Interviewed by Dennis Sloutsky
As the start of our special extravaganza week with Buka Entertainment, we've hooked up with the Vice President of this fine company and chatted to him concerning the company, the games they produce and much much more...
Hello, please briefly introduce yourself and the company you work for.
My name is Maxim Mikhalev, I’m the Vice-President of Buka Entertainment company. Buka is a PC games publisher and developer, based in Russia. Too short for introduction maybe, but the rest of the answers will be also a kind of an introduction, so I would not like to repeat myself.
Could you tell us about the history of your company and its roots?
The company was founded in 1994 as a videogames distributor. We were partners for Sony, Sega, EA, Infogrames, Konami, Activision, Eidos, GT and other major publishers. In 1996 we entered the market with our own games. The first title, published in Russia only, was named Russian Roulette, and we sold over 10 000 copies at full price, which was extraordinary for that time. Vangers and Rage of Mages were our first titles published internationally, by Interactive Magic and Monolith respectively. After that, we have published several titles worldwide, Hard Truck and Echelon to become the most famous.
How many people are currently employed by Buka?
We have more than 70 people in our sales and marketing office in Moscow and we work with 10 external development teams.
Can you name us some of the games that Buka has produced and published by now?
We have already produced and published 14 games and released them in many countries of the world. And we are going ahead. As a rule our development teams, scattered all over Russia, elaborate our titles. We involve the most prominent and talented Russian development teams. We publish their products and provide them with overall assistance at every stage of game development, doing everything possible to assure the projects, which we take up, reach our high standards.
We are constantly searching for young and promising teams from all over the country to work with.
What is the main company focus of Buka, which markets and kinds of games do you specialize in?
Our main focus is a customer. Simple words, but behind them lays a different concept of making business worldwide. During the period of globalization, not so many companies in games business care about peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of each specific market. Instead, they are going an easy way and produce one product for everyone, from Chinese to Brazilian. But people are different, and their tastes are different. Local companies who make low-quality games and sell them in numbers in local markets exploit this fact. We decided to combine both strategies and think global, but act local. I mean, in each market where we think it is reasonable, we have special version of our game, set in local environment, with local hero and so on. People have world-quality product made specially for them.
Initially, and still in a great extent, we are Russian publisher, and we make plenty of money here, in the market nobody dares to enter. We know how to be successful on such markets. So, we first think of the countries with similar opportunities and threats as ours, as we know how to make money there. I mean China and India, probably Brazil. In February, we are opening office in China and our expectations are quiet optimistic there. Of course, the biggest markets like US and Germany are also a priority for us, as you have to be successful here in order to present on international scene.
What are the current positions of Buka in the Russian publishing market?
We are one of the three companies, who control Russian market of PC games. We estimate our market share as of 20-25% of legal market. We have our own distribution network in 89 regions of Russia and distribute titles from other publishers as well. We are representing games of foreign companies, like 3DO, Take 2, Ubi Soft in Russia also. Buka is quite a famous company in Russia, as we were first to make marketing campaign for a game here, first to start making localized version, first to introduce new format, first to start selling our games worldwide. So, people are always waiting for some surprise from our side. Some good surprise.
Game piracy being a major issue in Russia, what do you do to prevent and fight it?
We prefer not fight it, but convert it. We consider pirates to be our competitors, not foes. They had an advantage of price, localized versions and good distribution channels. We took it over from them. We started releasing games at RRP of 3 dollars and delivering them to stalls and street vendors, who used to sell pirate copies. We started to localize games ourselves and provide customers with technical support and quality boxes. As a result, pirate channels now prefer deal with us, not pirates, as they are making same money, but they are safe. People prefer to buy our games, because they are also cheap, but they are of quality and they have technical support. Now, we have 70% rate of piracy in Russia, not 98%, used to be couple years ago. It means, legal market share increased fifteen times, and that is good news. And pirates themselves are becoming legal, as they are losing market other way. So, we do not fight, but win.
Outside of Russia, which countries are Buka's games being distributed?
Almost everywhere, even in Papua and Zaire. Seriously - we are truly international company and at the moment have partners in more than 60 countries worldwide from New Zealand to Peru. Of course, there are smaller and bigger markets, but in terms of distribution we think global.
Can you name us some of your international partners?
With pleasure. We are very proud of working with best local and international publishers. Some names will tell you much, some not, but for us each name is very important. Capcom in Japan, China National Publications Import & Export Corporation in China, Waei in Taiwan, New Era in South-East Asia, Acclaim in Australia, Aladdin in India, Cenega in Eastern Europe, Halifax and Leaders in Italy, Pointsoft in Spain and France, Mindscape in France, Jowood in Germany, Greenleaf in Brazil, THQ/Valusoft in US to name a few.
Can you tell us what made Buka such a successful publishing company in Russia and abroad?
I think, first of all people and then lack of money during certain period of time in our history. We had no other choice, but to continue moving forward, look for new ways of making business. We could not stop and afford ourselves not to risk. Ambition is another key to success. We never limit ourselves in achieving higher and higher goals. And this we can do because of our people – creative, pro-active, sometimes brave and always friendly. It is really a great company to work with, and we are team. I mean team, not just 70 people.
Can you briefly tell us about Buka's upcoming games lineup for the end of year 2002 and year 2003?
I’m pleased to say that by the end of year 2002 we’ll release long anticipated Echelon: Wind Warriors (a sequel to Echelon), Paradise Cracked and March!: Offworld Recon.
The lineup for year 2003 will include at least 8 titles and among them there will be the following games: The Entente:World War I Battlefields, Battle Mages, Fair Strike, Spells of Gold, Midnight Nowhere, Charm of War, Steamland and Hard Truck Tycoon. All these products are really of high quality and we expect them to be very successful in the market.
In which countries have you arranged distribution for the aforementioned games?
In most of the countries we have product line deals, so it means that all our games will be published there, in some we still work product by product. In this case, before entering the agreements, we need to know our American partner. But I can say, that we are quiet sure at the moment about Eastern Europe, UK, Germany, Portugal, India, Australia, South-East Asia, Japan and China. And Russia and CIS of course.
What are Buka's goals and expectations for the year 2003?
Year 2003 is going to be very successful for us. We have strong line of good products, we already have partners in most of the major and minor markets worldwide and we have a vision. Our goal is to expand our operations and open an office in China and bring to the market many really good games. And make some money on them, of course . We are also planning console games development and expect to be successful there as well.
We've learned that Buka's delegation will be going on a business trip to North America next week – what are the purposes of this trip and what are you planning to achieve with it?
Yes, it is going be a kind of roadshow, where we would like to meet with potential partners, show them our games and talk about possible long-term co-operation. As I have told before, in each territory we are looking for strategic partner, a kind of representative of Buka. At the moment, we have quite an impressive lineup and think that is high time to find such a partner in America. American market is crucial for success everywhere in the world, so for us it is very important to choose wise. This can’t be done from distance of 10 000 miles. So that is why we are here.
How can potential partners get in touch with Buka?
It is straightforward. Just send us an e-mail at email@example.com , and we will be at your disposal in a moment. Really, we consider our partners to be the main value, and are very easy to deal with. I think, thanks to that we have such good partners in almost every corner of PC Globe.
Any last words before we say good-bye?
First, I would like to thank Gamer’s Hell for this opportunity to speak about Buka. We are always excited to share any information about ourselves. Also we would like to address to American publishers who are interested in co-operation and tell, that we are open, we are easy to work with and we are reliable. We are willing to work together. And for gamers of North America, we would like to thank you for support and please get ready for a lot of new good games and fresh ideas from Russia. See you soon.