Ripstone is a developer and published based in Liverpool, founded in 2011 and known for their support of independent developers. On TIGA Awards’ shortlist for 2016 Publisher of the Year, titles they’ve published include the Pure series, – Pure Pool, Pure Hold ‘Em, and Pure Chess – Stick It To The Man, and Ironcast.
Michelle Turner is Ripstone’s Head of PR & Marketing, and one of MCV’s 30 Under 30 and Top 100 Women in Games. She was kind enough to take time out for an email interview covering things Disney, publishing, upcoming trends, and competition!
XboxOneUK: According to MCV you were the first employee of Ripstone. Prior to this you worked at Disney Interactive Studios – what made you switch from a global brand to a tantamount start-up company?
Michelle Turner: I loved working at Disney, it was a fantastic place to start my career in PR and videogames, I learnt so much and met some amazing people. But I knew I couldn’t live in London for too long – I’m a country girl at heart, originally from Yorkshire, so I decided to move back up north and try something different. When you work for a global brand like Disney, some things are significantly easier – everyone knows who you are for a start, and the successes you have are huge; but some things are significantly harder – like having to get approval from several tiers of management before being able to move forward with something; or being able to take risks and try something on a whim.
Ripstone was an interesting prospect and something I knew would challenge my skills. Working in a small company like this gives me, and the rest of the team here, the opportunity to try different things, we can take risks, we can adapt our plans from one week to the next. We make the decisions; I love that freedom. I’ll have been here 5 years in February (2017) and I’m still learning new things every day and constantly challenging myself & my team.
XBOUK: And what was the most exciting franchise you worked on at Disney Interactive Studios?
MT: I actually really loved working on High School Musical: Sing Star! When you work at Disney you get fully immersed in their world, the songs were playing in the lifts (elevators) & everything. I’m awful at singing, but had so much fun with this launch. There’s even a video of me somewhere on the internet demoing this game at a press event, and by ‘demoing’ I mean singing along to “Breaking Free” full pelt! There’s definitely other games and developers I worked with that I think people would find much more impressive, but High School Musical was pretty special to me – it was the 10-year anniversary of the TV show premier recently, which makes me feel really old!
XBOUK: Ripstone describes itself as a developer and publisher ‘with heart’. How do you retain heart in an industry where financial costs are high and the demands on people great?
MT: At Ripstone we aim to make sure we’re passionate about the games we’re working on; whilst not everyone is going to like every game, the idea is that everyone will share each other’s enthusiasm. We know the games we work on are passion projects for the developers and we want to put as much of our heart and efforts into the projects as they do, it’s their baby of course but we want to excel at our responsibilities as much as they do with theirs.
One of our promises as a publisher is that we work with integrity and we’re open and honest in all our relationships; whether that’s with press, developers, or anyone else, we treat others how we’d like to be treated.
At the end of the day, we work in the entertainment industry making and publishing games, it’s meant to be fun; if we aren’t enjoying it then we’re probably doing something wrong!
XBOUK: It may not be the most insightful of questions, but why is Ripstone called Ripstone? What does Ripstone mean?
MT: It’s a question not a lot of people ask but there is a story behind it. When Leo & Phil started the company, they wanted a name that was unique. Ripstone is the amalgamation of the street names where they both live – I won’t give their actual addresses, I don’t think they’d be too happy with that! But ‘Rip’ is part of Leo’s street name, and ‘Stone’ is a part of Phil’s.
XBOUK: Mike Rose, Tinybuild’s former PR Manager, joined Ripstone in July with the aim to help the company expand rapidly. What’s the overall target you’re all working towards at Ripstone?
MT: World domination, of course! Haha, but seriously, we want to continue to bring great indie games to people & introduce them to different experiences they may not have been expecting. We want to increase the amount of game releases we can do each year, from both internal and external developers, hence the need to expand our team. We’re also focusing on our internal development team and letting them work on new ideas as well as supporting our back catalogue of games.
XBOUK: As a publisher of a range on independent games, how do you make sure each one gets the marketing it needs to find the right audience?
MT: It’s not always easy, and something we put a lot of consideration into before signing new games – is there actually an audience for this game in the first place? We have an experienced marketing team here at Ripstone and creating a bespoke marketing plan for each game is the first thing we do after signing something new. We know the games we work on inside-out, which surprises a lot of the devs we work with – they don’t expect marketing people to be able to play and understand games as well as they do, a common (but sometimes true) misconception in this industry. Once we’ve narrowed down the audience we tailor our approach to make sure we’re targeting the places these people would expect to hear about games, whether that’s on Twitch or YouTube, at events, online news sources, etc.
As an indie publisher we’re obviously working with much smaller budgets than the triple-A publishers which does mean that we have to think a lot more creatively in how to tackle the discoverability issue; it also means our relationships with platform holders and the media are vitally important to us and we spend a lot of time fostering those relationships.
XBOUK: Twitch is a huge current trend and, especially as Ripstone is now an official partner, no doubt a key pillar for your work. Are there any emerging trends that may become as popular as Twitch, or look set to introduce a new aspect to games marketing?
MT: I think there’s still a lot more to come from Twitch, they’ll continue to evolve and innovate, and be relevant for a very long time. There’s still a lot more that game companies and developers can be doing to utilise Twitch as a marketing tool, and we have big plans for some of our games in the future.
I think things like Discord and Curse are emerging as trends and becoming increasingly popular, with both gamers and game companies alike. It’s kind of like a reinvention of community forums and chat rooms but where it’s more acceptable for game companies to be actively involved rather than ambushing something where players want talk between themselves.
We have a Ripstone Discord channel where we talk about what games we’re all playing, what’s coming up on our Twitch stream that week & share community created content. It’s a great outlet for us to be able to show our personality as a publisher and get valuable feedback from people too.
XBOUK: Do console manufacturers’ and other publishing giant’s own backing of indie developers provide unhelpful competition to your own aims, or better serve to raise the independent profile that everyone can benefit from?
MT: Competition is always good, it helps raise the bar in terms of quality and innovation. It also helps raise awareness about indie games and getting more mainstream gamers to try something they may not have necessarily thought about.
We work with a lot of indie developers when they’re starting out, often making their first console game, we spend a lot of time nurturing them and providing support to help them grow as a developer. It was great to see Klaus from Zoink! on stage at E3 this year as part of EA’s press conference introducing ‘Fe’ as part of their EA Originals initiative. We worked with Zoink to bring ‘Stick It to the Man’, which was their first console game, to multiple different platforms including Xbox One. So to see how the team has grown over the years was amazing, I felt so proud when I saw Klaus on stage – I just wanted to hug him!
XBOUK: Though current projects are one many developers and publishers keep tight lips over, do you have many titles in the pipeline at Ripstone you’re thrilled to be working on?
MT: We are developing some stuff in house at the moment, and we’ve recently been expanding our in-house development team… I can’t say what they’re working on though. But we will be able to share more details about that early next year.
We’re on the verge of signing some new games too, but their development times are quite long so we won’t be talking about those publicly for a while. We’re always looking for new games too, devs can get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
XBOUK: As someone who enjoys baking, do you have a favourite baked food to eat while playing games or watching films?
MT: I used to bake loads but realised eating all those baked goods probably wasn’t the best lifestyle choice, so I don’t bake as often anymore but still at least once a month. I love eating popcorn whilst I’m playing games, or eating marshmallows; but once a pack is open I can’t help myself and have to eat the whole lot.
XBOUK: And as a travel lover, is there a game world you wish you could explore in real life?
MT: Hmmm, this is quite a hard question… I’m going to do a bit of a shameless plug here and say Ray’s world in ‘Stick It To The Man’ – it’s pretty crazy and there’s loads of interesting characters there. One of the things I love about travel is exploring new places and meeting new people; and the paper world in which the game is set is beautiful. I’d also be able to meet the paper version of myself and my dog Alfie in Chapter 4, a hidden secret section within the game.
XBOUK: Many thanks, Michelle!
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