Interviews// Martyn Brown - Team 17

Posted 29 Jul 2009 17:41 by
Team17 is one of the mainstays of UK gaming. It's been involved in making games since 1987 on the blessed and missed Amiga. With the death of Commodore's PC, Team17 moved onto to console game development.

Through its lifespan to the current date it's been an individual and staunchly independent outfit, firmly rooted in West Yorkshire, and apparently oblivious to trends. It's most recent move, however, is one which has caused some ripples in the publishing world. Rather than suffer the vicissitudes of being taken under the wing of a 'major' publisher and promptly changed or worse, closed, it's going down the digital publishing route.

Oh, Team17 used to employ me for a while back in the 1990s.

Creative Director, Martyn Brown popped over to SPOnG recently to show us Alien Breed Evolution, chat about the old days, and discuss the future. Rather than turning into the standard drunken frenzy, the chat became an interview... and the interview included ABE details, some things that we've been asked not to say quite yet, the various qualities or the lack thereof, of every single platform holder worth a mention... and much more.

Please enjoy.

SPOnG: Hi Martyn, let's pile straight in. So, Team17 now unshackled from publishers?

Martyn Brown: Yeah, in the traditional sense, yes. After 10-12 years of working with third-party publishers we're returning it to the early days when we self-published. So, whereas there's sort of a green light procedure to doing stuff and a lengthy one and a frustrating one we tend to look after that ourselves because we're funding it and just working directly with a first-party; i.e. Microsoft, Apple, Sony, and Nintendo directly. We work in partnership with them and publish with them.

The only green lights are our own. The only screw-ups are our own. But it is our money, so it's our risk, so we've got to be cock-sure about what we're doing.

SPOnG: So, was this decision to go it alone decided at a huge internal board meeting where strategy was decided? Or were things just heading this way?

Martyn Brown: I think we'd been leaning that way. We've been involved in the digital side since 2005 when Microsoft first approached is about Worms when Live Arcade was around the corner.

And at the same time we were talking to Sony and ended up doing Lemmings on PS3. I think we were one of the first in Europe doing the PS3 stuff. So, we embraced it pretty quickly, we just liked the process of doing it. We could certainly see the future back then.

So, once we started on Worms, and particularly when Worms first went live on Live Arcade, it was a case of 'certainly this is the way forward' after working for years the other way with traditional retail.

Certainly looking at traditional retail and seeing how to a large extent a lot of that is kind of messed-up really, when only maybe 20-25 titles a year really recoup and do make a lot of money. The whole business model of 20, 30, 40, 50 million dollars on titles is kind of ludicrous, and we're seeing a lot of publishers hurting because of that.

Then you see some platforms such as the Wii, which is utterly saturated at retail. How do you get any kind of presence at retail?

But, you know, there are challenges on the digital side. Like the Appstore for example, I don't know how many thousand apps there are now; there's probably 10,000 games. So, getting some kind of visibility's quite difficult there.

SPOnG: So, how have you gone about achieving that?

Martyn Brown: To be honest, we did zero marketing for Worms on Live Arcade, and it's the second best-selling title in the world on there, so really (with Worms) I think that's the strength of the brand.

SPOnG: But you were a known quantity there.

Martyn Brown: Exactly, absolutely. But to an extent I think we would be on iPhone. We believe and Apple believe just from recent conversations that just the presence of the brand on there is kind of enough really.

We're not going to do a lot of traditional marketing. We'll do a lot of online/web stuff and viral bits and pieces...

SPOnG: How's that working for you? Your own blogging stuff?

Martyn Brown: I think it's good. We've only just started doing that and, again, we're doing it under the radar we're not making a big song and dance about it we're just letting it generate under its own steam. This is simply because the brands we're putting out now are well known.

People find them, and know about them and talk about them. And I think the fans are slowly coming in and realising that they can contact us directly through Facebook, which is kind of a new thing.

SPOnG: Undermines us in the media completely!

Martyn Brown: Well [laughs] yeah. But you're sort of just one of a number of people on our list... but we tend to be pissing people off [laughs] just we're slowly going about it.

SPOnG: Yes... [laughs]

Martyn Brown: But I like that touch, and as long as we don't stretch ourselves too thin because it is difficult because it is difficult keeping on top of it.

SPOnG: And if you don't keep on top of it...

Martyn Brown: Well, to be honest we don't do a lot on our own website because we sort of feel that's sort of done to death everywhere, you know. And just blahing a load of bloody features and the rest of it, well, we'd prefer to do what 'the kids of today' are more into: the Facebooks, the interaction. So, we wanted to do that. That might take a little bit of time to get groundswell... but once people know we're there, then that's fine.

It's early days on the digital side. Certainly, having a title like Worms to kick off with is fantastic. We've got every confidence in the other stuff that's coming as well! But it's great to punch-out with Worms.

SPOnG: Punch-Out with Worms? Wow! Is that an exclusive? [Laughs]

Martyn Brown: It is, yeah, I'm not sure what Nintendo will think of that... [laughs] Anyway, to break-out on iPhone...
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Zoyd Wheeler 29 Jul 2009 17:22
Nice one, sir! Can we see more of these please? :)
King Ranko 29 Jul 2009 18:21
Man, Team 17 - now there's a proper games company - remember back in the 90's when every game they did was just the best thing in the genre by miles!! Overdrive, ATR, Project X, Alien Breed, Body Blows; they were all Amiga perfection, and all were tough as nails...
Those were the good old days eh?
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