The business of digital publishing revolutionized the music business, and Ripstone is looking to do the same with games. Read on to find out about their adventures.
Travelling through my usual online hideouts, I came across a small company from the United Kingdom specializing in digital publishing. And, by the grace of the gaming gods, Phil Haskell, co-founder of Ripstone, replied to some questions via email about the business of publishing digitally and his company’s devotion to Sony’s list of platforms.
How important is it for Ripstone to focus exclusively on publishing digitally and the growing indie market? Was that in the framework from early in the company’s development or a decision based on necessity?
Digital distribution is clearly the growth area in games and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who disagrees that it will be the predominant way to get games in the future. We only need to look at how it changed the music industry to see where games may eventually get to. We set out to create a digital publisher from the outset, that’s not to say we’ll never ship discs but, given the current decline and the costs associated, it’s unlikely. If it made financial sense and we thought the developer of the game would benefit then we would do it. And that’s really our aim, to help developers flourish and get a fair deal for their creations. We want our games to change the lives of those that play them and those that make them.
What is the process like of getting a game approved?
To get a game approved internally at Ripstone for publishing it’s pretty simple, we don’t have lengthy green light meetings and presentations, and we don’t take months to make a call. And by ‘we’ I mean the team of producers and marketeers at Ripstone. If we like the game and we think it’s something we can get as excited about as the developer, then we go for it. Start by emailing us at email@example.com.
I noticed your titles only have a presence on Sony-affiliated devices; does Sony have an easy approval process, has Microsoft turned down your games, or is it simply easier to put games on the PlayStation Network? And is there plans in place to expand beyond Sony, starting with Really Big Sky on PC?
Really Big Sky is actually only available on Steam and a few other PC distribution platforms, and Knytt Underground is on Nifflas’ website, Gamersgate and Mac App Store as well as currently in Steam Greenlight (please vote everyone, Nifflas is truly awesome and deserves support!). We do however have quite a slant towards Sony in our other titles. Some of the core staff at Ripstone have previously worked for Sony so it’s a process we are intimately familiar with, we’ve shipped over 50 games between us on those devices, so it’s only natural for us to continue supporting Sony. They do have a more streamlined approval process when compared to some platforms, but on the other hand it can seems quite cumbersome when compared to others.
This year will see Ripstone support a lot more non-Sony platforms. We have games shipping soon on smartphones, tablets, and other consoles and handhelds. But we’re still supporting Sony with some cool PS3 and PS Vita titles this year and the recent Unity announcement was fantastic news.
The Vita, however, has given Ripstone some success while continuous doubt surrounds the handheld. Why was it important to invest in the Vita and do you feel it is perhaps a missed opportunity by others in the business?
Supporting PS Vita and PlayStation Plus has been great for us, and the developers we work with. I’ve said many times we can either sit back and wait for a device like PS Vita to sell, or we can create some great games and help to make it sell. We didn’t ever expect the machine to shift high volumes given the economy in recent years but we’ve been very happy with the downloads we’ve seen of our titles. Pure Chess seems to have been incredibly popular since we launched it early last year.
As a small publisher, do you have the freedom to fund most experimental titles, unlike the triple-A industry which warrants millions upon millions to justify a sequel?
It’s one of the most attractive things about digital and indie games for me. There’s such a desire to embrace risk and experiment to create unique experiences. I’ve always loved working on games that are new, where you’re creating something from nothing. I’ve worked on sequels in my career, and spending time honing them can be fun, but nothing beats stepping out into the unknown. You have to be quite brave sometimes and I think that’s when the really amazing games are born – Journey, Limbo, Minecraft etc.
And on that note, what are some criteria you look for when scouting for worthwhile games?
We look for how a game stands out, how it’s unique, and why that’s meaningful. That might be because it’s experimental in an interesting and emotional way; or maybe it’s a game with a very personal story to tell; or perhaps because it’s visually stunning and sets a new benchmark. We call it relevance, we look for what’s relevant about the game.
Being from the UK, are the US and European markets noticeably different in any way? Maybe in consumer attitudes or game preference?
I think they share a lot of common ground, and then now and again you notice a little quirk. Some of our Pure Chess DLC sets sell better in the US than in Europe, and vice versa. The US seem to like the Roman set, and Europe love the Lewis chessmen (you can find them in the Forest pack). A game like Knytt Underground is a solid platform adventure game so the game mechanics translate perfectly; but because the story is told in a very personal way to Nifflas, albeit abstracted to the game world, the themes resonate with gamers all over the world. That’s just the human condition no matter your language.
With independent gaming flourishing, is it becoming increasingly difficult to make a game known and therefore popular?
There’s a lot of distractions in the modern world so it’s hard to get anything known, but if a game is unique and relevant it’s much easier to intrigue people. Then it’s down to making sure the quality is there, and staying brave and true to the vision. Combine that nurturing approach with Ripstone’s publishing team that has a unique blend of experienced veterans, and young talented marketing and production staffers who really know what’s relevant, and truly great things start happening!
I’d like to thank Mr. Gaskell for taking the time to answer these questions. Hopefully I can review some of their games pre-release, maybe? (Devilish smile.)
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