Interview: Sold Out’s leap into triple-A

The new Sold Out began life in February 2014 after being spun out of publisher Mastertronic.

It has since made a name for itself as a safe pair of hands for digital games to come to physical retail, releasing hits such as Team17’s The Escapists and Zombie Army Trilogy from Rebellion in boxes.

We had a staggering first year,” boss Garry Williams says. Normally when you have a great first year, you spend your second year taking that stock back. But that hasn’t been the case because unlike the big companies we aren’t tied to forcing ever-bigger numbers into the market. So we run quite a tight ship. The first two years have been really successful and we seem to be looking at doubling the business for year three.”

The indie scene is a busy one at the moment with a huge number of developers fighting for attention. That’s on top of a growing number of companies looking to help studios release their games – either digitally or physically.

Everyone has a different business model,” Williams says. Ours is quite simple. Developers get 70 per cent of the profit. You can’t earn more on any model. You may get an advance for some, they all vary. Other brands are available.

But our model is the most competitive in terms of return to the developer. That’s the disruption that we wanted to throw into the publishing model, which we have been developing over the last few years.”

"Our first two years have been great and we are looking
at doubling the business in our third year."

Garry Williams, Sold Out

This model has clearly been very successful for Sold Out. Now the firm is looking to evolve its business. Before the end of the year, it will be offering developers more if they sign with them.

We’ve been lucky enough to be financially successful and deliver through our partners. Our model is simply: if they don’t eat, we don’t eat,” Williams explains.

But there’s been quite a few successes. We have built a war chest, that after September of this year, will enable us to fund certain projects. I am also trying to partner up with certain funds so we can get that at the start.

There are a lot of discussions where we say we are not financing a game’s development because we don’t want to look after that, but we will look after the cost of goods and marketing. But part way through the partnership, the conversation returns to the topic of finance. There are very few developers that can see themselves all the way through a project these days. The bar for indie games – as Team17’s Debbie Bestwick has pointed out before – for indie games has been raised.

Not only has the standard increased, format holders don’t offer the same support as they used to. There is a really big gap in that area. We are hoping to take some of the strain, but our model wasn’t really set up for that. It was really to say that developers can make the game, we can make it sell more, and they get the majority of it. That was as simple as it was meant to be.”

Though best-known for putting our indie hits like The Escapists, this year Sold Out is dipping its toes into the triple-A space with Rebellion’s Sniper Elite 4. This follows the firm launching the PC SKU of Sniper Elite 3 and Zombie Army Trilogy in 2015.

That’s where you get into the area that’s interesting for us,” Williams laughs. Sniper Elite 4 is triple-A. We have our big targets and that’s us playing with the top tier. We do a lot of things in the middle-tier where we’re handling deals better than they would have without us.

With this one, we’re into the big hitter territory. Rebellion has realised it can do more of the publishing process themselves. It’s great to see a developer looking after themselves both boxed and digitally in that sector. You can look at something like that doing 200,000 units Day One in the UK.”

The firm is also releasing the latest Carmageddon – Max Damage – on Friday, July 8th.

Stainless has restructured its whole studio and I was lucky enough to see the title about six months ago,” Williams says. That studio really invests in its development resource.

There was a discussion about price point which I thought was far too low. We just went in and worked that title. I like it – it’s a known brand, it’s controversial, it’s fun to play and I couldn’t be happier working with these guys. Stainless is dedicated to this brand.”

He continues: It will get attention. Some of it not for the right reasons. That is a danger, because it was banned originally in Germany. Now, we’d say that it’s more absurd and Monty Python-like in its humour. But you still have to get over that perception of the original brand.”

"Sniper Elite 4 is triple-A. With this one, we’re into big hitter territory."

Garry Williams, Sold Out

Sold Out is still serving the indie space, however. Next month the company is releasing hardcore simulation title Prison Architect, from developer Introversion (which is being ported to console by Double Eleven).

Though the sim genre is rather niche, Williams is optimistic about this game’s performance.

People like Focus Home Interactive in France have proven that adventure games, and what might be called ‘smaller genres’, can be successful,” he explains. That’s what we’re looking at: finding the right audience for this and getting the numbers out.

The Escapists, for instance, did really well in our first yearbut not all at once. It was the sort of title that sold steadily over time rather than the smash hits, which have to sell 120,000 units first day and you’re piling units in. So this is more a nice, steady seller over time.”

As well as being a growing force in the UK, Sold Out is also making moves in to America thanks to a partnership with US distribution giant U&I.

The US was originally problematic,” Williams says. There’s a number of people that claim to service the market, but for Europeans it has never really come to fruition. So there’s a few of the usual suspects out there, people that will take it but it has to be sold through one of two outlets. One is U&I, the other is COKeM. Those are the people who would represent you into the marketplace. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with U&I, because we both sell premium products – between $40 and $60.

So with COKeM, at a certain price point ($19.99 or lower) they own that part of the business. Now U&I are going to be more aggressive in that area. The benefit for us is that we cover our titles in Europe, but are automatically into the USA as well because our distributor will support all the titles that we have selected. The safety for them is that they know we have launched it in Europe, which means they know they are getting quality.”

And later this month, Sold Out is heading to Los Angeles with hopes of finding the next big indie hit.

Our basic model is a developer who can finish a game, while we can get it through to the market for them,” Williams concludes.

We fund cost of goods, we fund marketing and we do a profit share at the end of 70:30 in th

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