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How Valve shook up the PC market: 1C on Steam's true value

How to become Europe's 2nd biggest publisher - with Gabe and co's help...

1C is the biggest European-owned games publisher outside of Ubisoft. So why have most English-speaking gamers not heard of it?

In 2009, after years of publishing boxed titles through the likes of Ubisoft and Atari, the PC specialist decided to retain the digital rights of all of its titles. Fed up with unspectacular High Street sales and uncooperative retailers, it was ready to put its eggs in Steam's basket.

It was a ballsy strategy; letting concerns over how visible its games were in the likes of GAME slide - and instead concentrating on Gabe Newell's Brave New World.

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According to UK-based publishing director Darryl Still, it was the smartest move the company could have made.

Here, former EA and Nvidia man Still - who launched the Atari ST, Lynx and Jaguar in the past - offers CVG his extremely forthright views on the emergence of the digital market, why Steam proves that PC gaming is far from dead - and why retail "short-sightedness" means you're often more likely to find pink plush toys than bright new games on UK High Street shelves...

As a veteran of nearly 30 years in the industry, is the digital market one of the biggest revolutions you've seen?
I think of it as less a revolution, more a filling of a void. A new government coming into a territory that has been pretty much ungoverned for the previous few years.

The PC has been at the forefront of most technology shifts in the market. I was very aware of this at Nvidia. Most breakthroughs in console technology have their roots in the PC market. Most leaps in games development come to the PC first and then work their way into the SDK's of the console manufacturers. But for the longest time we've been told by retail, in the UK and US especially, that PC games is a dying market.

It has been getting less and less shelf space and less and less focus in store, but in all that time we, as a PC publisher have seen absolutely no drop off in demand. In fact the dichotomy between us being told by retail there is no demand for our product and us being asked by customers - by e-mail, phone etc. - where they can find our games is quite shocking.

You committed to digital and Steam early. What benefits did you see in it?
Well once again, PC was the driving format, with XBLA and PSN now following. The fact that the guys at Valve, who created the Steam digital client, are a bunch of top quality games developers meant that the format was designed perfectly with both the gamers and the developers/publishers in mind.

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Darryl Still, 1C

As a platform it is easy to adapt and move with the time and with technology. It has not been locked in stone and is therefore hugely flexible. The other enormous benefit is that it delivers a larger percentage of our revenue more quickly than the boxed publishing model does, so for the revenue and cash flow of a company like ours it is very welcome. Oh and of course we don't have to worry about inventory or [boxed] returns issues. And we can put our product right there in the eye of the people that matter most - the gamer - without being interrupted and bottlenecked by retail buyers.

Do you have any examples of this 'bottleneck'?
Many, but my favourite example is when one of our UK publishers came to explain why they had only managed to get 30 copies into the UK's largest retail chain. He passed on: "They told us there was hardly any demand for the title".

At that time I had my digital sales reporting tool open, which tracks download sales instantly as they happen, I hit refresh and informed our partner: "In the few seconds that's it has taken you to explain there is only demand for 30 units in the UK, we have sold twice as many as that digitally."

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