Blitz boss Philip Oliver has told VG247 that he believes digital distribution is “the future” for smaller games, and has outlined progress made with Blitz 1>UP, an in-house program designed to help tiny developers see their titles become commercial products.
And why not? Oliver says that digital distribution allows for “experimental” games, micro-payments and piracy protection, as well as tapping into a flourishing market being spearheaded by the likes of XBLA and Steam.
If you’re a one- or two-man band struggling to get your game made, you’d do well to look past the link for details on Blitz 1>UP. You may be famous yet.
Hit it, innit.
Interview by Stephany Nunneley.
Blitz chief Philip Oliver believes in digital distribution. Big time.
“Digital distribution is the future,” he tells VG247. “We’re excited by it and we’re doing lots of it through Blitz Arcade.”
It’s not hot air. The UK developer and publisher has put his money where his mouth is.
“We established Blitz Arcade, which is one of our divisions, to focus on the new era of digital distribution,” he says, citing the model’s advantages as the reason for the company’s focus.
“Putting out a physical medium means such an investment in distribution costs. [Digital Distribution] also cuts piracy and allows micro-purchases, because at the moment when you sell a game in boxes you have to make the retail price $20 plus. Quite often it’s $40 plus.
“This doesn’t actually allow you to create smaller, more experimental games, whereas with digital distribution, you can charge a lot less to the end-user and they expect a lot less, but it means you can play more and be more experimental.”
Oliver adds that the current generation had opened up the market for a different breed of game.
“Certainly, I remember pitching some puzzle games on PS2, and you couldn’t do it,” he says. “It was only a boxed market and nobody would pay $30-$40 for what was fundamentally a puzzle game. Even if the puzzle game was brilliant, it was only when digital distribution came along that you had the likes of Zuma and Bejeweled really take off.”
Unfortunately, though, very small games made by very small developers often face problems inherent with economies of scale. As in, it’s difficult for a few people to make anything.
Blitz has addressed the issue with a scheme to leverage its internally resources to help micro-developers hit the big time. Or the “time,” at least.
“As a developer we can almost become a digital publisher,” Oliver explains. “How then do we develop the games?
“Well, we can develop the games internally. Blitz has got 255 staff at the moment… but one of the beauties is that you can create these smaller, more experimental games. We may come up with those, but actually there are other people out there that may come up with them, smaller developers, even as small as one- or two-man bands. But the problem very small developers have is [getting development hardware] and actually going through the whole development process.
“They may come up with a really good idea. They may be great artists, but they have no programmers. They may be great programmers, but have no artists. They may be able to do art and programming, but not audio or QA, or not know how to bring it to market.
Blitz 1>UP is the answer, said Oliver.
“What we’re doing is introduce the Blitz 1>UP scheme, which is us partnering with the smaller developer to find out what their ideas are and work with them to say, ‘Where do you need help?’ And basically try to see if there’s a way that we can help them bring their game to market.
“We’ve done a few of those now. There’s Buccaneer, which has now gone live on Steam. There’s Aftermath, which is going live on a bunch of the PC portals. We’re talking to both those guys about trying to get them onto XBLA: we can sort out the dev kits, stuff like that.”
Since we recorded this interview, another Blitz title, Droplitz, has been released to XBLA.
Don’t get too excited, though, mini-devs. Such help isn’t free.
“It’s kind of altruistic, but it’s good business as well at the end of the day,” Oliver added.
“These guys are small teams and are very enthusiastic… but they need our help. Equally, we will make a commercial decision and say, ‘Here’s the cut we’re going to take,’ or, ‘Here’s what we’re going to give you.’ Sometimes we’ve actually helped out financially, because the guys just needed money to pay the bills.”
Boxed product is, like, so doomed. Not so fast. While digital distribution may work for the smaller titles, Oliver’s quick to add that boxes will be with us for a long time yet. Online models may be “the future,” but not for the mega-budget projects.
“No, no,” Oliver said when asked if we’re nearing a world where developers can completely side-step publishers en masse. “We love publishers. Don’t get me wrong.
“I think digital distribution is great for small games, but I kind of liken the games industry and digital distribution to the film industry, where you have your blockbuster – which you will go and watch at the cinema, you will go and buy on DVD or Blu-ray – but you’ve also got broadcast on TV.
“Broadcast TV is equivalent to the digital download and smaller games, and that’s where we can become publishers, but on the big blockbuster games, no, we don’t want to become publishers in that area.”
Despite the enthusiasm for downloads, Oliver said, it’ll be “many years” before we make a meaningful switch away from boxed product.
“Digital distribution is mainly for the smaller, more novel games. The games with smaller budgets, under a few hundred thousand dollars. Yet, the world still wants blockbuster games, and those blockbuster games deserve to have boxes.”