Industry Job Interview – The Publisher

17 Oct 2008  by   Paul Younger
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Have you ever thought about getting a job in the gaming industry? Whether it’s a job developing a game, publishing a game, marketing a game or even just testing a game, then this feature is for you.Over the next few months, and every third Friday of the month, we’ll be interviewing key figures within the industry about their roles, their responsibilities and how they foundthemselves in the gaming industry. The interviews will offer advice and tips on how to find an “in” to the industry and will answer any questions that you may have.This week we speak to Steve Wall, Vice President of Business Development at Lighthouse Interactive.
Have you always been interested in videogames?

The answer is yes, but I have always enjoyed gaming of all kinds, from board games to videogames. My first console was the Intellivision by Mattel and I remember playing late into the night with my friends. We thought at the time that this was as good as it could get, so I have seen the incredible progression of both the technology and the art form. That said, I still think playing Baseball with the Intellivision controller was the best, if you don’t believe me, dig one up and try it yourself.

Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in the videogaming industry?

When I first got into the business, the industry was not as evolved as it is today. My first interest in gaming was in creating board games. I started creating these quite early with a friend of mine and after several unsuccessful submissions; we got the message and looked for other ways to bring our ideas to market. The videogame industry and more importantly for us, the PC gaming industry was becoming a viable business opportunity and we decided to give this a shot. Games were not as sophisticated technically or graphically so teams were much smaller and it was a much more affordable business to get into. You could also find programmers hiding in your basement. So getting into the business was a bit of an accident. The company I co founded was called Strategy First which started as a PC developer and then I had the opportunity to turn the company into a publisher.

How did you fall into publishing?

When I was with Strategy First we were developing a game for a now defunct publisher when the project was dropped. So we were a developer with a finished product (we thought it was finished at the time) and I saw this as a good opportunity to turn us from a development studio into a publisher. I was able to grow that part of the business successfully for several years until I left the company early in 2003. In 2005, I co founded Lighthouse Interactive with Erik Schreuder, another industry veteran and a previous business colleague of mine.

As VP of Lighthouse Interactive your job must vary quite a lot. Can you give us a brief outline of what it is you do and what you’re responsible for?

One of the more attractive aspects of working in a smaller publisher is that you do have variety in your job and you have to be prepared to wear a few hats, luckily I have a big enough head. I have worked on setting up the publishing infrastructure, setting up distribution, acquiring product and international sales. Each aspect of the job brings its share of challenges and rewards.?

What is your favourite part of your job?

I really enjoy the creative process and the sense that I am building something. Having experience on both sides of the fence as a developer and a publisher, I can tell you that both businesses have a strong creative aspect to them. I am lucky enough to work with some terrific developers and also an extremely creative staff here at Lighthouse. It is a real pleasure to see the passion they all bring to the table. This business does inspire people.?

You’ve just signed a deal with Nintendo which means you’re able to publish and develop games under their brand. How important is that for the company?

This is a very important step for our company. While not an easy market, it is a big market and one we feel that we can be successful in. We are also not wasting too much time in getting into it as we have just recently announced our very first Nintendo Wii and DS title called Pirate Party: The Adventures of the Black Corsair being developed by a talented team called Virtual Identity. This is a beautiful title that I think will definitely find an audience.

How do you go about securing Publishing License Agreements like this? Is there an application process or do you just apply when you feel the company is ready? Or is it more of a case of being asked?

You have to have the infrastructure in place to be able to move into this market. That means both technically and marketing capabilities wise. The financial model and processes are very different than you find with PC games, so the risk is much higher but the rewards can be too. ?

Will you be looking to do the same with Sony and Microsoft?

We already have our Sony PS2 and PSP Worldwide Licenses and we are definitely interested in acquiring our XBOX 360 License. We want to have the opportunity and flexibility to bring our products to different target markets, so we want to be everywhere gamers are.

What steps need to be taken now? Do you have IP’s that you are already thinking of acquiring, or will you expand on games that you already have for the PC?

We are looking at doing both. There are a lot of interesting opportunities out there; the trick is to match IP’s with the right console target market. We will definitely have much more to say and announce on this matter, so keep your eyes out for that.

If you have ideas for games, can you get involved with the development of the game, or do you just have to let the developers get on with what it is their doing? Do you have any influence in that respect?

It really depends on when we acquire the game. We do try to have a mixed model approach and so this means while we have worked with games in later stages of development, we have also had the opportunity to work with developer’s right from the beginning of the project. These projects are very exciting for us as we can bring our experience to the table and help the development team deliver the best product possible. It also creates a nice bond between publisher and developer as we are in the project together.

There is a lot of negativity within the industry at the moment, especially towards casual gaming. This is certainly true of Nintendo products, do you think it’s justified, or do you think it’s just another phase that is part and parcel of a successful industry? And how will you ensure that your products are original and fun comparatively?

I guess there are two ways to address your question, one is a question of quality of product and the other is about expanding the business. Regarding casual games, there has certainly been an explosion in this aspect of the business. In my view, this is a good thing as any business needs to grow its customer base. As some of the casual gamers begin to seek a deeper experience, they will potentially gravitate to different types of games. There are also new audiences being targeted like families and games targeted for girls. Again, this expands the gaming base and this is always a good thing. When I first started in the business, most of the gamers we targeted would have been considered hard core with very little crossover potential. Any business needs to build its core audience so this is a healthy sign. If the question is concerning the quality of these games, the market will eventually take care of this over time. Market saturation is always a concern of ours, but it is something you can’t control only adapt too, so the only way to counter it is to create the best game possible and target your audience.

If someone out there is interested in becoming a publisher, or working within the video gaming industry field of publishing, what advice can you give them and what should they do?

I would tell them to head off to an amusement park and ride as many rollercoaster’s as they can, because this is how the publishing business feels. Seriously, assuming they are starting with a modest operating budget, I would tell them to educate themselves on the different trends and genres within the game and try to find a niche that they can develop and perform in.

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