This time, Pig-Min did an e-mail interview with Lloyd S. Melnick, who is Chief Customer Officer & Co-Founder of Merscom.

Merscom is one of the leading US casual game publishers, both in the US & European markets. This interview contains very interesting answers about them, so please be careful to read. :)

Korean version of this Interview

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1. First of all, please introduce Merscom to Pig-Min readers. We've seen the name Merscom many times, but not sure exactly what Mersom does. WHAT KIND of business you do, HOW LONG Merscom existed as Publisher, ... etc.

Merscom is one of the leading US casual game publishers. 

Originally founded in 1993, Merscom (and its sister company, Octagon Entertainment) has been in the game industry for almost 15 years. Since 2001, Merscom has been publishing both in the US and European markets, though our focus was on core games for the mass market.  We competed with companies like Valusoft, Global Star and Activision Value. 

In early 2006, we discovered casual games and felt this was a tremendous opportunity.  Casual games provide much better value to the customer but more importantly fit better with our vision of Merscom.  Since then we have been publishing casual games both at retail and online.  In addition to PC casual games, our first Xbox Live Arcade title will be coming out in a few months, Buku Sudoku.

2. Merscom's main business seems to be Retail Package, but recently entered Download Publishing. How come to start Download Publishing, and what are the differences between Retail Package & Download Publishing?

Merscom~s philosophy has always been to deliver games to its customers whichever way is most convenient for them. 

Until a few years ago, that primarily meant retail as few people actually bought games online.  Now that online has become such a significant channel for casual games, we built our relationships with the online portals (though we have actually been selling games online for over four years). 

For casual games, download publishing is actually becoming a much bigger part of the business.  With our recent game Blood Ties, we sold more product the first weekend it was online than we did for all of our casual games combined at retail in 2007.  

For us, both download and retail publishing are important but the retail environment is getting very difficult.  There is only a small amount of space for PC games and it seems that every week a new publisher tries to go into the market.  Thus, you have to offer ever increasing incentives to retailers to carry the games. 

The good thing about retail is that everyone who plays the game has actually bought the game.  Online, there obviously is not an issue with shelf space and we find the portals great to work with.  The biggest issue, and I am sure you have heard this hundreds of times, is that our conversion rates are 2-5%, thus over 95 percent of the people who play our downloadable games do not generate any revenue for Merscom.

3. I tried [Blood Ties] from Big Fish Games. To my shock, I can't see Merscom mark from that game at all. Are there any reasons to exclude your company name & mark, from that big hit title?

ShadeTree Games is part of Merscom.  It is one of our labels that we use for some of our premium casual games.

4. Merscom is US company and do major business in US market, but you release games at Europe, too. How come to start business in Europe, and what are the differences between US & Europe?

We actually started in the European market, co-publishing with companies there before launching our US operations. 

In the late 1990s and earlier this decade, there were great opportunities there because a lot of game publishers were just not focusing on it. We would often license great US games and launch them in Europe, which is still a big part of our business.  We have found the same opportunities in the casual space, especially at retail. 

Many of the famous US casual game companies do not publish there games at all in retail in Europe, and if they do it is often an afterthought and with a weak partner.  Instead, we have staff dedicated to international sales and localization, and we treat that market as just as important as our home market.  Because of our focus, we do find it a little easier. 

We also find European retailers allocate more shelf-space to PC games, which makes it easier to get games into retail even if they are not the biggest games on the market.

5. Merscom published Casual Games usually, but recently started publishing Adventure Game. It was [Ghost in the Sheet], however Merscom is publishing only for online download & Retail Package is done by Tri Synergy. How come to start publishing 'Adventure Game' through 'Download portal', while both of them are unusual for Merscom business? What do you think about Adventure genre as Publisher, and do you have Future Plan to publish some more?

We consider 'adventure games' as 'casual games'.  They appeal to the same market that our hidden objects games and other traditional casual games appeal to.  We plan to release four more adventure games through our online casual game channels because the fit perfect with our core market, 30+ women. 

For Ghost in the Sheet in particular, we actually have a long relationship with Tri Synergy.  I think very highly of their management team and we have been looking for ways to cooperate for years.  We actually licensed three of the games that they are publishing at retail for download distribution, again because our online channels fit so well for these games. 

We often work with other publishers, to pick up the online rights if retail rights are not available, or the retail rights if online rights are not available. 

We will do whatever it takes to get our customers the games they want.

6. Last year, Merscom announced that they will work with 'Reiner Knizia'. He's real BIG THING in Board Game scene, and many Board Game fans might be shocked to hear that news. How come to contract with him, what games will be released for PC & XBLA, and what feedback did you receive from Press / Fans after that news announced?

We have had a lot of enthusiasm from fans, the press and even the industry.  The press release you are referring to is one that got the most attention of almost anything Merscom has done. 

What~s interesting is that after we issued it, one of the other major console manufacturers came to us asking if we could develop games with Dr. Knizia for their online system, which we plan to do. 

Although these projects are still far from completion, it is something everyone at Merscom is very excited about.

7. We have seen many game titles named after Merscom at Game Giveaway of the Day, but we can't see them at Merscom homepage Games section. Any reasons about that?

We do not want to encourage sales of games through our portal and actually intend to phase out direct sales. 

Our goal is to generate as many sales as possible for our portal partners and not to compete with them.  For example, EA would never put their own retail store next to Wal-mart, so why should we try to sell our own game in competition with Real or BigFish?

8. If somebody makes game & wish to publish through Merscom (or other publisher), how come to start? Just make good game & send you, or must know something very important before start making game? And do you accept game submission from abroad, as from South Korea?

We are very interested in seeing any casual games, particularly those from Korea. We are constantly expanding our publishing portfolio and now in particular we want to build on the success we have had with Blood Ties and Ghost in the Sheet

In particular, we are most interested in adventure games, hidden object games, time management games (like Diner Dash) and simulations (like Build-a-lot).

The best way to submit would be to send me a demo. I would prefer not to have my email address posted, but maybe they can send it to Pig-Min and you can forward them to me. <Note : This answer is for Korean readers. For foreigners, you could visit Merscom homepage to submit.>

9. Please recommend 5 GOOD games, and the reason why.

Other than Merscom games, of course, my favorite games:

- Build-a-lot
- Glyph
- Fizzball
- Chocalatier
- The Great Tree :
I am currently playing.

The reason is quite simple, they are fun and engaging.  Just like any customer, once I started playing these games I could not stop.

10. Did you try some Korean games, or even heard or experienced about them? If so, please share your thoughts about that.

I have traveled to Korea 4 or 5 times to meet with game companies, though not in the last couple of years.  I personally do not play MMOs, and Merscom is not focusing on that part of the business, so there have not been that many opportunities.

11. Please leave some message for Pig-Min readers.

Thank you for the time to listen to my thoughts on the game industry. 

I really hope that more US games become popular in Korea and that more Korean games become popular here.  I think there is a ton of talent in Korea for creating games and hopefully Merscom will become the beneficiary of some of that talent.

Thank you again.

Korean version of this Interview
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