And innovative and resilient markets draw companies. It’s in part why Maximum Games founder and CEO Christina Seelye launched a new publishing label for indie games: Modus. It operates in a space similar to Versus Evil, Headup, and Merge, courting indies that have interesting game but need help bringing them to market, whether that’s investment, publishing services, or porting.
This is an edited transcript of our interview.
Diving into indies
GamesBeat: Why create a label?
Christina Seelye: We struggled with that, to be honest. We said, should we create a separate label, create a separate company? Maximum Games has grown a ton around publishing already-finished titles. We have lots of partners, publishers across Europe, and in Europe we have partners from publishers in the U.S. who want European representation. The company on the Maximum Games side grew in partnership with these other publishers, such as Focus Home Interactive or Big Ben or lots of different European publishers.
GamesBeat: Publishers on the smaller end of triple-A or the bigger end of double-A.
Seelye: Exactly. Maximum Games, in partnership with these guys, did a good job launching those games in specific territories. What we decided to do is we saw this underserved market of independent studios that could use not just our ability to do a good triple-A elegant level of launch, but that we could be using our infrastructure to help them get all the way there.
GB: When you say independent, are these companies bigger than studios that might use Auroch, or Merge, or Headup.
Seelye: Yeah, that’s exactly who we’re targeting, actually. There’s the little tiny guys that are going to have less than 10 people in some cases. Those guys are going to–would potentially go to a Merge or a Headup, who we like very much. Those guys have a compelling place in the market. We’re targeting more of the–Frozen Byte is a good example, who you just saw with their game Trine, which is a significant independent studio. You can call them indies or independent studios, because they range in size from 10 to 500. It depends. But these are studios who have a deep connection to their own creative content.
GamesBeat: Like an Obsidian.
Seelye: Exactly. That’s what we’re looking for. We think, with our level of respect for them and their creative content and their vision for the game — we believe we can bring the infrastructure and nuts and bolts of publishing, of launching, of all the milestone management to make sure we’re getting it out on time and as outlined, and our skill of getting the best commercial result of their creative content is what we bring to the table. What we’re not doing is defining what the game is going to look like. We’re not defining game mechanics or anything around the–we’re not a creative director. We’re not providing that.
GamesBeat: But you are providing marketing, QA, porting. Basically all the things that a Merge or a Headup would do, but on a larger scale.
Seelye: On a larger scale, yes. And we’re funding those processes, which is also significantly different from Merge or Headup.
GamesBeat: This sounds a lot like the stuff Versus Evil is doing.
Seelye: Yes, I would say in a way that is–funding it, and probably at a bit of a larger size and scale. But that’s where we feel like we live. We think there’s a huge opportunity for us to lead in this space. What you see is these big–at the large end of double-A or small end of triple-A, a lot of people are playing up there. Where we see we can add a lot of value is in the Devolver space, kind of, but with a lot more ability to launch globally, and to launch both digitally and physically.
GamesBeat: Are you talking about a Devolver space, or more of a THQ Nordic space? You sound like you’re leaning toward the THQ size.
Seelye: We have the capabilities of a THQ Nordic. We do it well and very elegantly, and in a much less bureaucratic or confusing way, is where we would live against a THQ.
GamesBeat: Because THQ has its offices in Stockholm and Austria.
Seelye: Right. And THQ has their own stuff. They own studios. They have a lot of different initiatives. I think we’re a bit more simple in our focus right now. And I would say–why I say Devolver is we look at Devolver and see that they’re doing a fantastic job digitally. They know their community. They look for games that fit in that community. We want to bring a similar kind of similar kind of service and launch, but more global in focus, and also more both digital and physical. Although we do have some digital only titles.
GB: Do you do collector edition retail, too, or just retail?
Seelye: Are you talking like direct to consumer collector’s? We haven’t done that, although that’s an interesting space for us, because we have our own warehouse with pick, pack, and ship capabilities. We could definitely go into that space.
GamesBeat: And some games that people might like physical copies of that are only digital.
Seelye: Exactly. We do have that, and that’s something we’re definitely looking at. But this year, what we’re really looking at is finding these independent studios where we’re a good match. One thing that we really like is when you find–a lot of our publishing partners on the Modus side are people who’ve had a success already. Maybe just on Steam, maybe digital only. They’ve had some good success and gotten started. At that point they say, my gosh, there’s so much more we could do if we had someone who was skilled on the publishing and launch side.
GamesBeat: Or they want and need a new publisher for a variety of reasons.
MM: Maybe they tried to self-publish, and they say–there’s so much opportunity. They can see it, because they tried to do it. But they know that trying to build out that infrastructure for a studio would be really difficult. Whereas those are–our perfect marriage is people who have a high level of desire for what we offer, and then we have a high level of respect for their creative content. That’s the perfect marriage for us.
Big and small
GamesBeat: What’s the difference between a game that Maximum would publish and a game that Modus would publish?
Seelye: Primarily, Modus is somebody who we are interested in funding from start to finish, and that we would have coordinated efforts on the marketing timeline and communication calendar from launch to the end. It’s not necessarily a game or genre. It’s more of a match with a studio, project by project. What Maximum has is top 20 leverage around the world as far as physical publishing. Modus can leverage all of that positioning within the market, so we have access to the Wal-Marts, the Targets, the Micro Mania, the Media Marts, the Game, the Amazons. We can do that globally, automatically, because we have that in spades. And then that’s what we would do.
GamesBeat: Does it also make it less confusing for game studios?
Seelye: They know exactly where to go.
GamesBeat: Not only that, but Maximum does all these big things. Maybe they’re not dealing with smaller folks. Oh, but you are.
Seelye: That’s what we’re doing with Modus. We’re trying to create a destination for these studios to say, oh, this is the team that’ll be working on this game. Then we get to leverage the best of what we have to offer here as far as brand management, QA, localization. A lot of what we do, which is also significantly different from some of the people who are positioned as digital publishers, is that we spend a ton of time on focus group testing and playtesting. Lots of user experience feedback. We work in conjunction with the studio at key moments of time in the development cycle to make sure that we’re providing an extended arm of playtesting and UX testing that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to manage.
GamesBeat: Because they’re just too small.
Seelye: They don’t have the resources. They don’t have the community built. They don’t have a big space to bring people into for testing. If you’re trying to do something, to address something in the development cycle much earlier in the process, it’s really difficult to do that digitally. What you want to do is maybe film them experiencing something, so that you can see–how difficult is this puzzle? How difficult is it to get from this level to this level. Those are things that, digitally, you have to have that happen anecdotally, whereas if you’re doing a playtest with humans here, you can film it and then see exactly what’s happening. Sometimes people’s actual experience when they’re retelling it might be different than what you can see.
GamesBeat: How many studios has Modus signed so far?
Seelye: We have games that are going all the way through 2020 right now. Even though we’ve just launched it, we’ve actually been working with studios under the Modus label for the past 12 months, signing people and getting it ready. We’re just now ready to announce it show our road map.
GamesBeat: Is Trine 4 the first game you’re going to publish under Modus?
Seelye:No, it’s not. Trine is the largest game we’re going to publish under Modus, but we just launched a game called Degrees of Separation in February. We have two games coming out between now and Trine that are smaller digital titles. One is Lost Words and one is Bear With Me. Both of those games are–
GamesBeat: Was Bear With Me at PAX?
Seelye: Yes. … It’s a very sweet, funny film noir kind of game that we really liked. That’s why we signed it under Modus. That’s also a good example of a studio who had a vision for a game and we really connected with them and thought that would be a good one to put under Modus. But they’re on the smaller size—and then in 2020 we have games that are going through a press tour right now.
GamesBeat: When it comes to the areas you’re looking at, you mentioned Europe. Are you interested in talking to developers from Latin America, say?
Seelye: Yes. In fact, our big 2020 title is from a studio in Latin America.
GamesBeat: What about Asia?
Seelye: Asia is interesting for us. We just are launching our first game in April, which is Override, a mech brawler we launched in December of last year. That’s launching in Japan and Korea in April. Then we have not done China, but we’re just—every game that we’ve signed under Modus is going to be localized into Chinese, Japanese, and Korea. We have partnerships we’re launching with Modus in all of those. Right now we’re still under negotiations with a partner in China. Not all Modus games will work in China, but we see it as a super exciting opportunity for us to expand the reach in a way that an independent studio wouldn’t be able to do on their own. That’s what we can do, because we can leverage a portfolio and get the attention of a publisher and have enough size and scale for them to be interested in the partnership.