasing receptiveness to titles on Windows PC in North America, part of our strategic shift has been to adapt and publish in a way that plays to our strengths rather than trying to compete in someone else’s game, if you will. Given our strong and very successful digital publishing group and their successes, we’ve reduced the number of PC-only titles in our retail lineup and increased the number of console titles in boxed retail. Our fans can still find all the titles that we offer; just some we won’t introduce into boxed retail, or only in very limited distribution. For North America, we also want to ensure we service our PC and our console fans equally well. For example, with Tropico 4, we not only released the game on PC and Xbox 360, we also launched three DLCs and Tropico 4: Modern Times this year as the first major expansion on both PC and Xbox 360.
We’re always learning, particularly since we are both a small company in North American and a new publisher there. I think we spent a good amount of time in 2011 trying to do things entirely in a traditional publisher way. That doesn’t really work in favor of our strengths, which include flexible distribution models, ability to react quickly without a lot of red tape and having a fan base that appreciates our not always mainstream titles. I think for 2012, you’ll see us react a lot better, have an improved line up. We plan to publish via retail based on what retail demands and will accept, while also leveraging our very solid digital distribution presence for those games that retail has become too risk averse to carry.
What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
The game industry as a whole is learning to be more flexible in how they approach consumers. It was a good year for portable and social games, and it was good to see the industry make quick changes to adapt to this market as a whole. In the past, it seemed like our industry, much like many others, was a lumbering beast, happy to stick to what was currently working, and not keeping an eye on the future. But now, with so many rapid changes hitting our industry, it did a reasonably good job of reacting to those changes.
What could the industry do better? Make it easier for consumers to have a very standardized buying experience. For example, DRM is managed on a per-publisher and often per-title basis, which means some publishers, like us, try to make it as easy as possible to be up and playing your game instantly, while others take a much less customer-friendly approach. As a publisher, we understand the need for DRM; it just needs to become more transparent and largely invisible to the gamers.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from Kalypso in 2012? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
Personally, I’m most excited about our lineup this year. The shift to offering more of our strategy games also as console titles is pretty exciting. Strategy games, when attempted, have been successful on console, and I think they offer a refreshing alternative to the largely action-oriented genres that dominate those platforms. I grew up playing strategy games initially on the Commodore 64 and later almost exclusively on the PC. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t really use a PC gaming rig anymore and find that when I game, I’m either doing it on my MacBook Pro, my iPad or on my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I think a lot of the traditional “strategy gamers” have aged up as well and are in a similar boat. I think there is a real opportunity to resonate with them and offer them a deep strategy gaming experience while providing them the convenience on console and also on mobile platforms. I think our upcoming Omerta – City of Gangsters will be one such title that offers a deep strategy macro game with a turn-based combat resolution system that will bring back some fond memories from other classic games that defined the strategy genre previously only on PC.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m also very stoked about our Modern Times expansion for Tropico 4. I think it might be the best work that developer Haemimont has ever delivered and it is really quite good, taking the Tropico franchise to entirely new places. Likewise, we’re in the middle of negotiations for a number of very interesting titles that no one is going to expect out of Kalypso Media, and I’m dying to share the details as soon as we are able.
We also are currently defining our mobile and handheld strategy. We’ve been talking about this for a long time, but now, with a very solid back catalog and our own IP from our three development studios, we’re poised to enter that market with some solid games that, in my mind, are a very strong fit for the touchscreen and portable nature of those devices.
What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I think there are still a ton of great games coming out on all platforms. This is refreshing in an environment of sequel-itis and retailer risk aversion. There have been so many great indie games out recently across all platforms, it’s still very much fun to be a gamer.
With that said I worry that, because so many retailers are shying away from or reducing their PC game assortment and shelf space, anyone that’s not shipping the top ten to twenty titles a year is going to have to consider whether retail on PC makes sense for them. I already know of several very solid PC developer/publishers that have said they are getting out of retail entirely or have already done so. It would be sad if at some point this translates into a dramatic reduction of high quality titles that don’t’ fit the mold of top financial performers, yet still appeal to a significant audience, or if retailers suddenly realize that there just aren’t a lot of great PC game choices for them to stock their shelves.
From a publishing portfolio perspective, how do you balance risky new IP’s with sequels and safer games?
When evaluating a new IP, we examine it to see if it fits our portfolio first, then whether it will interest gamers. We also evaluate whether we’ll be able to add value to the publishing relationship. There are quite a few very good games out there that resonate with gamers, but would not be in our area of expertise. We’re less than three years old in North America, so it’s taken us a little time, but I think we have a pretty solid understanding now of what we’re good at publishing credibly and what just doesn’t make any sense for us to get involved with.
With that being said, we’re always open to taking a flyer on an opportunity if it seems interesting and might work and strengthen our reputation as publisher of high-quality games. For example, while we normally take new IP titles from new development partners fairly late in the development cycle, our digital division is publishing a very fun casual game called Alien Spidy, that we got involved with from nearly the start and that represents a brand-new IP for us.
Generally speaking, we evaluate each title on its merits and try to determine what makes the most sense. Given that we have three of our own studios, we are now in a position to not only generate our own new IP several times a year, but also service sequels to our back catalog and work with third party developers and co-publishers to do either.
How far away do you think we are from complete digital distribution across all platforms? What do you think the retail presence for games will looks like once we go all digital?
We’re probably 5-10 years away from seeing a completely digital sales landscape. There are three obstacles to overcome before the industry in North America goes completely digital – First being that broadband is not everywhere, rural areas are still struggling with getting high-speed Internet, which means a completely digital “storefront” immediately excludes all those potential gamers. Second, while the market for digital games keeps expanding, there are still people who like to have a physical copy of the game. There’s something about it that says “I got something for my money that I can hold in my hands”.
Lastly, we also haven’t fully worked out all the kinks to make digital games more portable. For example, when I jump on a plane, any game I want to play that’s digital and needs to do a quick check-in via the Internet to confirm, “I own the game”, suddenly doesn’t work. That’s very frustrating.