By Damian Cavanagh
Recently at PAX AUS, I was given the chance to sit down with Chris Wright, Managing Director of the Melbourne-based Surprise Attack Games, to discuss the company's entry into the publishing world. As we reported at PAX AUS, the folks at Surprise Attack have branched out from their PR and marketing efforts to create Surprise Attack Games, a publishing house focusing on indie developers and titles.
"Surprise Attack started when Blue Tongue Entertainment was shut down at THQ Australia," Wright said. "At the time, when they were shutting them down, I was figuring out what I wanted to do. The idea of an independent publisher was the main thing in my head. It was like ‘There’s gotta be a better way to be a publisher within this changing industry. What would indies want? What would a publisher who worked with indies look like?'"
Wright said he looked to another industry for guidance in starting the PR and marketing side of Surprise Attack. "It occurred to me that the music has had that for years in the form of indie labels and that they were close to the creative community and were part of that and they managed not be corporate," he began. "So if I can do it like that I can achieve this. Of course you don’t go ‘Hey, I’m a publisher now!’ I hadn’t worked with indies, I didn’t really know how mobile games worked, I didn’t know what indies wanted and I had no reputation with them. So I had to build that up and also figure out if I was right. Would a publishing model work?"
It certainly would.
"So, we started of a consultancy, just with me, basically. I doing stuff for free and figuring things out. Over time it grew," Wright explained. "People saw what I was doing and said 'Hey! I wanna be a part of that! Can I join?' and I found a way to make space for them in the business. We’re now ten people, eight of which are full time. We have people in Sydney, we have people in Melbourne. We’ve worked with nearly fifty Australian developers; we’ve worked with some big overseas companies and overseas developers. We’ve now launched over eleven games, so we’ve built up a level of expertise."
Successes in the PR and marketing side of things lead Wright to believe he could launch the publishing house. "All of that has culminated to this point, knowing we wanted to launch a games label," he said. "But now we have that, the agency is still very important; we are not turning into a publisher, we are launching a label as part of our business. We will continue to work with developers: everything from a single hour consultation all the way up to months and months of work on a retainer. What’s important to us is the core of what we do: bring Australian games to the world. That’s the primary mission of our business."
Surprise Attack Games already have a number of clients signed up. "All the developers here who have signed us a publisher we have been working with for a while," Wright explained. "Anomalous Interactive have been working on Wolfdozer [pictured above]for about 18 months, on and off, as they are working on it part time. For a long time we’ve been talking about being the publishers for that game. With a game like Wolfdozer there will probably be a degree of free to play. Not a super heinous amount of free to play, because it’s aimed at core gamers, but certainly a free to play model on the App Store is what you have to do."
"With the SeeThrough Studios guys and their game Particulars, we helped them with some initial work and building a strategy. From there we started talking about the future," Wright continued. "Their situation is they’re a very young company and as with a lot of companies like that there is more work that we can do for them than they can afford. So these guys are a great example of a company that don’t want to be putting in a great amount of money into marketing, but they know that they want that support. So signing us as a publisher, we just take a slice of that back end."
"With the game Burden from Pixelpickle, we helped those guys get some funding last year. We helped them apply to Film Victoria, successfully, which was the bulk of their development funding. Since then we’ve been working on a marketing strategy for them," Wright continued. "Right from the beginning we were saying to them that we want to launch a publishing label and this is exactly the kind of game we want to publish. If you take a look them, they’re a two man team, building a really ambitious game. If they had to do all the business stuff and all the marketing stuff – which is not their forte – they’d never come out with a game. So this was perfect for us: they really wanted to focus on the game and we really wanted to work on it."
"The Game of Watchcraft [pictured above] guys, Clicker, are two great guys. University lecturers by day, who teach game design, and they just love Game & Watch," Wright said. "Bill, who is the main designer, uses it as a game design exercise for his students, because it’s a format that is constrained. They came to us with some ideas of where they wanted to go. They want to make a series of games with the idea of ‘LCDemakes’. It’s where you take something modern and imagine it in a retro style. Like taking a modern movie and reimagining it as a silent picture. So the gaming equivalent is where they take big triple A franchises, like World of Warcraft and saying ‘Right, what’s the essence of that transmuted through the constraints of an LCD console of the 1980s? What is really cool as they can make these games rather quickly, so we can be really driven by the community. We are asking everyone at PAX, ‘What game shall we do next?’ So if everyone says ‘We really want a Metal Gear Solid LCD game’ these guys could have it out in a couple of months."
Surprise Attack Games isn't just about signing clients; it's about keeping them, building up strong relationships and giving those developers much-needed skills. "Overall, no one is going to sign with a publisher or indie developer without being really comfortable with the people they’re working with," Wright said. "From our side as well, we can only invest in so many games. We’re not going to sign somebody up who has just walked in off the street. We have to really feel like they’re the right kind if partner. In a lot of cases we expect people to come to us first with a little piece of work and as those conversations develop, the publishing becomes an avenue that we go down."
It was great to talk to Chris Wright again and fantastic to watch Surprise Attack go from strength to strength. We thank him for his time. To keep up with what’s happening, you can follow Surprise Attack on Twitter.