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Ripstone talks PS4, indies and the future of the gaming industry

on 7 November 2013

PlayStation Universe recently hooked up with Ripstone Games, one of the fastest growing indie publishers in the U.K., to find out about how it’s managed to achieve success during a turbulent period in the industry and what its thoughts are on a variety of hot gaming topics, including the upcoming launch of PlayStation 4.

The following interview was conducted with Ripstone founder Phil Gaskell.

1. Ripstone was recently named as one of the country’s fastest growing firms. What is the company doing right during a turbulent time for the industry which has seen large scale lay-offs and many publishers and development studios close their doors?

At Ripstone we’re very focused and that helps during testing times like this. We’re purely focused on digital downloadable games, and purely a publishing outfit so we have no internal development teams. That means we’re a lean organisation that is able to move quickly to react to trends in a rapidly shifting industry. In a sequel-driven market, it also means we’re more able to take risks on the brave new ideas for games that indie developers are dreaming up.

2. The power of the big publishers appears to have slipped over the past five years and we’ve seen the rise of digital downloads thanks to open platforms such as Android, iOS and the PlayStation Store. Do you think this is a trend that will continue? Is physical retail doomed?

Physical retail isn’t doomed, if you look at this year’s figures it’s actually seen an increase over the past few years thanks to big launches like GTA V. Going back 50 years it was mooted that the TV would kill radio, and recently that TV is doomed thanks to the internet and streaming sites. This all needs to be put into perspective, there have been no bodies, and no chalk outlines. What these changes are doing is making things more accessible. What the openness of mobile platforms has done is both encouraged a more open approach from other platforms, and brought games to a much wider audience. It isn’t killing off audiences, and it isn’t killing off distribution channels. Physical retail still offers a number of very attractive benefits to gamers - they’re still able to offer immediacy (no waiting for that 60Gb download, it’s in your hand); they can often offer more aggressive price promotions, for example we’ve yet to see big franchise digital games on PSN cheaper than their retail equivalents; and of course there is still the (thorny) issue of resale value of games in the pre-owned market, will any of us ever be able to trade in all the coins we’ve bought in Candy Crush Saga towards a different game on mobile? I think not.

3. What are the core ingredients that you think an indie game should have in order for it to be taken on by Ripstone?

If you look at our catalogue it’s quite eclectic, and I really like that. We look for things that are original, that are backed by a team that are clearly passionate about what they want to make, and are in some way personal to the creator(s). With regards to my own tastes, I get attracted to games with a striking visual style, that are taking a risk in some way, and that make me laugh. There’s not enough funny games out there. That’s why we jumped at the chance to work with Zoink! on Stick It To The Man. It ticks all the boxes in spades!

4. Which games has Ripstone been involved with?

If you click on to our website www.ripstone.com the games we’ve helped to publish are front and centre. Our first title was with Voofoo Studios and together we created the world’s most beautiful chess game in Pure Chess which incidentally is making its way over most platforms this year and next! We’ve worked with one-man teams like Nicklas ‘Nifflas’ Nygren on Knytt Underground, and micro-studios like Sawfly on the quirky mobile line-drawing game Men’s Room Mayhem. We’re also working with bigger teams like Steel Wool Games on Flyhunter: Origins, they’re a very talented team of academy award winning artists and animators who’ve worked on some of the world’s most well-known animated movies at a very well-known animation studio; and the list goes on, Table Top Racing on PS Vita with Playrise, of course Stick It To The Man I mentioned earlier with Zoink!, and then there’s all the 2014 games we’ve not even announced yet!!

5. With Sony’s openness toward indie titles on the PS4 and the opportunity given to indies to self-publish on the PSN, how will that effect what you do?

What we do won’t change, the openness is perfect for us as it encourages indies to give more serious consideration to consoles and not just mobile, which we all know can be a much tougher place to be. We help take the sting out of publishing, and allow teams to concentrate on what they’re the very best at - making kick-ass games. We’re not a big monolithic organisation where a game can get lost in, we provide a bespoke option and guarantee we’ll be just as passionate about the game as the creators.

We also bring to the table over 50 years collectively of developing, producing, testing and publishing games with a good portion of that in digital markets. In fact I’m not sure there are many in the games industry that’ve shipped more digital content in their careers than we have! With all that in consideration we actually make a pretty attractive partner.

6. We’re bracing ourselves for a huge influx of indie games on Sony platforms over the next few years. Do you think the indie market could get saturated like it is on iOS? And how will you manage to stand out from the growing crowd without the same huge budgets for marketing that big publishers have?

I don’t think iOS is saturated by indie games, it’s a lot more complex than that. It doesn’t help that you are competing with non-games for people’s attention. So no I’m not expecting an overcrowded market, I’m expecting a vibrant one where gamers can go to experience the weird and the wonderful. How do we compete against $$$ budgets? Isn’t there a saying that it’s not how big it is, but what you do with it? That’s how we compete, whilst we’re the first to admit we don’t have bottomless pockets we are on a level playing field with regards to creativity, and you’re going to see a lot of creativity come from Ripstone and the developers we work with in the coming years.

7. You have experience of publishing games across a variety of platforms, including Vita, Android and iOS. Which platform do you most enjoy working with and why?

We really love consoles. Those are places where true gamers go to buy and play games, and those are the people I most identify with having been a gamer for over 30 years. Everyone at Ripstone would agree that our speciality is with consoles, and that’s why we pledge our support so strongly for them.

8. Some indies have told us that Vita has been a huge success for their digital titles, yet sales of the handheld in Europe haven’t been impressive. Do you think this is likely to put off bigger publishers from spending money creating big budget/AAA titles for Vita, and do you think it’s a platform that indies will now thrive on throughout the next generation?

The Vita story isn’t even half told yet. The intimate connectivity it has with PS4 makes it a much stronger competitor in the long-term and I firmly believe it will be a platform that can sustain much bigger budget titles in the future. Until then Ripstone and other indies will continue to support it and see great success from it.

9. We understand that the two co-founders of Ripstone are ex-Sony employees and have vast experience with producing games for PS3. Now that you have PS4 in your hands, how do you think the hardware compares and what are you most excited about for this next-generation of console?

When we were still at Sony we were lucky enough to work with PS4 in its infancy, so it’s fantastic to see it fully realised and it’s a clear triumph for Mark Cerny – the lead architect - and the team. It feels like Sony are back on form, and as someone who started his career at Sony it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The exciting aspects for me are how connected these new consoles are, they’ve been built with today’s digital and connected world in mind. I think all us gamers are in for a treat.

10. According to some schools of thought, this could be the last console generation and a ‘make or break’ time for Sony and Microsoft. Looking way ahead (20 years plus) what do you forsee for the future of the gaming industry?

I foresee the same brands fighting the same battle, just on different battlefields and with more competitors duking it out. I think there will still be a need and a want for physical hardware in the living room that can provide the best gaming experience plugged into the mains with no chance of the battery failing, but that hardware will also inevitably need to be portable too and allow gamers to take that experience with them in some way. So I do think we will see another generation yet. However there has and will always be one constant, that great content will drive all of this, and great games will always prevail.

11. What’s your current 12 month roadmap looking like? What can we expect from Ripstone?

You’re going to see a busy 2014 from us, we have some truly stunning games to announce on platforms like PS4, Wii U and Xbox One, as well as our continued support for PS3 and Vita. We’re also looking at new technology and creating some awesome game experiences built around them, so expect to see our name pop up a lot more in the future!