Xbox Game Pass, the boss of Slitherine: “I’ll explain how it works …”

The English publisher reveals to the background of the most popular subscription service of the moment, on which it will enter in December with Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector.

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector it will also be available on PlayStation and Xbox consoles starting next December 2nd, and from the same day it will be provided at no additional cost in Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription. The versions included in the subscription will be that for Windows 10 and 11 PCs, and for Xbox platforms in the homes of millions of players.

On the occasion of today’s announcement, had the opportunity to speak with Marco Minoli, partner and head of the Italian division of Slitherine, publisher of the title created by Black Lab Games. Minoli told about the company, which has always been active in the strategy genre mainly on PC, and revealed some interesting background on how Xbox Game Pass works, a subscription so rich that many, on more than one occasion, have wondered if and how much it is worth carrying on for Microsoft.

Can you tell us a little about the Slitherine reality? Your company has the particularity of taking care of international marketing directly from Italy and you will agree that it is a rarity.

Marco Minoli: “Slitherine is a strategy game publisher. Our audience was mainly made up of fans of wargames, the complex hexagonal games that recreate historical situations both at a macro-operational level and at a tactical level. Over the years we have opened up to a much wider audience through the publication of simpler and more immediate games, with high-impact graphics, and through the acquisition of important licenses. The Italian office is in fact the world marketing office. Fifteen years ago, when we had to decide how to structure the company for future developments, we opted for a sort of ante-litteram remote working and we have grown in this way. It is a rare case, but we have been far-sighted and this now allows us, from Italy, to draw on professional skills less influenced by the routine of the sector and to keep a fresh eye on the world of video games “.

Your next release, Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector, is based on the hugely popular Warhammer 40,000 property – can you tell us the main differences between working on an original IP and a well-known license?

“Working with a license has undoubted advantages, for example that of drawing on existing narrative material which is often an inexhaustible source of creative ideas. A few years ago Games Workshop overturned the exclusive licensing paradigm, allowing multiple partners to work on Warhammer projects simultaneously. We have had the good fortune and foresight to enter into partnership since the beginning of this change of course and Battlesector is the fourth project we are working on together. Games Workshop has a support model for its licensee partners that few others are able to put in place, both in terms of help in the creation phase of the games, and in the promotional part, giving access to a significant audience of fans “.

It will also be an opportunity for you to enter the console market, after having gained considerable experience in the PC field. Again, can you explain the main differences in the approach to the two markets, both on a commercial and technical level?

“Bringing strategic games to consoles is a major challenge. There are not many examples of successful games in this genre, if we compare it to others. It is also true that this lack of competition can represent a great opportunity to capture a new audience. From a technical point of view, the main obstacle is to convert the control system between mouse and keyboard to gamepad, but the real test is to transform a gaming behavior that is deeply rooted in the culture. Strategic play is not a “couch” game; our audience plays on the edge of their chair and has to think about their moves while looking at the screen (or the board, the chessboard, in the case of a strategic table). We try to use the right tools to make our gaming experiences more relaxing and immediate, but it’s not easy without the risk of distorting our product “.

Do you think there is room for this particular genre, and if we want a niche, it also does well on consoles?

“It is clear that this is a genre that is born on other platforms that are more suitable for immediate use. The other side of the coin though is that games like Mario + Rabbids, Advance Wars, but also XCOM 2 and Phoenix Point have shown that the genre can capture the imagination of less accustomed gamers and bring a different experience to consoles. There are many unexplored spaces and it’s up to expert companies like ours to try to probe them, because few others can do it with the same vision and the same know-how. For example, we were among the very first to clear the premium price for mobile and tablet games through customs: we went out at crazy prices for the market at the time with games like Battle Academy and Panzer Corps, but then our products were firmly among those with the highest turnover. tall. Now that season is over, but knowing our audience deeply has allowed us to make courageous and rewarding choices that have often been imitated “.

Staying on the commercial aspect, how did the collaboration with Microsoft for inclusion on Xbox Game Pass come about and what prompted you to embrace the subscription service?

“Xbox Game Pass has an extremely curated catalog. By the term “curated” I mean balanced, between big productions and trendy independent games, but I also mean that Microsoft takes great care in creating partnerships that give real added value to players. We are among the few publishers who can guarantee continuous and quality production in this segment and we have the ambition to continue growing in this direction. The collaboration was born on this basis and I hope it will continue in the future too “.

Many wonder if it’s really worthwhile for developers and publishers to be on Xbox Game Pass from day one; in short, that the fact of being in a subscription swallows up the slice of income usually guaranteed by the à la carte sale. Based on your experience, what can you answer?

“There are no official numbers, but the latest estimates seem to confirm the hypothesis that before the end of 2021 there will be thirty million registered users of Xbox Game Pass. There is currently no other platform that can guarantee the achievement of such a large audience of active players. Being on Game Pass means giving a significant number of players the chance to try a game. For games like ours, which stay alive on virtual shelves between five and ten years thanks to expansions, updates and in-game activities, expanding the player base at launch is just a godsend. Being on Game Pass from day one can perhaps damage some productions with different business models, but certainly not titles like ours “.

Are there any particular terms for landing and staying in the subscription service, which you can talk about in more or less detail?

“The model is simple. To insert a title in the Xbox Game Pass catalog, the publisher is recognized a contribution that is different depending on the sales potential of the product and various other evaluation parameters. Microsoft has the ability to give great support to its partners both in terms of communication and visibility on the platform, but it’s always up to individual manufacturers to push customers towards their game and make sure they choose to launch that or another. It is a business model with different logics that requires communication activities complementary to those of the premium launch. Being on Game Pass is a certification, a certificate of success, but it is not a guarantee that the title will actually be played. To continue to be part of it, it is necessary to keep the players constantly active and to conquer the space to stay on the platform for a long time: it is a new exercise that requires a completely different attention ”.

Finally, do you think there is room for this type of subscription to become dominant in the future, and maybe even arrive on other platforms (whether they are consoles or PC stores)?

“We are in a phase of great transition and it is impossible to understand which model will be dominant in the future. I hope that all business models will be able to coexist, because the subscription service runs the risk of excluding too many smaller and independent productions from the market. Suffice it to say that over ten thousand titles a year come out on Steam and that on mobile platforms the number of games is hundreds of thousands. The exercise of curating a catalog is based on careful balancing and optimization of the mix: for this reason it is mainly based on the choice of products that are sure to be successful. The great success of some games goes beyond purely editorial choices: just think of Among Us, Valheim, Timberborn, Phasmophobia and many others. With a market based entirely on subscriptions, we would have run the risk of never playing them “.

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Xbox Game Pass, the boss of Slitherine: “I’ll explain how it works …”

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