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Interview: TimeGate’s Chaveleh Takes Control Of His Publishing Destiny
Interview: TimeGate’s Chaveleh Takes Control Of His Publishing Destiny
November 23, 2010 | By Chris Morris

November 23, 2010 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC

[Gamasutra catches up with Timegate Studios (Section 8) head Adel Chaveleh as the veteran console game development house grows "tired" of the traditional publisher relationship and strikes out on its own.]

As production costs escalate and the market becomes tighter, independent developers are increasingly finding their options limited.

They can partner with large publishers on a per-game level – but if the publisher has an internally-built title competing in that genre, it often means their games receive a smaller marketing push. They can join the fold, agreeing to an acquisition. Or they can roll the dice and self-publish.

Sugar Land, TX-based TimeGate Studios is among the companies that have chosen door number three.

After working with publishers ranging from Vivendi Games and Take-Two to SouthPeak Games and Gamecock, the company has made the decision to largely eschew publishing partners moving forward and enter that segment of the business itself.

It kicked off last year with Section 8. After SouthPeak published the game on the PC and Xbox 360, TimeGate self-published it on PSN. That sparked the company’s interest in exploring the other side of the game-making fence. And it’s not planning to look back.

Right now, the focus is digital, but retail publishing is also in the plans -- thus far, the firm has announced follow-up Section 8: Prejudice for unspecified platforms. TimeGate CEO Adel Chaveleh thinks it’s a move that could put his company into more of a leadership position in the industry.

“The market is turning on its head right now,” he says in a new interview with Gamasutra. “With regards to publishers changing strategies and whole teams getting sold, we thrive in that kind of environment."

"If the industry is trying to find itself, it’s a perfect time for a company like us to come in and grab some market share and present a new business model that makes sense. There are a variety of ways we can come out and help steer the direction the industry moves forward from this point.”

At present, TimeGate, which was founded in 1998 and is also known for the Kohan RTS franchise, is only publishing its own titles. But the company hopes to widen that distribution channel as soon as it has a proven distribution pipeline. Chaveleh says it has already received several requests from other developers to consider publishing their titles, but declined to name names.

The decision to go it alone came from an escalating series of frustrations TimeGate has had with publishing partners over the years.

“We would kill ourselves to make a great game and carry it across the finish line of development,” says Chaveleh. “Then we would hand off the baton to another party, where they were responsible for things like PR, marketing, distribution – and a lot of times we saw stumbling happen then. A lot of time, we had to swoop in and take over. Other items we had to sit here and our hands were tied. We got tired of it, to be frank.”

Self-publishing, though, can carry a fair bit of risk, as developer/publishers are flying without a net. Should a game flop, it can result in anything from staff cutbacks to the collapse of the studio, depending on the title’s development budget.

Chaveleh downplays this, noting that TimeGate has faced this sort of challenge every time it has rolled out a game using its own IP. And the fact that there’s no revenue split with a publisher helps mitigate the risk, he adds.

As for the loss of that financial cushion a publisher can provide, Chaveleh notes that advances aren’t meant to work in the developer’s favor.

“If a third-party publisher comes in and wants to be part of your project, they’re not going to loan you money at a bank rate, it’s very expensive money,” he says. “We wanted to be in full control from development to completion. We’re not waiting for someone to save the day. We’re not waiting for a deal.”

If you pick up a bit of bitterness in that statement, that’s not surprising. TimeGate’s publisher relations haven’t always gone smoothly. The company last year sued SouthPeak for breach of contract and withholding royalty payments. (The case is still pending.)

While TimeGate will focus on publishing its own IP, it’s not stepping away entirely from doing work for external companies. The developer has done expansion packs and licensed work for existing IP, such as F.E.A.R. and Axis and Allies and will continue to do so.

Ultimately, TimeGate sees the video game industry as one that’s in flux – and likely to undergo several more changes in the years to come. By embracing self-publishing and not limiting itself to a single distribution method, it hopes to ride those changes to a more prominent role.

“We see a big shift in the industry on all fronts – distribution methods, pricing strategies, monetization strategies,” says Chaveleh. “Our whole move into this is to be opportunistic and disruptive.”

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Tony Dormanesh
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This rocks! Too bad more studios don't have the ability to do this.

Tim Carter
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I just want to point out that this "three choices" is in-the-box thinking.

How about this: Focus on making games, not making development studios.

Put together development studios on a per-game basis.

Whoah! Now the whole picture changes.

(The film industry has been doing this for decades. Yeah, I know that people will say "But this isn't the film industry..." But we, really for once, could try it. I might also note that, even in films, core teams stay together - just more fluidly.)

DaFacts1on1 Jack
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Maybe if their games were good to begin with, they wouldn't have so many issues trying to get their titles published. Did anyone play Section 8? Yeah, they have no choice but to go it alone. Instead of blaming publishers for not wanting to push a mediocre titles, they should actually focus on making hit games.

How can a developer be looked at in the first place if they have no real substance in the experiences they create?

David Jara
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"Self-publishing, though, can carry a fair bit of risk, as developer/publishers are flying without a net. Should a game flop, it can result in anything from staff cutbacks to the collapse of the studio, depending on the title’s development budget."

I think this is one of the most ridiculous statements I have read in a while. There have been plenty of studios that have been forced to close because the publisher decided to stop funding them even when their games have been wildly successful.

DaFacts1on1 Jack
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In this economy, please name those titles. If there was a title that had a chance in competing with with the GOW, Gears, COD, Killzone, Halo, etc, do you really think the developer would be having such a hard time as these guys are? The market is already in regurgitation mode with products that have more credibility in the market place.

Launching a new IP is expensive and risky but not impossible if it has substance. Again did you play Section 8? I know that striking deals with publishers can be difficult, I'm not ignoring these hardships however, my comments was strictly related to "your only as good as your last title". If you had something to begin with then you wouldn't be trying to even self publish in the first place.

The other thing is, even if these guys decided they want to publish and not develop games, "JUST PUBLISH". What are they going to publish?????? The fact is you have to have good titles to publish in the first place. Uhhh yeah,...Look at Majesco.