Interview: Matrix Slitherine Merger
The Wargamer's Jim Zabek has just completed interviewing David Heath of Matrix Games and JD McNeil of Slitherine Software about the news of the merger of their companies.
Jim Zabek jumped at the opportunity to speak with the heads of both Matrix Games and Slitherine Development about the news that their companies have merged. JD McNeil (JD) of Slitherine Software, and David Heath (DH) of Matrix Games discuss the how and why of the merger.
Jim Zabek, The Wargamer (WG): The joining of Matrix and Slitherine is being described as a ďmergerĒ. Whatís a merger and how is it different than an acquisition?
The situation here is that a holdings company has been formed that sits above the two trading wings, these will operationally remain as before with their own identities. The Directors of both Companies own stock in the Holdings Company so we are bringing the best of both worlds together and thatís why we view this as a merger.
WG: Why merge now?
The truth is that we have been discussing the potential for this for about two years. As time has gone by, we both recognize that we actually enjoy the closer relationship that has developed. So although it seems like now to the outside world, to us itís been a natural progression and growth. In terms of the economic climate, itís not the best of times but there will always be pluses and minuses in this sort of plan. However, what we are certain of is that we are a much stronger unit standing together.
JD, what benefits do you see by merging with Matrix?
JD: For us, a much more direct access to the American market is very important. This move also gives us a US base which is a fundamental requirement to gain publisher licensing status with console platform owners. We are already licensed publishers with Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft in Europe and the rest of the world. Now we can pursue this status in the States.
David, what benefits do you see by merging with Slitherine?
DH: Weíve been working for some time to expand our presence in Europe. Itís already a significant market for us, but there is still much more to go for. We have also been working towards our major goal of taking our existing titles and development teams with us, to the new console platforms. PC will remain the bedrock of our business, but the merger will allow us to introduce the strategy and wargames titles that are our specialty to a whole new audience and allow our existing supporters to enjoy these products in a new way. The merger allows us to achieve both goals much more quickly than we could on our own. In addition we have identified many other areas where our combined strengths, skills and technologies are complementary and this we are certain will reinforce our success.
JZ: Iíd like to ask both of you what your take is on how will this impact the wargaming industry?
We think it will cause a buzz of excitement, especially when our communities and the wider world learn of our future plans to expand interest to a much larger audience through our console products and new PC releases. A common thread is that most people who are interested in military history, in whichever guise, enjoy gaming or simulations and we wonít forget that. We are already pretty active in the table top gaming sector and feel to some degree we have bridged that gap, but as you know the wargaming community is pretty diverse, so we also need to reach out to many other sub groups. Our aim is to be the beating heart of Wargaming and Military History for gamers. Further examples of our intention in this respect are our ranges of books for wargamers and the exclusive military art and sculptures we are now marketing. It is an important and core part of our business philosophy that we will only release our products via Slitherine or Matrix sites or approved partners and not through the various aggregators that are springing up all over the place. In this way our audiences can be sure of what they are getting and the customer support and back up that they have come to expect from us.
JZ: Slitherine has licenses with both History and Military channels. Do you have any plans for those co-brands with existing Matrix titles? What kinds of ventures are you considering going forward with them?
Indeed we do and there are some plans that for the moment must remain under wraps, due to Non Disclosure Agreements we have with our partners. However, we can tell you that we are presently working with Showtime Inc. to bring the Tudors TV series to Console and also with BBC TV on a new WW2 series. In the next few days there will be an announcement concerning the release of HISTORYô Egypt: Engineering an Empire for the iphone and PSP Go, so there are a number of opportunities and discussions going on, some of which we feel will suit the Matrix brand. We see this as a great opportunity for our developers and from the discussions that we have already had, we know that many of them are keen to explore this brave new world.
JZ: Slitherine has already released a couple of games for handhelds; are there any plans to take existing games from either/both companies and work them onto platforms such as the iPhone and the DS?
We already have a number of releases on MAC, iPhone, PSP, Nintendo DS and Wii and we are presently nearing completion on further new console releases, including Xbox, PS3, iPhone, iPad, DSiware, Wiiware and MAC. Basically we evaluate each title individually to see what its potential is on PC and the various consoles, as the game architecture and more importantly the audience for these products can be quite different. Itís a new and very interested aspect of game play that we are certain our players will enjoy and we are very keen to ensure that they are given that opportunity.
JZ: Whatís the impact on the developers you currently have signed?
Our developers are at the heart of our business and we are keen to see that they have the opportunity to bring their games to market as they always have done. Some, but we recognize not all, will want to explore opportunities on other platforms and we will work with them to achieve this but Itís their call. For sure this will probably mean changes to working practices, but we are very keen to support them and work with them on these new opportunities. For us and them, itís a whole new exciting world out there.
JZ: Matrix has dozens and dozens of titles released and Slitherine is no small player in the wargaming niche; how many titles will the two companies combined have published?
Thatís a tough one and I know that Matrix is much more prolific in respect of the sheer number of titles published. I would guess itís around the 250 mark but I stand to be corrected. Suffice to say, I donít think anyone comes close to the combined group, in knowledge and experience in this genre. If you want to know the weight of an English Longbowman's arrow at Crecy, or the thickness of the frontal amour on a Panzerkampfwagen IV we are the boys to tell you, because the data will be in one of our game files. In fact we recently worked with Spike TV on the Deadliest Warrior TV series supplying stats and data for various combat situations, there is no end to our versatility!
JZ: Both Slitherine and Matrix have their own digital download services. Are there plans to merge the two into one? If so, what will that look like?
We are looking at a number of solutions for this and clearly this will be a hugely important aspect of our PC business going forwards. All I can say at present is that this is actively under review and various negotiations and discussions are in progress. Where consoles are concerned we are already licensed publishers for Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and Apple where the business model is quite different as our products can only be sold via their online stores.
JZ: Slitherine and Matrix seem to have similar philosophies with regard to Digital Rights Management but details may vary. What plans are there for unifying the DRM method going forward?
Again this is under review and in some cases being worked on. All I can say is that there will be a unified system for all PC products going forwards that will not be a departure from our current philosophy. I cannot give a precise time scale for this as our technical teams are looking at this. What we need is a break in the release schedule to focus on this but the schedule is looking pretty full at present.
JZ: Both companies have solid track records for customer service but again detail in execution may vary. What are the plans for integrating this aspect?
Integration and consistency of service will be maintained or extended throughout; this is in our view vital. Both companies work to the highest possible standards here and we want to continue to give our players access to all of our senior and key personnel. This is part of the philosophy of both companies and this will not change. The community is precious to us and we respect them for their knowledge of the subject matter and their attention to detail. They will not allow us to slip and we would not have it any other way.
What about the gaming communities on your websites? Are there plans to merge forums? Websites?
We think that for the foreseeable future the two companies should maintain their own Forums and their individual look and feel. We feel that Forums are a bit like families, so we have no intention to try and shoehorn them together. Our players know where to go for discussion or debate or to get answers on any particular game or subject matter. To be honest we would not want to do anything that would upset the equilibrium here as our communities are too important in everything that we do.
Is there anything else youíd like to add?
In closing we would just like to add that we are happy to answer your question, so pass your questions or concerns to Wargamer and we will do our best to make sure we give you the answers that we can.
JZ: Thank you both very much. Congratulations and good luck!