An Interview w/Scott Steinberg on the New Indie-Driven Publishing Label: Phoenix Online Publishing™

Posted on February 26th, 2014

Last week we covered the announcement of Phoenix Online Studios'™ new label, Phoenix Online Publishing™.

The new indie-driven publishing label seeks to create games that emphasize rich storytelling and have vivid atmospheres.

Currently, Phoenix Online Publishing is set to release four new games this year, which include, Moebius: Empire Rising™, Quest for Infamy™, The Last Door: Collector's Edition™, and Lost Civilization™.

As a follow up to the original article, we've conducted an interview with Scott Steinberg–Phoenix Online Publishing's newly appointed general manager–on why Phoenix Online Studios is introducing their new publishing label, why Scott is joining the team, and what we can expect from the label in the future.

You can check out the interview below:

PCGA: Hey, Scott! So, you've accomplished a lot in your career. You’ve published books, consulted for top tech companies, and have appeared on CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, etc. What made you take up a position at Phoenix Online Studios to push out a new indie publishing label?

Scott: A return to where it all began: Two decades ago, we set out with a simple mission – publish great games in all categories from a wide variety of insanely-talented developers, as did Sierra, and provide a sustainable platform for game makers to consistently and successfully bring these titles to fans worldwide.

While we’re probably most well-known for our bestselling books or strategic consulting and public speaking work on this end, I actually started my career nearly 20 years back on the publishing side as an acquisitions executive for French publishing house Microids. PC gamers may recognize some of the early titles we helped sign for distribution throughout Europe and Asia – games like Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, Rage of Mages, and Get Medieval – each garnered through partnerships with leading developer Monolith, long before the company was on the industry’s radar.

While it may seem like a left-turn, Phoenix Online Studios actually sees things come full circle in many respects. Today’s industry more closely resembles the gaming industry of yore than at any point since 1994. Independent creators are taking the spotlight once again, more opportunities are available to them than ever, and fans are hungrier than at any point in history for new and original concepts. And as an award-winning developer that’s had great success in the indie gaming field thanks to tremendous support from fans and partners alike, it only makes sense to provide a platform for other developers to achieve lasting success as well.

In many ways, it’s a chance to give back to the countless players and creators who’ve helped bring us thus far, and a community we know and love. That it’s the realization of a dream for some many talented team members, who love games and love storytelling so much, it only makes the effort that more incredible.

We’re proud to be here, tremendously grateful to the gaming community for its support, and determined to be to game developers what indie labels are to the music business – a chance to rise, shine, and make a lasting career for themselves in this business. By partnering with today’s most talented indies to help bring their titles to fans worldwide, we’re creating long-term relationships and platforms for success, while building the types of games fans have adored for decades – and giving each and every one a modern, more innovative twist.

PCGA: What are the challenges associated with putting a label like this together?

Scott: The same associated with any label today: Finding talented developers who may currently be going unsung, but have tremendous talent and are ready to their take their game to the next level; achieving visibility in a highly-crowded and -competitive market; and ensuring that potential partners up and down the line are giving developers and games the full support and attention that they deserve.

Running any business is a whirlwind of activity on a day-to-day basis – running one where you have the privilege to work with so many great partners on a global scale, exponentially so. But just because you’ve got more game makers and games competing than ever, even as the world of publishing is rapidly changing, doesn’t mean we’d trade it for the world.

The same way that indie music labels are thriving by staying at the cutting-edge and applying innovative strategies to online retailing, marketing and championing new artists is the same way that we’re doing so in the gaming field every day. It’s a great time to be in business, and even greater learning experience for all involved.

PCGA: What kind of pitch do you put together to land someone like Jane Jensen and her upcoming Moebius: Empire Rising?

Scott: Simple – we don’t pitch, we just talk facts. Most publishers will give developers the same spiel: You make great games, we’ll make you money and handle all the annoying stuff you don’t want to manage like marketing, PR and retail distribution. All are certainly demanding tasks, but in the latter case, all of them can be managed by developers if they’re realistic about their business and willing to make adequate time and financial investments. A lot of people will make indies tempting offers up-front. But what they really should be talking with developers about is what’s best over a long-term horizon. For example: It’s easy to jump at the first juicy offer which comes your way. It’s less easy to play a longer-term view and think about what your studio will be giving up to take that deal. Remember – poker is an endurance game. To win, think about the bigger picture.

Come take a walk with us, and we won’t talk about what we can do. We’ll simply lay out facts. Sample illustration: You can go with a larger label where priorities and strategies may shift at any time, the balance of power works one way (read: in favor of whoever’s cutting the checks), other titles on the lineup may take precedence over yours, you’ll have zero creative control, you’ll wind up paying someone to handle services you could handle yourself, and stability is virtually nil, as you’re only as good as the sales of your last title.

Alternately, being an indie developer ourselves who’s going through the same situation and understands the difficulties you’re facing, we can work together as a team to partner and focus on each of our strengths, give your team and title the time and attention it needs to succeed over a long-term horizon, and create a lasting business relationship where we do what’s best for everyone involved – not simply chase immediate returns. Whether we work together or not, we don’t mind: But if you want your studio to stick around long enough to have a shot at ever making a sequel, consider the points we’ve laid out, and as you go about considering whom to partner with, be sure to ask prospective matches more poignant questions. Again, think long-term: Your publisher can be a partner, or it can be a patron – from a studio’s standpoint, only one of these choices is amendable to its continuing long-term health.

Lost Civilization Screenshot - Phoenix Online Publishing

PCGA: Which of POB's four upcoming games are YOU most excited about?

Scott: Tough question – that’s like asking a father which of his children are his favorite! Let’s put it this way. As a reader and movie watcher, I’m a huge fan of mystery (Moebius: Empire Rising / Lost Civilization), horror (The Last Door: Collector’s Edition) and fantasy (Quest for Infamy) epics.

It all depends what mood I’m in at the moment – and it’s probably no surprise that our lineup mirrors many players’ favorite library of books, DVDs, and Blu-Rays. Of course, I do have an obsession with all things Lovecraft…

PCGA: What's the vision for POP? Where do you see it in 10 years?

Scott: Make great games that put story first across every genre, whether they’re action, adventure, RPG or strategy titles, or even games in entirely unexpected categories. Build strong relationships with game developers and fans so that we can provide a channel for talented developers to shine, and enjoy the kind of lasting stability and success they need to keep bringing players great games for years to come.

In 10 years, it’s our hope to look back on a decade of winning partnerships and franchises that players were able to count on to bring them smart, sophisticated and engaging titles filled with great gameplay and memorable worlds.

We'd like to thank Scott for taking the time to do this interview. For more information about Phoenix Online Publishing and their upcoming games, please visit their website.

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