Earlier today (Monday Feb 15th, 2016) VideoGamer.com posted a story about rumours of a Sniper Elite 4 project in development.
David Scammell at VideoGamer did kindly give Rebellion a chance to
respond to before publishing the story, and here is Jason Kingsley’s
response in full.
“To be honest we’re flattered that people are actively searching out for a new Sniper Elite title, and we certainly don’t mind being mentioned next to projects like Black Ops 3 and Unreal!” Kingsley said in a statement provided to us this afternoon. “However the person in question doesn’t work for Rebellion and we haven’t announced a new entry in the Sniper Elite series.”
“Last year we celebrated the Sniper Elite series’ 10th birthday and
10 millionth sale, so our IP is still hugely important to both Rebellion
and independent UK games development. We’re actually gearing up to
announce a new Rebellion game soon, so expect to hear more from us
In short? We can’t confirm the unnannounced projects we’re working on, but expect some news very soon!
As our CEO Jason Kingsley explains below, self-publishing Zombie Army Trilogy was a risk for a studio like Rebellion, but it was a risk we could control. And the game has proven to be a stellar success. With that in mind, here are the three key lessons we learned from self-publishing Zombie Army Trilogy.
The early results are in for Zombie Army Trilogy, Rebellion’s first self-published console title. I’m pleased to say we are on track to make double our costs back in 12 months or less – a return rate that, if you’re a venture capitalist, you’d be more than happy with.
The goal of these articles has been to share some of the insights I’ve uncovered and, with this being the final piece, here are the key lessons we’ve learned.
1. Cut your coat according to your cloth
Self-publishing was a risk, but we felt we could control that risk. We took confidence from our track record, and that the investment required for the game was relatively modest.
This has to be reflected in the price, which is why Zombie Army Trilogy retails for a third less than the £45 (and up) that new-generation console titles tend to start at. This reinforces the view that there’s a market in-between mobile games and full-priced console releases – perhaps the mid-tier is making a comeback. Basically: we weren’t over-ambitious or greedy, either.
2. Happy fans and strong sales beat critical acclaim
When we made the first Nazi Zombie Army game, there were no plans for a sequel, let alone two of them and a console version. But the franchise found an audience – a keen fanbase for what is unashamedly a tongue-in-cheek, gory, WWII zombie shooter.
Part of the decision to self-publish came from knowing that there was a fanbase who wanted more. We didn’t over-analyse the market opportunity – we simply made a great game that we thought others would like to play.
I’ve spoken before about the disconnect between professional game reviews and consumer purchasing decisions, and that disconnect has been apparent again with Zombie Army Trilogy. That’s not to denigrate anyone; it’s simply that that the game was never designed to win a BAFTA, and with my CEO hat on, and my responsibility to pay our 200-plus staff, it’s sales that keep the lights on, not review scores or awards (though they are always welcome). My advice to other developer-publishers is not to be unduly fearful of reviews – and I say that as Rebellion’s creative director and a vociferous proponent of the artistic and cultural value of our medium. Creativity and innovation matter a lot – however, knowing what you do best and if there is a market for it, and then delivering what that market wants – is more important for a sustainable business.
3. Decide quickly and share early
If there’s anything I will do differently next time, it’s making key decisions faster – such as how we’re going to get a game to market.
It’s surprising just how many emergent and unexpected issues there are. For example, with Zombie Army Trilogy, whilst it’s clearly an 18-rated game, if you want your game on supermarket shelves, then the cover needs to be appropriate. That skinned, burnt, Nazi skull represents the game’s tone and content, but may give a buyer the heeby-jeebies.
Also, direct access to the PlayStation and Xbox platforms is wonderful, but brings with it a number of production and approval processes, which can take far longer than you think.
Ultimately game developers should take heart – self-publishing is a viable and profitable route if you’re prepared for everything that comes with it.
This is the fourth and final part of Jason’s series on self-publishing, as originally published by MCV. If you’re just joining us, be sure to go back and read parts 1, 2 and 3. And keep reading the Rebellion blog for more great content in the coming weeks and months.
“Never assume you know everything – because you don’t – and be willing to invest in the right people.”
As originally published on MCV, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley continues his series on self-publishing. In this column, Jason explains how Rebellion went global with the launch of grindhouse compilation Zombie Army Trilogy.
Self-publishing involves a lot more complexity than work for hire. With work for hire you normally have one deal with one partner; it’s straightforward and you don’t have to worry about how this deal might affect any others.
As a developer-publisher, however, there are a lot more moving pieces to track, and they all interact with one another – like one of those sliding block puzzles.
Retailers and distributors still have a lot of input over how and where your game is sold, and they have a lot of people in their value chain that they need to protect and consider. It’s only right that everyone should be paid fairly, but with rapidly changing market conditions in our sector, tensions can arise which are difficult to balance.
Whilst retail is still an extremely important component of the overall sales mix, it’s now not the only game in town and it’s fair to say that, due to the shift in the landscape towards digital, the terms on offer have changed a lot over the past five years. From the perspective of a self-publisher, this has been a welcome development.
Critical to managing multiple agreements is staying calm and checking your obligations. People can often get their nose put out of joint, and as a self-publisher you have a lot more people to keep happy. Remind yourself that everybody wants to sell your great project, even if they pretend they don’t think it’s any good. Have a realistic level of confidence in your title and don’t be frightened to politely disagree.
Evaluating the sticky bit of a contract, being clear on what you are trying to protect – and what the other party is trying to protect – will often get you halfway towards a resolution.
Ultimately, contracts are there for everyone’s protection and benefit so, if you’re honest about what you all want and willing to insert a clause, search for a solution and compromise where necessary, then there are very few roadblocks that cannot be overcome.
Sometimes people have ‘red-line’ terms they aren’t able to cross, but remember that sometimes these red-lines are negotiating tactics, too. Try to see the issues from the other side, and if their point is reasonable, then agree to it.
Find your harbour master
UK developers make games for a global audience, but when it comes to physical and digital sales, it’s not easy to work out who distributes where – with some people operating ‘globally’ and others saying they are ‘global, except for China’. There are also huge legal variations by country, on top of the differences between consumer protection and business-to-business laws.
The upshot is that you need help. You need to find your harbour master, someone who – in travel or seafaring terms – knows all the regulations and operational procedures of a particular port, in order to ensure safe travel. For Rebellion’s Zombie Army Trilogy, that was Garry Williams from Sold Out, who helped us navigate these channels. If you don’t know someone who can help you in this respect, then get networking.
Never assume you know everything – because you don’t – and be willing to invest in the right people. As the old Red Adair quote goes: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Mistakes can be expensive, in both financial and reputational terms. When it comes to everything from legal to distribution counsel, control the scope of what you’re asking them about – it saves a lot of money if you know the specific areas where you need input.
That said, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything else you need to know. With lawyers in particular, I find they have a healthy pessimism that often provides hard-charging games entrepreneurs with a valuable reality check.
Be sure to check out parts 1 and 2, and look out for the fourth and final part on the Rebellion blog later this week.
In the second part of his series (originally published for MCV), Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley says that when it comes to self-publishing, when you launch is key. Also, Jason says, the best way to minimise surprises is to be ready for them.
Adapting your business to the self-publishing model requires a number of practical changes.
You need someone who can handle PR, manage an internal marketing team or someone that can hire in and manage freelancers.
Finding someone externally to make assets like trailers can be costly so, if you can’t afford dedicated teams, think about hiring individual artists and video editors who can help with communications.
This all needs to be done a long way in advance, as planning and creating the content needed for sales, marketing and media channels takes a great deal of time.
Timing is Everything
As a developer-publisher you have to make the call on when to launch.
This means considering when you realistically expect to complete project milestones, checking resources like MCV’s release schedule and making sure you’re not going to market jammed in between two franchise behemoths. As an indie publisher, you’ll want as much clear space around your release as possible.
With massive games these days initial release dates can slip, and feature sets can often change or be dropped. It’s therefore best to keep your ear to the ground for insider news. It’s also worth looking at the track record of those making a potential competitor. Some dev teams hit dates, others don’t. With Zombie Army Trilogy, we had one eye on The Order: 1886 and Batman Arkham Knight. The Order turned out to not have multiplayer and Arkham Knight got pushed back to June, which worked out well for us.
Knowing the genres of games you will be competing against is important; with Zombie Army Trilogy we wanted to avoid other major shooters, but Forza Horizon and Just Dance were less of a concern.
Being an indie publisher you have to accept that there will be, in many cases, an enormous disparity in the scale of resources at your disposal.
Rebellion is now relatively large, yet we are aware we’re still competing with titles that cost at least ten times as much to make and have more than 20 times our marketing budget. So you need to have talented people who can spot an opportunity and make it count.
We have to be very targeted in our more traditional marketing activity, using social media intelligently and choosing only a handful of important voices and trusted media partners with whom we have a longstanding professional relationship. For us, TV spots are out of the question, but short, effective bursts of video pre-roll ads on Twitch and YouTube aren’t. Focus your resources where you can, and where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Be sure to review the data afterwards to find out what worked.
Minimise the Surprises
If you are making your first foray into publishing then my top piece of advice would be to communicate honestly and as far in advance as possible with your partners. Problems can and will emerge, and you will need other people’s help to address them.
As a publisher you are more dependent, compared to a developer, on a wider array of other businesses to do your job – whether they are retailers, manufacturers, design agencies, merchandising support, legal counsels, journalists, or banks.
Companies like Sony and Microsoft are huge, with complex structures and in spite of large budgets in places, a lot of restrictions. It is vital to cultivate relationships here – you will need friends in high places, and the best way to win new friends is to be honest and ask for help when you need it. The biggest corporations are run by busy people and behaving like an aggressive so-and-so won’t win you any favours.
When plotting your project timelines, be sure to overestimate how long everything will take and give yourself an extra week here and there – the extra time will be used up in ways you didn’t expect.
Ultimately, things will happen, but by minimising the surprise as much as possible, you give your partners the time they need to help you address the challenges.
Look out for more from Jason’s series on self-publishing on MCV and here on the Rebellion blog. And be sure to follow Jason on Twitter: @RebellionJason
When it hit stores in March, Zombie Army Trilogy became the first console game Rebellion had ever self-published in its long history. This was a huge and exciting decision for us, but as our CEO Jason Kingsley explains in this piece (originally published on MCV), it was one we came to after a whole lot of thought.
There are advantages and disadvantages to developers self-publishing.
The complex decision as to whether we should self-publish happened over an extended period of time and a series of long conversations. Ultimately, the decision will depend on the weight each different studio gives the risks and rewards.
Basically, it will depend on how deep your pockets are, how confident you are in your game-making and scheduling skills, and where your company is in its employee structure. Publishing is not easy, nor is development, and each discipline has its own set of skills. I’d encourage any budding developer-publisher to think over their own situation carefully.
Here are the key questions I would recommend addressing:
How strong is your cash flow and project pipeline?
Working with a publisher can provide a solid underpinning for a game development business, as long as you have steady flow of projects with minimal downtime in-between and a publisher that is financially stable.
Gaps in the production pipeline mean an interruption of cash flow, which needs to be planned for and, if unexpected, can be deadly for any business. Hitting development milestones on time, as agreed with your publisher, is also essential; if you miss them repeatedly, it’s likely you won’t get paid.
We were in a fortunate position; we own our own IP and have multiple sources of revenue, plus expert teams who make great games again and again to deadlines. As such, we’re well positioned to take advantage of the increasing options available to those looking to self-publish.
Do you have the capacity and capability to pick up the publishing workload?
When you self-publish there are a lot more tasks you have to take on, such as approvals, retail and platform-owner negotiations and packaging design. In addition, there’s marketing, PR and community management.
This is easier for purely digital PC releases. Digital-only removes the complexity and scheduling hassles of the physical manufacture of discs and boxes, and also means you don’t have to manage approvals, age ratings, distribution schedules and inventory – it’s just a case of getting the message out there and hoping people download your game.
After analysing how the workload is or has been historically split between you and your publisher, if you find you have been doing much of the publisher-side tasks yourself already, and already have the staff and knowledge – or can cost-effectively hire them – then it may make sense to consider self-publishing.
How strong is your business track record and experience?
Publishers always take a risk when they back a developer, just as you are taking a risk in backing yourself. Ultimately the decision whether to self-publish or not comes down to a balancing of risk versus reward.
By choosing to self-publish Zombie Army Trilogy, Rebellion added more risk to the project, as nobody else was paying us to do the work; crucially, though, we think it’s risk we can control.
It’s still just as essential to set dates and stick to them, otherwise you risk letting your ‘increased freedom’ cost you more in expensive delays.
Data is also a benefit. With work-for-hire, the feedback on how your game is performing can take many months, if not years – especially when it comes to physical retail. By self-publishing, you can see on a daily basis what revenue is coming in, and what you’ll be receiving in the future, allowing you to manage post-launch investment in terms of game updates and marketing.
Self-publishing is an exciting new direction for Rebellion. We’re keeping our fingers firmly crossed, and I look forward to sharing more of the experience as we progress towards the launch of Zombie Army Trilogy – and beyond.
Look out for more from Jason’s series on self-publishing in the coming days, right here on the Rebellion blog. And be sure to follow him on Twitter: @RebellionJason
On March 27th 2014 the EU Commission finally approved games tax relief for UK game developers. It’s huge news for independent studios up and down the land, but it’s an especially sweet moment for Chris and Jason Kingsley – Rebellion’s co-founders.
You see, Chris and Jason helped found the industry organisation TIGA, and have campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the UK development scene for over a decade to secure the tax breaks announced today.
We sat down with Jason to ask him a few questions about the past and future of UK development:
What impact will this tax relief have on the games development sector?
Jason: In terms of financial impact TIGA’s figures demonstrate Games Tax Relief (GTR) will lead to an estimated £188m in additional investment for UK game developers over the next five years alone. We’re talking about an industry wide 25% reduction in the cost of games development in the UK, which is massive.
A more forgiving financial environment means greater creative freedom so more edgy, creatively focussed titles will get the green light. Games Tax Relief will help to level the international playing field, and drive the UK games industry forward, enabling UK studios to make even more world-beating award winning games.
How did it all come about?
Jason: Well originally the idea for a games tax relief came up in discussion with my brother Chris, who’s CTO at Rebellion. However, it started to be discussed as a serious concept a little over a decade ago. I was sitting in a TIGA board meeting with a group of UK devs both great and small, many of whom are sadly no longer around in the business any more, and said
“Why don’t we push for a games tax break akin to that which UK film makers benefit from? After all, we’re just as creative as them and perhaps even more globally focussed.”
Did you face any opposition?
Jason: During that time we’ve faced objections from outside as well as from inside the industry, with some politicians telling us we should shut up and quit, which we were simply not prepared to do. TIGA just kept on going.
Back in 2010 Games Tax relief was introduced in the last Labour Government’s budget. However, there was some back room counter lobbying taking place at the time. The new coalition Government then dropped Games Tax Relief in the June 2010 budget.
The next development was when, after another 18 months of relentless work, TIGA convinced the UK Government to finally back the measure in the Coalition’s March 2012 Budget. Yet again though, another roadblock appeared with the EU Commission citing concerns including video games not being culturally equal to film, and thus not deserving of the same or similar tax breaks.
At every stage TIGA has provided compelling evidence, and kept the issue of Games Tax Relief at the top of the agenda. Ultimately, that willingness to wage an unremitting, evidence based argument has taken us to today’s victory, one that finally gives the UK a level playing field and a fighting chance to become a top three game making nation once again.
Is there now an onus on the industry to prove to the Government that we are worth this investment?
Jason: Thanks to TIGA’s lobbying, politicians of all political parties recognise the value and potential of the UK video game industry. They talk to us on a regular basis and at all levels are interested in helping out as best they can, within the EU rules that we all have to live by.
What we do have to do is keep showing them and telling them that the video game sector, and particularly UK-tax-paying developers can really help the UK balance of payments – as we’re almost always export driven, and trying to reach that global audience.
What happens now?
Jason: With regard to the mechanics of application and approval, we’ll know exactly how this will work soon enough, as DCMS and HMRC will be confirming the details. It essentially comes down to passing a ‘cultural test’ which is administered by the British Film Institute, working with your accountant to identify which costs are eligible and including your claim for Games Tax Relief in your businesses end of year tax return.
At Rebellion we’ve been planning for this to happen for well over a year. It’s certainly been a long journey for the industry in the UK, but to paraphrase another Great Briton, it may just be ‘The End of the Beginning’.
I’ve been at Rebellion for nearly 6 months now and just in that time we’ve seen huge changes in the industry, with the next generation of consoles being released and digital distribution becoming ever present in the way developers release their games. Video games are rapidly becoming part of mass culture and where the industry may go over the next 10 could change instantaneously.
Last week The Sunday Times sat down with Rebellion CEO and Creative Director Jason Kingsley, to discuss how he got started in the video game industry and built Rebellion into the award winning studio it is today.
We wanted to do a few follow up questions going into how Rebellion began and what the future may hold for both the studio and the industry as a whole.
When yourself and Chris started Rebellion more than 20 years ago, were there any ways that you set out to prove yourselves in the industry?
Jason: Not really, we were just interested in making games and trying to turn it into a living. We learnt the business side as we went along. Our ethos has remained the same, try to make the best games you can with the resources you have.
Were there any hurdles that you had to overcome during Rebellion’s start up, did working with a family member change any typical business dynamics?
Jason: Again it wasn’t a hurdle at all. Chris and I had been working together on projects for fun for ages, and whilst we shared similar ideas and objectives, Chris was much more technical than me, and I was better at making art, so there were areas we could specialise in and areas where we co-operated.
Rebellion now has just under 200 employees and two studios, what is the most important aspect you need to be able to oversee everything?
Jason: A major burden of having a larger company is that you get removed from the day to day details sometimes, and it’s important that where possible we get to be involved, and properly tuned into the games we make. Having knowledge of every tiny little piece is now impossible, but having talented team members who are true professionals helps make that unnecessary. We also have to keep driving communication, both between the two studios and between individuals in the team. Often a good short chat can sort out any number of misunderstood emails.
Rebellion has worked with some high profile licenses in the past, did you have to work towards gaining various publisher’s trust before working with their IP’s?
Jason: Generally the IP owner has approached us because of our track record, to make games, so the trust was already there. Only very occasionally have we pitched to do a game based on a license, and that business model is probably in fast decline currently. Not many licensed game’s are being made these days.
Over the last couple of years we have seen more studios and developers close down, would you say over the past decade the video game industry has become less stable and how does Rebellion try so safeguard itself against?
Jason: We have tried to have a portfolio approach to the type of games we make, who we work for and the types of business we are in. The idea is that the risk is spread out, and one non-so-successful project does not damage the company, instead we learn from our mistakes and build on the successes. We have comic publishing and book publishing to add to the mix these days.
You’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years, what do you consider Next Gen gaming?
Jason: Next gen is always the gen of computers that is not quite here yet, or has just landed. We are in that awkward linguistic place where the use of Next gen to describe them is still used, but probably wrong and everything has to shuffle down, to last gen and current gen, which seems weird for a while.
We are now in the 7th Generation of gaming, what do you think we can expect from the next generations?
Jason: No idea. Prediction is a risky strategy. What will almost certainly happen though is that computer processing speeds will increase, as will the options for games designers, and hopefully players. Development costs too will likely increase.
As the industry moves into digital distribution, how do you think this will affect a developer’s ability to self publish their games?
Jason: Self publishing is potentially very worth-while but it has aspects that are probably not too familiar to the average developer. Marketing and consumer support is a big part of the release of a title. Whilst it is fashionable to criticise big publishers they do have skill sets that are unfamiliar to developers, and those skill sets take some learning to acquire.
You graduated with a degree in Zoology at Oxford, as CEO run Rebellion, have acquired various Publishers (2000 AD, Solaris &Raven Stone), have a chair on the board of TIGA and still managed to become a Champion Jouster. Do you ever sleep?
Jason: Ha, but yes, when I can, and normally well, but after long-haul flights to the USA or China, badly for a few days whilst my body adjusts. Jet lag makes a bad partner to business decisions.
We’ve heard before about your influences in video games, but are there any companies or people that have or continue to influence you in the business world?
Jason: I try to forge my own path. I read both fiction and business books when I get time, often alternating them or adding a history book also to the mix. There are impressive business leaders out there, worth listening to, but listening with a critical ear, as some portion of everyone’s success is down to a bit of luck, and recognising as well as using that luck effectively is part of doing anything successfully.
For more insights into the video game industry you can follow Jason on Twitter @RebellionJason