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The Strange History Of Gamecock's Mike Wilson
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The Strange History Of Gamecock's Mike Wilson

November 14, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 8 Next

Interestingly, though: One of the retailers gave you free endcaps. That seems trivial, but to people who don't understand what that means, maybe you could explain what that means.

MW: It was our first game, it was a small game: Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Which we basically took on as a condition to Epic signing on with GodGames. It was a side scroller; we knew it wasn't going to shake up the world, but it was finished, and we could ship it. CompUSA, who was a big player at the time, they literally -- you know, after all the other publishers said we'd never get shelf space -- these guys gave us endcaps. Which, at the time, were, you know, fifty thousand dollars. Now they're a lot more than that. But that was huge! And, you know, it was just so great to just fly in the face of everybody. All the big publishers want people to believe that they control the channels, but it's just not true. The retailers control the channels, and they want as many competing publishers as possible -- as long as you have some financial wherewithal to be able to compete and do marketing.

So it was awesome, to ship a side scroller, and have it in every channel that existed, in a big way. We didn't even have to say anything. It completely debunked, immediately, anything that the other guys had said about us, trying to shut us down. And then we were able to follow that up, two months later, with Railroad Tycoon 2, which was a bona fide hit. And to demonstrate that not only can we get in, but when we have a hit, guess what, we can do a big push just like anybody else.

And so, immediately, all the whole, these sort of myths, the man behind the curtain that all these publishers wanted to hide, were revealed. It was like: "Oh God. They really can do this." Unfortunately, it was a long wait after Railroad Tycoon 2. We went through the whole next year -- because they were high-end PC games, everything slipped -- because they were all cutting-edge technology, engines would slip, and therefore all the games would slip. So, you know, we learned stuff from that, too! We don't do all big games now, all on PC. As we learned toward the end of GodGames, we started doing smaller games that we knew were going to ship in six months -- you know, just a little ballast while we wait for the, uh, "When It's Done" release date.

You didn't demand that those games ship, even when they weren't done. You were willing to wait, even though it cost you greatly.

MW: Yeah, well, you know, it didn't cost us so much, because we were -- again, we were a tiny crew, just like we are now. So we didn't have a lot of overhead, and we weren't spending marketing money.

It cost you in terms of having to close GodGames in its incarnation, though.

MW: That's true. It cost us time and momentum. And eventually, because we continued to fund these games, and fund other games -- because while these others weren't coming out, because of our success with Railroad Tycoon, and the sort of cachet we had developed -- we were getting fantastic submissions all the time, so we continued to fund other stuff. And yet, at some point, when everything slipped, and we did, we ran out of money.

And our deal with Take 2 was such that it was really nearly impossible to raise money elsewhere. So yeah, we ended up having to sell the company before we should have -- and we didn't want to at all. You know? And Take 2 knew that; they knew what we had in the pipeline. And, you know, in fairness, they could've just shut us down. But they had a lot invested, too, and Ryan Brant still ran the company; still believed in what we had coming down the pike.

And, you know, they gave us a fair deal. It wasn't nearly as good as we could've gotten if we were financially stable, but in the end of the day, you know, all these games came out and did well, and then Rockstar had GTA, and it did fantastic, so... Everybody involved in the whole thing, down to the smallest participant -- managers, or developers -- even the ones that didn't make a hit for us made some money from the whole experiment. Any entrepreneurial effort that ends like that is a happy day. It didn't feel happy at the time, at all.

That's quite interesting, because there's some parallels with GodGames, that are happening again with Gamecock; namely, portfolio management. At the time, a lot of the titles that you took under your governance at GodGames, people weren't sure about that. People weren't sure about your portfolio management. But, over time, that bore itself out. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think every game released under GodGames made its money back, and then some.

MW: That's certainly true by now. Not every game made its money in the first year, or even in two years, but by the time I went -- you know, I took my leave, and I went back to Take 2 for a little while -- I found out that, yeah, even the games that we thought didn't do so well, because of our model of running lean and doing quality stuff, eventually even if it doesn't sell well as a fifty dollar game, if it's a quality game for ten dollars, it's certainly going to sell well.

So, yeah, it all worked out, and it's certainly worth doing again. And with Gamecock, yeah, there are a lot of these things that are really experimental; some of the teams are not established entities, or whatever, and they won't all make money in the first six months. But, I don't think we're going to lose money on anything. And that's what we sold our investors on, is our track record.

It's not just that we eke out a few pennies with GodGames; we ended up with eight million-unit sellers on the PC in less than three years. Railroad Tycoon 2 was the first, Tropico, two Stronghold games that sold over a million, Oni ended up -- dunno if it sold over a million, but it made a lot of money because of the deal that we had with Bungie -- and then this group, Illusions, out of Czechoslovakia, delivered Mafia, and Hidden and Dangerous, and Vietcong. Those all did over a million units.

And then of course, Max Payne, which was our big -- our first game we announced, and the last one we shipped as GodGames. Which was very satisfying, to be able to hang on that long, and get that thing out the door. And to know that because we waited, even though it meant that we lost our independence, if we'd shipped it a year sooner, it wouldn't have been a great game.

You had the PC rights to all the stuff you distributed, but you didn't have the console rights -- and there's some... probably some lessons that you're learning there, that you're not going to make the same mistakes with Gamecock?

MW: Don't get me wrong: We didn't want to give away our console rights. But in 1998, '99, PC developers crossing over to console was not a big business, you know? And the front-line PC stuff would still sell as much or more than the watered-down console versions. But we could certainly see that it was going in that direction; that things were moving toward a console world.

And it's not like we just offered up those rights, you know. Ryan Brant -- very smart guy -- bet his whole company, and said: "And by the way, I'm going to need the console rights to these games." Like I said: no hard feelings, and it's definitely a console world now. We still do PC stuff, but lessons learned.

And PC, if you have a hit, it's gravy. On consoles it's not gravy; it's gravy with some lumps sticking out. So maybe you could talk about that.

MW: It's niche enthusiast market, versus mass market. You know? And that enthusiast market is much smaller, but they're dedicated; if you make quality stuff, they tend to buy it. Which is rewarding, because that's not always the case in the console world. A lot of times, console sales are dominated by licensed properties and just, you know... You want in the mainstream, but do you really? You know? Because that suddenly means that you're dealing with a consumer that doesn't always care about quality as much as they do about a name.

But yeah, the fact that most of these big console franchises still originated from small, independent teams somewhere, gives us hope. We can help create those franchises. You know, we let our developers own our IP, and we're not going to sign up for every sequel to every game that does well; and it's fine to us, if we don't sign on to a sequel, and that developer sells to whomever. They can move on, because there's always new stuff coming, you know?

And for every developer that sells to a big company, a year or two later, there's going to be a new developer spawned from there, with that same experience. And that's who we want. We want the guys that are coming out -- like the Bungie guys, that just are fighting their way out from the Microsoft clause. Or Wideload -- those guys left much earlier, they didn't hang out for as much money as the Halo guys. But they wanted their freedom, and to move back to Chicago, and to work on stuff they wanted to do. As long as there's a constant flow of those guys? It's fine. There are plenty of big megamachines to deal with cranking out the thirty-million-dollar-sequel to whatever, and we don't need to be those people.

And to take their IP and hand it to another team.

MW: Exactly.


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