Competing in the console space is tough these days. Studios are announcing layoffs all the time, and market estimates are often bleak. While the situation at retail is not good, the hope for online is growing. With direct access to consumers with fewer middlemen, it provides a new market for titles like Section 8: Prejudice. We talked with Adel Chaveleh, President of TimeGate Studios, about going from a retail product to a digital-only product.
Talk to me what the marketing approach is going to be like for the game. What’s going to be the main focus — online ads?
Given the exclusively of it being online, we feel like the best place to advertise [the game] is online. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of PR and considering our consumers going to have to be online to purchase the game, it seemed like the best idea. So were pretty excited about being able to have “conversion” right from the ad, to sell to someone right there. I wouldn’t say print media is dead, but it’s nice to have it on various platforms and let people play the game within minutes.
Platform specific advertising and promotions will be coming; we’ve already done the taste of that during PAX East. There’s also the more broad editorial outreach, along with contests and a community site to go along with the general web advertising.
Talk to me about the importance of outreach at events like PAX East.
It’s extremely important. Unless you have a marketing budget that can purchase saturation… which we cannot, it’s about evangelizing, whether it’s on press tours explaining the game and helping members of the media understand the vision and that also reigns true for talking straight to consumers. About 70,000 plus were there at PAX East and we were at the XBLA booth with a few stations, the Logitech booth with a few stations, even at the Nvidia booth showing off the 3D so we literally talked to thousands of people and we have at least a small army of people out there interested in the game. It was gratifying ot see people coming in on the second day to see the effect that their friends told them about. We never had any doubts about it, but it completely reinforced where we were going.
What do you feel was done right for the original Section 8 to lead to the development of this sequel?
Well, this is a true sequel. So if you’ve played the first and enjoyed it, you will enjoy Section 8: Prejudice, because it stays true to what the IP is about. If you didn’t like certain things, we looked to improve it. The constructive criticism was peripheral things, like that there were no unlockables, the campaign was too short, UI wasn’t good . . . that heavily shaped what we did for the sequel. Furthermore, everyone that heard of the first game and can’t find a copy, this one is digital, so copies are always available! The big call to action is the price point. Not only did we make a helluva sequel, we also have a competitive price point.
Will the $14.99 price of Section 8: Prejudice serve as a major differentiators?
I think the industry has never seen anything like it, but just because it’s got a great price point, it still has got to be good! When we were making a sequel to a game for a title that could be four times the price, we ran the numbers on doing digital, and that’s where the ‘aha’ movement came and the floodgates opened up. We’re not counting on the price alone; first and foremost, we have to make a great game.
Talk to me about how peripheral items like the themes and pictures on Xbox Live are good for supplemental income and promoting the game.
A product like ours . . . our strategy is to be in as many places are as possible, there’s a lot of ways to accomplish that. [We’re looking] to seed various audiences with talking points about the game and to get the word out about it and each one of these elements is a way to get the word out about it. The beta on the PC, the social media integration, the price point, they’re catalysts to promote the game. We want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to check it out and by making it digitally exclusive [all the promotions can] come back to the game. That’s key to our overall strategy.
It has jetpacks and space marines, what more could you want!
Cliffy B recently made a comment about how the “middle class of games are dying.” Section 8: Prejudice seems to fit squarely in that category, so how do you survive against games with higher profile campaigns?
I think what he’s saying is that at retail, games with $50 million budgets aren’t working; if you’re not the top echelon you aren’t making money. So yeah, I would agree with that, you can’t stick with that strategy and expect it to work. This is our thirteenth year and we have a philosophy: you have to reinvent yourself at least 2 times a year. To bring this game digital is a reinvention of how we initially saw it coming to market. We had put our publishing pipeline in place to build a $60 sequel, bring it to retail and we saw the opportunity for something that no one in the shooter space really owns. We saw a unique opportunity and we pulled the trigger on that; you can be a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond. We’re not abandoning retail, though — we have other products that we’re working on. It’s a per product basis and I think the industry is just finding itself.
It’s hard to bring products to retail these days — you have to spend millions in advertising and hope people bite at a $60 price point and not everyone has the resources to throw into that.
That’s a scary proposition even for those guys that have that sort of money to throw around. There’s a lot of trends being chased, and trends being created and a new business model could slap us all across the head a few weeks from now. We can turn on a dime and take calculated risks, we don’t have any shareholders, and we feel we can stand out in this “wild west” environment.
How is Section 8: Prejudice looking to stand out in an increasingly crowded field of shooter games?
First and foremost, I think we have a very competitive package that we’re providing. We have a five hour single-player campaign that we have put a lot of effort into; inserted more backstory and filled in more holes in the universe. Users asked for it and we wanted to tell that story. Secondly, the life of the game is multiplayer, and compared against other digital or online offerings we think it’s second to none. 32 simultaneous players, and we have dedicated servers for all platforms that players can host. We have a clan management system for all platforms, massive DLC support team, a live team that will support all that, events, etc. There’s a huge offering there for a $15 product.
We’re also introducing four player co-op. We’ve all seen the “horde mode” where you fight against enemies over time, but what if you add a component for deploy-able turrets and tanks and do base building What you get when you combine the “tower mode” with “horde mode” is a “swarm mode,” and we’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback over it. We’re getting full bot support, so if you want to practice things before stepping into the online arena you can. Every one of these points equals something very compelling for $15.
Now that the game has moved from a disc title to an download title, does it change the way you made it?
Dev process, there’s little difference. There’s a lot of multiplayer stuff in there, and one of the cool assumptions we can make that we can’t make in the retail realm is that people have hard-drives, so in doing that your able to change the way the game loads, now that it’s no longer streaming from disc. So you can leverage that, but other than that there’s not a substantial difference.
Anything you would like to add?
There was an article we had written for IndustryGamers, there were a couple of quotes I used that have gotten a lot of play in “content is king” and that’s something that drives us. Every year people will have different business models, but we feel as long as you have good ideas, you can always adapt it to a business model and platform.
Played Section 8 Looking forward to buying the sequel online Join the discussion on Facebook.