The RTS specialist on its move to embrace publishing

Interview: Digital Reality

Once a successful realtime strategy developer, Digital Reality has moved to embrace not only self-publishing, but also serving to bring other studios’ projects to market. Already hard at work with the renowned Goichi Suda and Grasshopper Manufacturer, Digital Reality CEO Andras Peller tells Develop why he and his team zeroed in on publishing.

Develop: Could you tell us a little of Digital Reality’s history? The move from developer to publisher is hardly a typical one.
Peller: That’s right. We actually started in a small space back in 1991, in the back room of a hardware store, and five of us just came together wanting to make games. Back then we weren’t even a company really.

In 1993 we formed the company officially, and in 1994 we took on the name Digital Reality. We started with games like Reunion and the Imperium Galactica series, and that’s how we made our name.

Eventually we got the the point where we saw that we were dependent on publishers’ idiotic decisions. We were fighting against decisions with no production value. We got to a breaking point with the big publishers and our efforts in the work-for-hire space.

We started to look into somehow standing on our own and deciding on our own fate. That was in about 2003 or 2004, and we started to look for opportunities. It was not that easy to look for opportunities, so we were still working on a work-for-hire basis, and to broaden our technical experience we started to move away from working on just PC. Finally in 2008 we were able to secure investment with a Hungarian investor, and we were in a position where we could decide on our own fate. So we started on internal development and moving towards self-publishing.

After that, towards the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 we started to think that as we were building up our self-publishing, marketing, business development and project services – including submission and testing services – we could look for developers like us, and share talents and vision, including what we have and what they have. We wanted to share success, and we started to find people out there who had the same thoughts.

So how does that sharing of talent and vision actually work? Vision sharing seems to imply that you work very closely with the developers?
Actually, while on one side we are working closer, on the other side we are are very hands-off. For example, with Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51, it is very hard to control him. Controlling him is not something worthwhile, or something you’d want to do. He is a genius, so you can’t decide what is good or what is not in his designs.

We give him the information we gather from the market – the details of what we think is out there – but we also give him the creative freedom to do what he wants to do.

We work together on a lot of things, but we don’t want to interfere with creative freedom. We speak to a lot of developers who struggle with big publishers making their decisions for them; publishers wanting to decide about things like gameplay features. They are making decisions about customers, not players. It should be about thinking of players wanting entertainment, and not customers whose money we want to take. That’s maybe what we want to do; to give people entertainment. Of course we need the moeny to survive, but it’s also about quality entertainment.

And what about collaboration with the developers. In what areas do you work more closely?
Where we share vision is in gathering information we can find about the market. Publishers should not be closed in an ivory tower, but be out there collecting information on what is going on, and listening to what the next buzz will be. It is about gathering and sharing knowledge. We can offer a common vision of what the market is and what the players want.

Still, we do not want to force developers to not use their creativity. That is the main thing we want to acheive. We are looking for good partners and great game developers, and we don’t want to tie their hands.

We are looking to offer games development as a service, but of course in the meantime we would like a common success as well. As in a lot of things in life it is about a good balance. It is about good partnerships, and we are looking for the security of good businesses, but we want to provide good security too. We do not want to suppress our partners or take everything away to leave them empty.

Why did you decide to commit solely to digital?
To be honest, the reasons were twofold. It is our vision of the future that digital will be the way to do things. I don’t pretend to know exactly what the platform of the future will be, but I’m absolutely sure it will be connected to the internet, and that is something we can look at already.

We are looking for the market which is connected to the internet, and that is digital distribution. The beauty is that you know exactly that every single player that you are in connection with is connected to the internet. You can communicate with them, which opens up a whole lot of opportunities, and you can harness them as a community.

Secondly, beside that vision of a connected future, there is the fact that the traditional market is hugely polarised now. You can only really enter that market with huge investment and huge budgets for marketing. I really love those kind of games and play them all the time myself, but as a small publisher you cannot enter that space. There are so many huge giants out there, and they don’t let you crawl. You can’t start small there, and everybody sees only those giants.

So digital is an opportunity for you?
Yes, that’s right. Also, our investors come from the internet field too. It makes for an obvious choice for us, and it’s a space we have a lot of knowledge about. We don’t have to start from nothing; we already have the advantage.

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