Maybe you’ve heard of Merge Games. Maybe you haven’t. If you happen to fall in the latter category, you won’t be there for long. Thanks to Surprise Attack, Rocket Chainsaw recently had the welcome opportunity to speak to Luke Keighran, founder of Merge Games. We learned a little about his past, from humble beginnings at Acclaim and THQ, the present, including some of the cool stuff Merge Games is distributing, and ultimately the future of this industry we so adore.
Read on to learn more.
Hey Luke, thanks for speaking with us. Firstly, for our readers unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little bit about your position at Merge Games, and what you guys do?
I started Merge Games, so I guess that makes me MD. We publish PC, iOS & Android games globally.
You once worked at THQ Asia Pacific, and left to form Merge Games. What was the reasoning behind this decision? Where do business philosophies differ between your previous work and today, and what did you learn from your experience at THQ to better shape Merge Games?
I worked at THQ Asia Pacific for over 3 years before I transferred to THQ UK where I headed up Sales & Marketing for THQ Export markets.
In terms of differences in business philosophies, on the one hand THQ was a AAA publisher when I worked there and therefore it had a corporate ideology. When you work in that environment you know there are exciting opportunities out there that maybe AAA publishers would not look at because the potential earnings are too small for them. This is where I thought Merge Games could fit in. We love to squeeze every drop of potential from each project we undertake.
We noticed you’ve handled distribution/PR for games in markets seemingly quite different to Australia, such as India, the Middle East, and Slovenia. Most Australians would be very familiar with the traditional ‘Western’ market and industry culture that dominates the U.S.A and U.K too, but how do these regions fair? Have you noticed any interesting differences?
When you deal in Eastern Europe it is a hardcore market. Polish, Nordic, German & Russian gamers have always liked difficult PC games.
The Middle East is very much a console market. It is more mass market titles that do well here. You need to be careful on content in the Middle East due to different classification laws on sexual content or religious themes.
Germany and France are the home of simulation games like Farming Simulator, Euro Truck 2. We saw a market for these titles in Australia and they are doing well at Australian retail.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in setting up Merge Games, and how have you overcome them?
You need to start from the beginning again. You are a small fish in a very large ocean. You can sometimes see opportunities however they may not be available to you because the market sometimes demands huge upfront cash guarantees.
We have built a strong reputation of communicating with indie developers, ensuring all royalties are reported and paid on time. Edmund McMillan recently talked about the trend amongst many publishers simply not to pay any money after initial guarantees. We have tried to change this perception and it’s working. So it is about getting developers to trust you with their products and execute a great job.
We can imagine that while working for Acclaim and THQ you dealt with many large studios. Now with Merge Games you appear to be dealing with smaller, more independent titles. How have you found this change, if any at all?
Things have changed dramatically in the markets in a short space of time. When I worked at THQ, we had many internal studios. There was always a different set of ideas regarding how studios and publishing worked. These days most developers own their IP’s and are therefore very interested in how their products are marketed. They are precious about their IP’s and so they should be.
You guys have some fantastic looking collectors editions for independent games coming up. The Binding of Isaac: Most Unholy Edition, LIMBO Special Edition, and Terraria Collector’s Edition seem packed with content. Is there any particular special edition that really hits home for you? What are you most excited about?
The 3 titles you have mentioned are excellent special editions and hard to split in terms of quality. The Limbo pack is special though in terms of content, due to the artistic quality of the game. We have some big announcements in early 2013 which we are really excited about.
Outside of publishing games, surely you’re also playing games. What have you had loaded up recently? Looking forward to anything specific over the next year?
My friend owns Head Up Games and they published Bridge Constructor for iOS & Android. It has been an enormous hit for them. So, I’ve been playing this a lot recently. We also have an iOS game coming out called Cooking School: Thai Kitchen (casual game) that we have been playing and testing. It’s hard to play to relax these days as my mind is always analyzing the content and the opportunity. We get a lot of amazing content to look at before it reaches the marketplace, which is a great perk.
And finally, what future do you envision for Merge Games? Where would you like to see the company grow, and what goals are you aiming for?
The gaming market is at a crossroad right now. I think the golden age for big publishers has passed, I think the golden age for Indie developers has passed. So, next year is a bit of a test to see what works and does not work……
Thanks again for the interview, we appreciate the insight. And good luck with your work!
As noted, due to a partnership with Surprise Attack and Merge Game, Rocket Chainsaw is proudly giving away one copy of Frozen Synapse: Collector’s Edition and Gemini Rue: Collector’s Edition. Information on how to win yourself some goodies can be found here.
Rocket Chainsaw would like to thank Luke Keighran of Merge Games, and Stephen Heller of Surprise Attack, for making this interview and give away possible.