Interview: TimeGate’s Chaveleh Takes Control Of His Publishing Destiny
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.”