Q&A: Gamecock's Mike Wilson

On publishing, digital distribution and rejected names.

Last week, former Gathering of Developers executives Mike Wilson and Harry Miller launched Gamecock, an independent game publishing label determined to bring about change in an industry that is, in their words, "bloated and originality-starved".

Announcing five games initially, the publisher said it would focus on innovative and original titles rather than the safe bets - projects based on licences, and sequels - that the industry's biggest publishers have become obsessed with. As a "well-funded, independent, artist-driven game publishing company," Gamecock wouldn't have to answer to shareholders; only themselves.

We caught up with CEO Mike Wilson in light of the announcement to get a bit more detail on Gamecock and the former GODs' views. And of course to ask him about the name.

Eurogamer: Gamecock's been set up to help independent games find an audience. But some indies do find a place with major publishing labels anyway - would you make a better home for them, or are you positioning yourself as the next best option?

Mike Wilson: We don't see ourselves as being in competition with EA - or, indeed, with any other publisher. We're certainly not anyone's 'next best option' either. We're an independent game publisher that's going to help creative people to make great games... our approach won't be right for everyone - and not everyone will be right for our approach. We've already signed a great crop of studios for our first wave and we don't envisage any problems adding to the list.

Eurogamer: Let's say that a big publisher like EA suddenly sees the light and wants to drive growth through innovation rather than iteration. What would you advise them to do? Is there a 'safe' way of doing what you're doing?

Mike Wilson: I find the concept of anyone asking me for advice hilarious. There's no 'safe' way to do any form of business. Wouldn't it have been 'safer' for Eurogamer to be produced in print all of those years ago... and look at you now.

Eurogamer: We've seen headlines recently like 'Ubisoft planning to produce three new IPs every three years' followed by a bit of drum-banging about fighting for innovation in games. What do you make of that? Part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Mike Wilson: Let's hope it happens... you really can't have too much creativity. That said, it seems a little strange to put to number on it. What would happen if they sign three new concepts in 2008 and then a really good fourth candidate shows up? We think that we need to remain flexible enough to allow ourselves to work with any quality productions that drift through our transom.

Eurogamer: It's easy to argue that publishers don't make much of an effort in this department, of course, but some do have a go. Unfortunately, often as not, even great games like Psychonauts don't sell. Capcom built Clover Studio, its games were all excellent, and none of them did as well as they should have. What do publishers need to do differently to change that?

Mike Wilson: Again, we're not here to tell other people what to do. We do believe, however, that if you find the right people working on the right games and get their output to market in the right fashion (phew!) then the public will make the final decision on whether they should be a success or not.

Eurogamer: Another problem they face is that some of their signings just aren't very good. UK publisher Eidos, for example, had something it called 'Fresh Games' a while ago, which sought to bring in interesting unknowns from Japan, like Mad Maestro and Mr Moskeeto. Except they were poor games. Perhaps the problem is that publishers simply have no idea what constitutes a good game?

Mike Wilson: Perhaps it is.

Eurogamer: On a related note, you say you will favour "only the most innovative and original video game developers". Who decides what's innovative and original? What are your specific criteria for deciding who to work with?

Mike Wilson: We do. We don't have specific criteria. We make each decision individually.

Eurogamer: You've had a pop at licensed games and sequels, which is fair enough (we're sick of Mario Party too), but at the same time you're sewing up sequel rights to the games you publish to help make up for developers owning the IP. Isn't that a bit of a contradiction?

Mike Wilson: No. If our developers decide to do a sequel, we want to make sure they do it with us. That's just sound business practice.

Eurogamer: Your experience with Gathering of Developers presumably puts you in good stead when it comes to retail penetration, but digital distribution has become a viable alternative in the time since you left the industry. Will you be incorporating services like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade into your plans?

Mike Wilson: We will definitely be going digital. It's too early for us to say which route we'll take, but we love that whole 'new frontier' that's opening up in front of us.

Eurogamer: Can you talk about specific formats? Your press releases are a bit non-committal. Will you be appearing on Nintendo Wii, for example? DS? Perhaps you could name the consoles without associating the games directly?

Mike Wilson: We plan to publish on every platform that makes commercial sense. As soon as decisions are made on individual games, we'll make those announcements.

Eurogamer: Finally, if Gamecock's the name you picked, what on earth did you reject?

Mike Wilson: Electronic Arse.

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