Zordix has relaunched its games division as Maximum Entertainment.
It’s not just a rebrand, with parent company Zordix making a series of changes that brings its various publishing and development companies together. It has united all its studios (including Dimfrost, Invictus Games, Mane6, Modus Brazil and Zordix Racing) into one division called Modus Studios, which will be led by global studio director Bruce Hayles.
Joining these studios is Romanian developer FUNLabs, which Maximum Entertainment has acquired for an undisclosed amount. The aim is that 30% of Maximum’s revenue will come from its own IP by 2025.
The company has also revealed its roadmap, which includes several adventure games, an American Football title, a truck game based on Mudfest events, a zombie shooter, and a collaboration with a former US Navy SEAL and author Brandon Tyler Webb.
The firm’s various publishing divisions have also been given clear identities. Merge Games will focus on mass market and unique indie experiences. Modus Games will primarily work on live-service and ‘AA’ titles, with a focus on fighting games and sport-sims. And Just for Games will work with developers of casual and family-orientated projects.
And all of this follows yesterday’s news that Maximum Entertainment has secured a $30 million senior credit facility so it can invest in its own IP and pursue acquisitions.
It’s quite a lot to digest, but in simple terms a company that owns a lot of different studios and publishers are bringing everything together into a more coherent whole.
“If we did 2% of Madden, it would double the size of the company”
This might not sound particularly unusual, but it’s different to how some of Zordix’s fellow Swedish companies are behaving. The likes of Embracer and EG7 have been acquiring businesses and leaving them as they are.
“We had a whole bunch of acquisitions and no coordination, no clarity of vision, no ‘this is what we are doing and why’,” explains Christina Seelye, CEO of Maximum Entertainment.
“It was a hodge podge, and the trend was to have this big, decentralised model and we were going to have this cabal of entrepreneurs and it was all going to work out. That may work for some, but unfortunately I was the CEO and I couldn’t figure out how to make that work. So we took a different tact. In order for us to grow, to make the games we want to make, to make a difference, make money… we have to be more organised and use the resources we have across the group and not be a whole bunch of separate entities where there may be duplication of efforts.”
The challenge with centralising anything is how it can make the staff feel. Even if there are no layoffs, as is the case here, some people who had a level of autonomy within their separate division, may now find they don’t.
“I am an entrepreneur myself,” Seelye begins. “Maximum Games was the fourth company that I started. I understand all of those pushbacks that people within an organisation want to avoid when [you become] centralised. You don’t want bureaucracy, you want agency.
“So I really focused on what was the most important to get centralised, what was either going to make the difference in efficiency, or time to market, or cost. Things like utilising a cross-functional creative services team. We have a lot of different graphic designers and videographers in lots of different places. We want to avoid where we have this group over here that’s completely under water and then another group that has extra capacity.
“Where I didn’t focus is anything where agency and creativity is really important. We are not messing with the greenlight process that Just for Games wants, for instance, because I’m not adding any value there. We’re not putting so much efficiency onto the studios that they are losing their creativity.”
When it comes to the games we can expect from Maximum Entertainment, Seelye says the focus will be on live service. And its first big announcement is Maximum Football, a free-to-play physics-based American Football title.
“We are a Madden poker, not a Madden killer,” jokes Seelye. “We came up with some ways we could compete in a gameplay way.”
In fact, the entire line-up is about being smart in terms of the bets the company is making.
“It’s about picking the category or genre that you think you can make some noise in, or at least be a super viable alternative,” says Seelye.
“When you look at Madden, there’s nothing else besides very arcadey mobile options. I see it’s a gigantic market and they’re making a kagillion dollars. There are people who want more customisation opportunities and more control over how they are playing. Let’s give the people what they want and go play in that space. If we did 2% of Madden, it would double the size of the company. It’s being smart about that, always being self-aware and saying we aren’t trying to launch a billion dollar football franchise.
“I think mid-sized companies can do that. They can go look at a really big category or genre or competitor and compete in a creative way.
“[Another focus for us] is fighting games, there are a lot of different indie fighting games out there, but there’s not a lot of creativity in it. There isn’t a AA player that’s really slaying it in that world. Mid-sized companies have to be good pickers. Figure out what genres make sense for you.”
Although it’s being selective with the genres it is playing in from an internal perspective, when it comes to third-party publishing, things are more open.
“We are really broad in our publishing capabilities,” Seelye explains. “We have a great publishing engine that can bring all kinds of different third-party games to market.”
Outside of development and publishing, Maximum Entertainment is also looking beyond games, hence the name change.
“I get it that everyone changes their name to entertainment,” laughs Seelye.
“I’m actually looking 10 years ahead for this company. You can already see this convergence. You see it with The Last of Us TV show being insanely popular. You see it with Embracer buying the rights to Lord of the Rings. You see all of these things converging.
“We’ve announced this collaboration with Brandon Tyler Webb who is a best-selling author and has written a lot of books, primarily around his experiences as a Navy SEAL. We’re working on a project with him. That’s the kind of things you’ll see – books and video games and movies all mixed together in some way.
“Our publisher in France, Just For Games, they do a tonne of business on vinyl of video game soundtracks. As a group, we have a strong global infrastructure of launching physical goods. We got really excited over the last couple of years about collector’s edition and expanding the world of video games outside of traditional channels. That means things like comic books and merch and YouTube Shorts and all of these different things. We’re going to continue to do that.”
There’s a lot of ambition here. There’s a bigger internal slate of games from a newly combined development force, alongside physical goods and third-party digital publishing. There’s talk of movies and comics, too. And all of this is happening during uncertain times for the economy and the games industry at large. In fact, it’s at times like these when smaller games can struggle to break through, particularly if consumers are being more selective in what they’re playing.
“[As an industry] I love that we have multiple cost options for our games,” Seelye says.
“That means you’re flexing up and down on how you are bringing people into your community and offering great experiences regardless of what they can spend. It’s an interesting thing that only video games can do. The movies can’t say ‘Oh, you can come in and watch an hour’. That wouldn’t be a great experience. We can adjust our monetisation model and deal with differences in economic capabilities.
“We have studios that are in regions where they’re super impacted by currency devaluation in addition to inflation. Offering a way to enter our game with different cost options is really interesting. Only the video game industry can do that.”
Seelye says that games companies can no-longer just rely on the “buoyancy of the industry”, and keep going back to investors for more money. And in many ways, the refocusing of Maximum Entertainment has happened at just the right time.
“Offering a way to enter our game with different cost options is really interesting. Only the video game industry can do that.”
“We went through that year of not a great market but we took advantage of that time. We got our act together, we got organised, we got disciplined, we made sure that we had the right butts in the right seats so that we can climb out of this, we’re at least really well-structured to do so.
“I’m in a really good place to do that as well, because I come from a private company that I bootstrapped. I had to focus on cashflow, I had to be efficient, I had to be profitable, I couldn’t rely on going to the market to get some more cash. I think that people who started their own thing are the ones who are going to do really well right now, because we are used to it. We know how to be scrappy.”
Scrappy certainly works when you’re a private company. It’s not necessarily what shareholders of a public business wants to hear. But Seelye believes a bit of self-awareness is no bad thing, and that Maximum Entertainent is now set-up to what might come next.
“When you are a private company you are always talking to banks,” Seelye concludes. “And you have to be serious and conservative, because everything you tell them you have to be able to deliver on. I was great sharing vision with banks because I’m super practical and I don’t oversell. I’m pretty self-aware about that. Now we’re a listed company and I’m talking to investors all the time and I’m meant to have this big vision of ‘We’re going to be the next whatever’. Honestly, I have a really hard time with that because I feel it comes out fake.
“But I’ll tell you what I do see: this industry is gigantic and for mid-sized companies… it takes one or two games to all of a sudden flip into the big leagues.
“The big guys are very big ships to turn right now. You can see it with Ubisoft. It’s hard to turn that ship to be able to deal with the changes in the industry. Maximum Entertainment is phenomenal at change. We are really good at being able to move with different things that are happening and still make money at it. That is why we’re able to move to live-service publishing and development easily, while still managing a whole big infrastructure around the world. These mid-sized companies are going to creep up to become the big guys because we can take advantage of what’s happening.”