Columns Interviews

Interview With Frank Meijer Of Utomik

Utomik is an up and coming subscription games service with a low monthly subscription. As of this writing, the service has a total of 640 games, with 20 added last month, and has even had one day-one release. Compared to similar services, it has a focus on indie games, but also offers a number of AAA games, as well.

I recently had a chance to speak with PR Manager Frank Meijer about the service. We discussed how the company handles multiplayer titles, how it plans to stand out from other subscription services, and how their revenue share system works, among other topics.

I noticed that there are several Early Access games on the service, which is an interesting move. What drove the decision to include them?

I can tell you that our focus is on the discovery of games, like indie games; we have a big focus on that. One thing that developers come across when they launch on Early Access is getting noticed can sometimes be very hard, like getting players to notice their game. Through Utomik, [they are] getting their game on an extra platform where they can get new eyes on the game because we have a totally different demographic than Steam in general has. So it’s a whole new [ecosystem] of people that want to give feedback on their game.

So that’s really why we wanted to do Early Access on Utomik, as well. Just to give developers the chance to get people to play their games, leave their feedback, and to improve the game before it becomes the final release because, yeah, you want the best game possible, right?

How does the demographic differ?

What we notice is that a big part of our userbase is from the age between 25 and 45. A lot of people that have jobs, families, or other ways where they don’t have as much time to stay on top of the latest releases or maybe not the willingness to dive into the, what do you call it, tidal wave of releases that is on Steam daily—almost.

They just want a platform where they can get access to games really quickly, can find what they’re looking for really quickly. They can just click a channel that we have—like Action, Platformer, Indie, whatever—and they can just very easily jump into a game. You don’t have to spend between 5 and 30 Euros per game anymore. It’s the ease of use that drives that older demographic to Utomik.

How are updates handled? Are they handled by Utomik or are they handled by the developer or publisher?

In general, the developer has to send us a build and be like “hey, I’ve updated this game.” Maybe it fixes a really nasty bug. Of course we would want that build because we don’t want games that are buggy on our platform. In general, yeah, they have to send it to us. In some cases, we’ll be asking for it. We’re all gamers at Utomik; we’re all pretty fanatic gamers, so we try to stay on top of things. If a game that we also have on Utomik released an update on any other platform that includes a bug fix of some sort or extra content maybe even, then we can just go to our content team and they’ll just a send an email to the developer and ask for a new build. For the developer, that’s actually it. They just send a build and we will take care of implementation. It’s actually very easy to do. We try to keep it up to date as best as we can.

In general, how we started out, a lot of the games on our platform were older, as you may have noticed, so most of those games don’t generally get updates anymore. Not frequently anymore, at least. For those games, it’s not much of a problem. Lately, we’ve been switching more and more to more recently released games, culminating last week in the first day one release, but we also had games that were a “couple months old.” If they want to update something, yeah, they can just send us a build themselves and we can do that in half an hour tops, I think.

So you do actually chase down some of the updates if you need to.

Oh, yeah, definitely. Like I said, we just want to keep the games that we have. We want to keep them as good as possible. We want to give our subscribers the best possible game. If we know that there’s a bug fix somewhere or something that our users have been sending tickets to our support team about, then we definitely want to get that bug fix on our platform, as well.

It’s funny because one of our tech guys, he is a part of the game integration team, in his free time, spare time, for fun, he fixes games, like bugs on games that the developer has never fixed. So, actually, we have games on our platform that work or work better on Utomik than they work on any other platform there is.

So you have a guy that is dedicated to fixing games, sort of like how GOG has people that are dedicated to fixing up the older games.

Yeah, but he just does it voluntarily and for fun. There was a game that came to us a couple of months ago and the developers had been trying to figure out a bug that they’d been trying to chase down and reproduce for two months. They gave us a build of the game and our tech guy, within half an hour, he reproduced the bug and finally got them out of that situation to where they could fix it. So some of our tech guys are really amazing, but, most of it, what they do with fixing those kinds of bugs is just a fun project for them.

How are saves handled? Are they handled the same way that each game would normally handle them or are they stored in the cloud?

They’re stored in the cloud.

Games like Borderlands originally had GameSpy multiplayer, but their multiplayer components were later updated to run through Steamworks and, to further complicate matters, playing over a LAN requires players to modify the target of a shortcut, which could very well conflict with Utomik’s DRM. I’ve noticed that, on Utomik, it simply says that “online multiplayer is no longer supported.” How is that handled? Is it a developer/publisher decision?

Stuff like that usually goes together with the partner that gave us the game, so, if it’s the developer or publisher, we’re usually honest up front with them like “hey, your game runs on the Steam network. We don’t support that because that’s a different platform. We can’t run our multiplayer on their servers, obviously.”

[We don’t have our own multiplayer service] yet. It’s something that we’ve been talking about. I’m not sure how far in the cards [it is]. It’s definitely something that we want to add to Utomik. Our focus is currently on adding an achievements system, a much-requested feature, but online multiplayer is not far behind on our wishlist.

In general, yeah, if the game has their own servers, it’s no problem to run the game, as well, but Steam servers [or another] platform, then, unfortunately, we can’t integrate multiplayer. So then we always try to at least get local multiplayer to work properly.

I’m sorry, that last one cut out a lot. Were you saying that you are planning to have your own multiplayer service at some point?

Yeah, we’re talking about it. It’s [a seed that’s been planted]. It’s not a full-grown idea yet because, yeah, that needs a lot of time and figuring out how to get everything working. It’s something that we’ve been talking about internally, but yeah, it’s nowhere near an actual plan that we’re going to implement, but we really want to, of course, because that makes games that have multiplayer that much easier on our platform. A lot of games nowadays, especially if you’re an indie developer, you’re not going to get your own service up and running. You kind of want to make use of the Steam service because you’re always going to work into it.

That’s [important] for us because, obviously, we would want to support every multiplayer game, but yeah, we just can’t at the moment.

I’ve noticed that there are a few publishers that seem to have only licensed the service very specific parts of their back catalogue, such as 1C only licensing the older Men of War games. Are you planning to push for more titles from them?

We actually recently had a new member added to our team because none of us on staff were able to focus attention on that full-time. We are a startup company. We’re currently at around 30 people in the office. Together with some outside people, I think we’re at 50, maybe. We didn’t have a dedicated partner manager who goes to the publishers or back to the publishers that we already have or back to even the smaller partners that have a second game that came out and be like “hey, we would love to get new games from you. Can we update our contract? Can we include some new games?”

So that’s something that we’re working on a lot since the partner manager started. So that’s definitely something that we’re working on right now. Hopefully, we want to add some new Telltale games, some new 1C games, of course, some Paradox. Those are all partners that we’re in talks with right now to get some newer games from them, as well. Yeah, newer added after the ones that we got already.

You probably know that, as a subscription service, it’s hard to get new games, at least from the big publishers. Games have a shelf life and, especially if it has multiplayer, like, for example, Call of Duty, Battlefield, [and] FIFA, you won’t generally see it on a subscription service other than their own. Like EA has a subscription service, of course. They want to get as much money out of it as possible and, with multiplayer content, it’s just an ongoing thing. They’ll sell the game for between 40 and 60 Euros because people are still going to buy it because they keep getting updates. So that’s always going to be a problem, but we’re always looking for the in-between releases that we want to add because, of course, we want to get more awesome games on Utomik.

I’ve noticed that, under the “Coming Soon” section, you can vote “I want this!” Does that have any effect on anything?

Yeah, it actually has an effect. Some games have issues, which could be why they’re coming soon, like we’re still working on fixing some before they can actually officially launch. It can definitely have an effect in our prioritizing of issues. Some issues are harder to fix than others and, for some issues, we have to dedicate specific time to either implement some kind of feature or some other thing that we really need to dedicate specific time to. If we see a lot of requests for a certain game, then yeah, we’re of course going to push harder to get that game on the platform. So yeah, it has some influence, for sure, and, for us, it’s also just cool to see “ah, I really want this game. It just sucks. Eh, it can wait.”

How do you plan to stand out from previous game subscription services like GameTap?

Well, for starters, day one releases, like we had last week are making us stand out from any game subscription there is at the moment because there’s nobody who’s done that before. This is not just a one-off thing. We’re going to be adding more day one releases. We’re already in talks to get more of those and there are more partners that are willing or that we’re chasing down to get more releases from.

That, for us, that’s kind of just that up towards what the media has dubbed “the Netflix of gaming” because, eventually, what we want to do is get timed exclusives, get involved in putting money towards developing games, that we can just put money into that, get a studio to make like the kind of Netflix Originals, but we don’t have a name for that yet. I’m not going to call it Utomik Originals. I think we can come up with something more kickass than that.

That’s one of the things that we want to stand out with. We just want to be the first, the leading subscription service. We want to take the chances, take the new things. Everybody can put new games on, you see games come out and you’ll be like “okay, let’s add it to our platform in a couple of months.” Then you’re just chugging along. We want to change subscription gaming. We want to take the next step and keep pushing forward, keep pushing to [wherever] we can end up. You shouldn’t be stagnating. You shouldn’t be standing still. You always need to look at the future. We’ve seen a lot more subscription services pop up lately, so it’s definitely where we feel that the future of gaming or at least a part of gaming could be in, in subscription gaming.

Other than day one releases and the focus on the future, we want to stand out by offering a highly-curated library of especially indie games because, if you talk to a lot of the people in the office, that is a big passion of ours. We love indie games and we see so many games that don’t get the sales numbers that we wish they had, whether that be because they didn’t do enough marketing or just being overlooked by websites, streamers, whatever. We just want to give them a spot, put them in the spotlight, and be like “hey, look at this awesome game. Why are you not playing this? You should be playing this.” So, we keep pushing that, like if it’s through our social media, through our newsletter, through featured functions on [our client], all these kinds of ways that we want to focus on getting the overlooked indie games to the spotlight they actually, truly deserve.

So that’s something that we focus a lot on. We curate content. We don’t just allow anything on our platform that’s been released. We curate according to what we have internally decided and then we don’t look at sales numbers. We just look at pure quality of the game, so that’s something that we stand out with compared to most services.

Given the low cost of the subscription and the fact that subscribers aren’t paying for games individually, how is the revenue split with developers/publishers handled?

We actually do the same thing that Steam does. It’s a [70/30 split]. Seventy percent, obviously, for the developer and thirty for us. We’re still currently in Beta, so you can expect the price to [go up] a little bit when we go live. We’re actually planning to go live [very] early next year and then you can see the price going up a little because we, of course, want to increase the amount of money that developers can get.

So there’s a 70/30 split, but how does that work? What is it based on?

It’s based on playtime. So, if somebody plays a game, just one game, for example, [then] it’s super easy because the entire amount of the subscription money, after we take our costs off it, [it turns into] 70% for the developer and 30% for us. But, for example, if they play ten games, then we split that amount, their subscription amount. We spread it out over those ten games. So then yeah, of course, the game will get less money, but you have to see it this way. How many games do you play a month? Like, on a personal level? It’s probably not going to be a lot. You often stick with one or two games that you play. For me, at least, in my spare time, I play a lot of Rocket League, so I kind of play only one game a month.

So that’s kind of how it works. A lot of people just play one, two, maybe three games and then you have the outlier of the people that just want to try everything that comes out, but those are outliers in general.

So it’s split on a per-person basis.

Yeah.

You can sign up for a 14-day free trial of Utomik on the official website. After your trial is up, it costs $5.99 per month for one person or $9.99 per month for up to four people while the service is in Open Beta.

Matt Chelen

Matt has been playing games for as long as he can remember. He got into games journalism during college.

http://twocredits.co

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