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Goldman is CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment, the 'super-developer'
formed just over a year ago by the merger of Backbone Entertainment and
The Collective. The company, which is a notable example of an
independent development firm, like Bioware/Pandemic, which is trying to
buck the trend of publisher consolidation, has shipped more than 300
titles since its inception, including the original title Death, Jr,
which debuted on the PSP is in the process of spawning sequels,
potential movies, comics and more.
In addition, the company, which includes development studios Backbone, Digital Eclipse, The Collective, and Pipeworks, recently announced that it has received "a significant capital infusion" from technology-focused investment firm Francisco Partners. According to the company, Francisco Partners will fund Foundation 9 with up to $150 million over the next few years, with "access to further resources as necessary for Foundation 9’s organic growth, IP development, and future acquisitions." Recently, Gamasutra talked with Goldman about the anniversary of Foundation 9's forming, focusing on issues such as original IP, the new funding commitment, and ways to provide original, quality games in an increasingly competitive market.
Gamasutra: With Backbone’s Death Jr., it seemed like you had a real solid IP, and a good marketing push, but the game perhaps didn't perform as well as some people might have thought. Have you any comment on that?
Jon Goldman: I don't want to sound too much like a PR guy, but it did reasonably well in the marketplace; certainly if our royalty checks are any indication. Do I feel it could have done better? Absolutely. And we recognized that, and I do know there are some sequels along the way. As we were pitching Death Jr. we decided to pull back from it and think of it as more than just the game, but as an IP that we were going to try to commercialize in other areas and build a multi-area campaign around, and that by and large has continued to be the strategy. We had very successful comic books, we’ve got manga coming out, Halloween costumes and action figures, apparel licenses and so on. The game did reasonably well commercially, and I think that there's enough awareness of it for us to improve on the game experience and build up a franchise on it over the next several years. Like with any sort of media business, that may or may not come to pass, but the strategy in and of itself is playing out as we planned.
GS: As the CEO of Foundation 9, trying to keep all these different developers under your umbrella, is it hard to stay up-to-date on what everyone is doing down to the last detail? Or is it something that was made easier by conglomerating?
JG: As the CEO, my mandate is really to run and grow the business. At the production level, we have studio heads who are running the studios and we’re putting into place more of a studio structure to help look at all our projects. And that's an evolving system, because Foundation 9 only came together a little over a year ago. But we did over forty SKUs last year, and it's a huge challenge to look after that many SKUs, and each studio has to produce summary reports on what's going on in the studios. We do have a different load of monitoring and looking after projects than a one project company might have.
GS: Last year when Foundation 9 was forming, the message was that a “super developer,” made up of many different houses, could survive in the market. So looking back one year later, how did it go?
JG: I think it definitely helps that the market is shifting. So yes, on a basic business level, it's been a huge success for us. By pulling together these companies, we got better platform coverage, better genre coverage, coverage of different age groups; I mean, we really are working on every platform in every age group now and a lot of the platforms or all of them right now are viable. So that means that companies that are specializing in any particular platform are really at risk for the success of that platform, and we're doing everything from…we’ve got multiple next-gen titles as well as lots of handheld titles. We still have kid’s edutainment stuff going on. So it's a pretty broad-based platform of video game development, and for us, we think it's a really successful strategy that allows us to mitigate our risk across all these platforms and still have the resources to take a bet on original things like Death Jr.. More importantly, we’re able to back up those bets with the resources to continue working at it.