Q&A: Bill Roper on EA-Namco deal

Flagship founder and CEO checks in from Korea's GSTAR expo to weigh in on Namco's deal to copublish Hellgate with Electronic Arts.

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Yesterday, Namco Bandai announced that it was brining on a partner to help get Flagship Studio's PC action role-playing game Hellgate out of the gate. The console-focused publisher said that Electronic Arts would lend its marketing and distribution brawn to give the upcoming Hellgate: London the best possible launch.

The deal, which is focused on just the one title, will see EA's role limited to distribution, marketing, and sales support in Europe and North America. Namco Bandai has said that it will retain the rights to publish future installments in the Hellgate: London series.

GameSpot spoke with Flagship founder Bill Roper for some additional insight into the deal, to see if EA would have any impact on the game's development and if there might be a downside to the deal.

We caught up with Roper in Korea, where he is demoing the game to attendees of GSTAR, one of the major consumer-oriented game shows in Korea.

GameSpot: Will there be any impact on the creative development of the game due to the deal?

Bill Roper: EA's role in this partnership is focused on sales, marketing, and distribution. Namco continues to work with us on the development of the game just as they have over the past two years. We haven't changed our development and will not be altering our process, philosophies, or schedule because of this partnership.

GS: What's the reaction to the game on the show floor?

BR: We're currently showing the game at GSTAR in Korea on 40 multiplayer stations to rave reviews. Every computer is packed for the full eight hours of the show, and the press and gamers who've been playing are glowing with their feedback and comments. We're all in agreement--if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

GS: Both EA and Namco are known as top-tier publishers in the gaming world. What problems are addressed by having EA copublish the game instead of letting Namco handle everything on its own?

BR: Namco regularly partners with other publishers in Japan and Europe to distribute games to consumers. A game of the scale and scope of Hellgate: London requires a great deal of manpower and resources to market and distribute, and when Namco approached Electronic Arts to publish the game throughout the European territories they determined it would best benefit the game to extend their partnership into a copublishing deal in the US, as well. The partnership is designed to make Hellgate: London a truly global success.

GS: Is this in any way a result of Namco's relative inexperience in the PC sector?

BR: Since Namco and Flagship partnered together more than two years ago, we've worked together with multiple other companies in order to ensure that the PC game is the primary product within the extensive lineup of Hellgate-branded items, which include comics, collectable figures, manga, novels, strategy guides, and more. Establishing a franchise like this is a massive effort and requires a different approach than an average stand-alone product. Each partnership we forge for Hellgate: London is a building block for the creation of a successful brand and franchise. The partnership with EA fits perfectly into this strategy.

GS: Were major retailers putting up resistance to ordering Hellgate?

BR: Every retailer we have met with has been extremely excited about Hellgate: London. I personally went on a road-show over the summer and met with all of the major retailers, showed them the game, and talked about what we could do together. The level of anticipation is very high, and this partnership will only increase the anticipation as to what we can do with them.

GS: Any idea how many games you'll send to retailers at launch?

BR: The partnership is still very young, so we haven't discussed sell-in numbers with EA. We are very confident in the quality of Hellgate: London and with EA's ability to work with retailers to market and promote the game in the channel. I am sure that this combination will be reflected in our sell in.

GS: Many of the titles you worked on at Blizzard turned out to be top-selling titles. What sort of sales numbers are you looking for from Hellgate?

BR: We've been too focused on creating the best game possible to speculate as to what our early sales will be. Throughout our history at Blizzard, we were constantly surprised by sales numbers, so I've personally stopped trying to guess. We know that as long as we make a great game, the rest takes care of itself.

GS: Thanks, Bill.

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