gaming since 1997

Beyond the Fishtank

Fishtank Interactive is a fairly new publisher but already they’ve released a number of quality games like S.WI.N.E. and Aquanox and at the CES 2001 they were one of the top publishers at the show.
We thought it was about time to check who they are and what they’re up to.
The first part is answered by Frank Heukemes (Director of Fishtank) and the second part of the interview by Ulla Wenderoth (PR Manager).

How was Fishtank Interactive formed ?

Frank : Fishtank was formed by Ravensburger Interactive MD Thomas Kirchenkamp and me. I came from Mattel Germany and before that I spent a couple of years at TopWare, a German games publisher that is gone by now. I started in this business as an editor for the German games mag “Power Play”, which was among the first games mags in Germany, but which is not around anymore.

Where did the idea of starting up a game publishing company come from ?

Frank : Thomas (MD Ravensburger Interactive Media) and me had years of experience with games before, so it was not such a new thing to do.

How do you decide which games to publish and which not ?

Frank : The first criterion is quality. We are not restricted to certain genres, but would like to stay away from soccer, hockey, etc. because the competition in that field is simply too strong and too good to crack. We never sign a game that just exists as a concept, we like to see initial gameplay or at least a tech/graphics demo. Costs is the next important factor that has to be met. The budget has to meet our sales expectations. Some teams seem completely oblivious to this and are asking for budgets that are out of this world.

What is the process that is followed once a developer has presented a game and you decide that you’re interested in publishing it ?

Frank : I talk my decision over with Thomas and the American Fishtank MD. Thomas then gets the approval from the board of Ravensburger AG. In between I visit the team, make sure that there actually IS a team present, try to get a picture of the team that we will be working with for almost the next two years.

What is the most difficult part of being a publisher ?

Frank : For us it is not so much to get good qualitiy games. We do have quite some experience to judge games in a very early stage. But nevertheless, it can happen and has happened that a game does turn out to be not as good as initially anticipated. At the moment the PC games market is not working very well, so besides the quality, it is very hard to stay profitable, even with excellent products.

What would you suggest to developers looking for a publisher ?

Frank : To meet these factors: Quality, Originality, Internationality, Reason.

Next to the already known games like Arx Fatalis and Call of Cthulhu, are there other games that are going to be published by Fishtank that we haven’t yet heard of ?

Frank : We have a couple of excellent games to look for later this year. Chaser, a first person shooter, Archangel, a third person action-RPG, Wildlife Park, a zoo simulation and 1916 The Great War, a WWI strategy game made by the designers of Blue Byte´s old History Line.

How did you end up at Fishtank ?

Ulla : To cut a long story short: Before, I was working at Mattel Interactive as Marketing Manager games. That is were I met some of my colleagues with whom I am working now againJ Whilst all my lovely colleagues changed to Fishtank, I did another job which I did not like very much. I thought about changing all the time.That is when there was a vacancy in pr at Fishtank and one of my colleagues proposed me for that job. It was really funny, since I did not know about it until he called me one Friday evening and said: I have arranged an interview for you. I was totally astonished but decided to take this chance right away. After the weekend I have got the job. You know, I have always wanted to do public relations and I must say (after one year now) I love it better than any other job I have done before!

What is your job exactly next to answering the same questions to the press over and over again ?

Ulla : Well, in earlier times I always thought that public relations means mainly creating press releases but this is only small part of it. Besides that, my major responsibility is to stay in contact with all journalists and serve their wishes (sending press material), answering questions regarding our products (in content and technical) and keeping my mailing lists and archives up-to-date. This sounds not a very exhausting job but it really is. I am responsible for all Fishtank pr requests worldwide, which means I have to coordinate two pr offices one in the US/Canada and one France (our subsidiaries) and providing all other journalists (from east to west) with material on my own. Due to our strong line-up and the time-sensitiveness (internet, competitors) this is quite a lot but also great fun!

What is the most fun about your job ?

Ulla : I am a very open person and I love contacting people worldwide. I most like all foreign journalists (like you), since it is much more interesting to get to know their needs and the way they are working in their country. Furthermore, I do not always get business-related questions and opinions but also personal ones which makes this business kind of ‘intimate’. It is great fun for me to see a smaller site which I have tried to support with material gains a greater interest and it is very satisfying to see previews and reviews in print and online mags, which I have worked for so hard.

Which games do you like most ?

Ulla : If I have to choose from Fishtank games, I definitely like S.W.I.N.E. the most. Though normally, I am more the first-person shooters fan (like Quake 3) which offer a lot of shooting and action, action, action… and that perfectly matches with my temperament 🙂

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