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Lighting The Ignition: Jumping From Niche to Triple-A?

July 13, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

Ignition Entertainment's profile has slowly but steadily been rising among U.S. gamers, but the best is yet to come, says its management team. The company, which was originally founded in the U.K., in 2007 entered into a relationship with Mumbai, India-based UTV Software Communications.

UTV purchased a 70% controlling share in the company, and Ignition has stealthily been expanding its operations since that time. (The Indian firm also owns microtransaction-based PC online game publisher True Games Interactive and a controlling interest in Indian developer IndiaGames.) 

The U.S. arm of Ignition is headed up by president Ajay Chadha, who co-founded the company in England with his brother Vijay, who remains its C.E.O. out of its U.K. offices. Earlier this year, the company hired veteran video game journalist Shane Bettenhausen as director of business development in the U.S.

The company has had a few notable titles in the past -- such as Archer Maclean's Mercury for the PSP -- but has mostly been skirting under the radar, with niche titles like Blue Dragon Plus, a DS sequel to the 2006 Microsoft-published Xbox 360 RPG, and the upcoming Nostalgia, an RPG for the DS originally published by Tecmo in Japan.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade, a Marvelous Interactive title for Wii from Vanillaware (Odin Sphere), looks to be its next major hit. King of Fighters XII, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, seems poised to be the biggest title since the formation of Ignition's publishing relationship with the Osaka-based SNK Playmore.

However, Ignition aspirations appear to be much larger. While the company remains somewhat secretive about its future plans, Chadha and Bettenahusen here drop hints of a Tokyo Game Show 2009 presence, publishing plans that center on multiple triple-A games aimed at North American audiences.

They're joined by UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala -- the parent company's original founder, and a TV show and Bollywood (and sometimes Hollywood) movie producer, who also discusses how Ignition fits into its global media plans.

What's your take on Ignition so far?

Shane Bettenhausen: When I came on board at Ignition, I understood some semblance of what this company had done -- largely DS games and PS2 games -- Archer Maclean's Mercury, Zoo Keeper, those are our big hits.

But in terms of what they have in the lineup right now, I knew that they had a multi-game contract with SNK Playmore, and, being an old-school gamer, I have a lot of love for those games. So, hardcore, old-school Japanese games: I'm into that, Ajay's into that, Vijay [too]. So in terms of picking things up from third parties, we were on a similar mindset of things we wanted to bring to market.

Is that your primary focus? I know in the past, at least, up till present, and especially with your relation with SNK, it has been. Also, you have games like Muramasa -- which is a Marvelous Interactive game in Japan. Is that your current focus?

SB: Yeah, the current focus is picking up third-party games, largely from Japanese developers. Some European developers as well. But I think that's the first step.

The next step -- what I was brought on do to -- is new business. To find development in the U.S., in Japan, in Europe, to partner with those [developers] to make original games instead of just picking things up that are finished. But we're still not opposed to picking up things like Muramasa. That already had a publisher lined up, and we came in and we're now the publisher of that game.

Ignition Entertainment/Vanillaware's Muramasa: The Demon Blade

That was an interesting scenario.

SB: It was. I played that game last year at TGS, and I was really impressed, and at that point it had already had a [North American] publisher. So when it became available, we were incredibly excited and poised jump on that, and to work with Vanillaware.

When I first joined the company, the focus was picking up games from other developers -- largely Japanese things -- and bringing them out to the market in the best way that we could. That's about the tip of the iceberg. I think we're poised to move to the next level.

And you guys do have studios, right?

SB: We do own studios. We haven't really talked about that publicly yet, but...

What I'm interested in is the roadmap for Ignition. The company has been a little bit under the radar, but obviously with the UTV acquisition it gained some notice, because that's a huge infusion of capital and resources that weren't previously there. Also the company is starting to make some moves -- games like Muramasa and the SNK partnership started to bring forth some cachet. What's the roadmap for the future?

Ronnie Screwvala: Well, the trajectory of the last 18 months, I think, started off with more publishing. Much more European Union-based. I think in the last six months we've invested heavily in the U.S. We're really creating a marketing, development, distribution base... So I think that's one side.

When we [UTV] came into the business, our interest was to a certain extent on the publishing, but finally to look at IP creation. And I think the ability for is us to be able to do both, and the team [at Ignition] has the expertise. So we're building up our distribution prowess, and with that we have a very strong ability to source games from worldwide.

And that's the core team. That's one of the core competencies that were there. And to straddle the IP space. So I think the end vision is for us to be scalable in publishing, but actually create and own our own IPs.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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