The wallet-bulging computer and videogame market is tethered to reality by the likes of Sold Out. After the initial success of Virgin's White Label budget range in the UK - showcasing titles like TIE Fighter and Sam & Max - Sold Out emerged as the first agent provocateur of budget games for less than £9.99. The downside in this case being that with so many titles which were missing from your collection now within biting distance, escaping with your fiver is nigh on impossible.
Sold Out is a company founded on "quality, range, and value". Managing Director Garry Williams has seen a lot of things in his time, and Sold Out has allowed him to reach two of his major career goals. "After 15 years in the games industry you see it is not rock and roll, but there is plenty of drinking, plenty of fun and a chance to create something that people can truly enjoy! My main aims were to do the one and two million pound licensing deals, create something new and design a game that would be truly respected. I can tick off the first two and I am still hopeful that one day I will come up with the third." To really understand Sold Out though, you have to consider Garry's path through the industry. In a recent interview with CTW he spoke of his life beforehand, as he juggled numerous summer jobs between college and university, including the business of selling luminous necklaces and felt JR Ewing hats. "Like most people I left Uni with a 2.1, a massive beer belly and little clue of how to finance my drinking habits with this thing grown-ups did called work!" This state of confusion didn't last for long however, and we have a certain Iron Lady to thank for that. "Being a Northerner I found out that a certain Mrs. Thatcher had laid waste to opportunities in the North, and if I were to truly join the culture of greed I had to get on my bike and down to 'Big' London where the posh people lived. Once here and ensconced in some suitably squalid bedsit I scanned the Guardian for any job that would pay the rent, with some money left over for beer vouchers!"
"Tenacious, self-motivated, business ninja"
Along with his talent for telesales, Garry brought the above mindset to interviews in London. The Guardian job pages must have been something special though, because it wasn't long before Garry was on his feet. "Hours later, I was in an interview that involved me selling someone a pen!? Then shipped off to EMAP for a group interview [and] the rest is down to luck, as I could easily have ended up on some boring business magazine." It wasn't long before EMAP lost its attraction. "In the magazines I saw the boys playing Intellivision, Coleco and the rest, and because of my Blackpool Arcades background I thought this is not work, this is fun! I could clock Space Invader machines, spent most of my degree time playing Gorf and Carnival and any pinball machine going, so to be paid for playing games could only be a bonus. Magazines were getting lazy and kicking games for the fun of it. Too many kids with too few journalistic skills were being allowed to destroy titles that someone had put a lot of time and effort into. My style was always to try and get the journos to say what was wrong, but then how it could have been made better. Rather than just slating a title and giving it a crap rating." "It is easy to snipe but much harder to cross the fence and put your ideas on the line. Moving to Imagineer was my way of saying I think I have learned enough about the industry to have the confidence in calling a few of the shots!" The thing that drew Garry Williams to the gaming industry and specifically, his position as licensing director at games publisher Imagineer, was the fact that deep down, he believes that developers "almost always try and produce something good". Bad games are down to bad organisation and poor team dynamics. "The skill is spotting the bullshit that stops a good game turning into a poor game. The reality though is that spotting it is not always as easy as stopping it!"
Keeping the Uni dream alive, Garry likes to start his working day with a hangover, "escaping grief from the Mrs by going to work before she wakes up!" There is plenty more to managing a budget label than drinking though, although Garry didn't comment on which drinks best aided which deals. The morning is usually spent "talking to licensing guys in Japan who are about to go to bed", and sorting out emails and "general admin nonsense". "Lunch always involves a couple of sherbets to numb the pain of dealing with big company honkers who have had charisma bypass work carried out on them! The rest of the afternoon is spent harassing and begging company heads to let me sign the games I want to sign, dealing with licensing guys in the USA who have just got up, and avoiding city types trying to persuade us to float Sold Out to get a big wodge of easy dosh, rather than just carry on selling good games to happy consumers." But Sold Out is a serious job, and although Garry gets "very little time" to play the games he promotes, he deserves a modicum of respect for pinning down the title of "office champ on Mario Kart battle mode" until recently. "I used to be able to make money and beat them", he comments on his staff. "Perhaps lately I am getting old." Being able to spot a good budget game and knowing how to sell it are key aspects of Garry's job. As with recent additions to the range such as Worms 2, finding a new release - in this case the puzzler Worms Blast - to "piggy back on" helps, but "few buy on nostalgia, they buy because they recognise the name and remember it". This has given rise to a peculiar demographic, however, with "the pocket money price" attracting "an unexpected amount of young PC users" aged 7-10. "The hardcore is between 14-27, although that said we have some very interesting customers in the 30 year old plus sectors. People who love flight sims and niche games, but also some PC owners that are trying games for the first time."
When it comes down to it, the thing that seems to define Garry Williams is his rambunctious approach to the industry, having recently appeared at London-based gaming trade show ECTS adorned in full union jack motif. He is also outspoken on a number of issues, including short-termism and corporate thinking as it creeps into the industry. "I hate the fact many good experienced developers are being forced out of the industry by blasé statements like, 'it's a sequels business!' For a while it is a sequels business, until the publisher's IP diminishes. Then who delivers the next big IP, the game to attract the consumers into our market? These corporate sound bites are too easy to deliver, and in my mind the thinking behind them is not challenged nearly enough." "It is only my personal view but the creativity of this industry and the easy relationship with our consumer is being damaged by people who will not be in this industry in four or five months. People 'running' our industry, who will very soon just have taken the money and run. We have started to treat the consumer as expendable, we sell them games that tell them their systems are inadequate and that they must pay for a premium rate line just for the chance to be able to play the game." Sold Out seems to have been forged from the antithesis of Garry's concerns. "I think some of the bigger companies are guilty of short-termism, poor business practices and of not 'adding' to our industry. This industry was originally built on creativity and individual dynamism, and I believe most of this has been stifled by the more corporate thinking that has emerged with the globalisation of the industry."
Although Garry is quite happy producing games that are generally "£4.99 for more than 30 hours gaming entertainment", he admitted that he would "love to meddle with budget console models". "That said we need the machine manufacturers to allow us to work with a more 'open' model to achieve this. With PC we 'add' something to the process - we take great titles, add all the patches, enhance the title with our own installer, offer well manned customer service facilities, then manufacture, distribute, re-market and sell the titles. I believe the console consumer would benefit from this system, but with say Sony for example you have to work on their fixed price model, needing their approval for any changes and working from their manufacturing dates. All this makes it difficult to offer the same value; currently it is very hard to make this system work!" "But I do love a challenge - watch this space!"