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Interview with Ben Hermans

Last November, Hyperion Entertainment announced that their port of Monolith's Shogo: Mobile Armor Division to Linux had gone gold. I decided to check in with Hyperion's managing partner, Ben Hermans, to see how things are going with the port and what the future might hold for Hyperion in Linux.

A.T. Hun: Last time we talked (ed. note: in March 2001), you mentioned that Shogo for Linux had not sold very well. I noticed that it is still on the top ten list at Tux Games. Has there been any improvement in sales over the past several months?

Ben Hermans: Not really. Being on that list is not a real indication of commercial success in absolute numbers. In all, Shogo sold maybe a few hundred copies on Linux.

A.T. Hun: As a bit of a follow-up, by way of comparison how many copies of Shogo were sold for the Mac and for the Amiga? If those figures are low as well, do you think part of the problem might be that Shogo is not a "triple-A" title like, for example, Quake III Arena or Unreal Tournament? Or might the main problem have been that the ports were released two and a half years after the original Windows version?

Ben Hermans: I am unfortunately not a liberty to disclose the specific salesnumbers of Shogo for Mac and Amiga. Suffice it to say that as a rule even an old title like that should sell around 8000 units on Mac which is more than what you can expect for a brand-new title on Linux. A brand-new title on Mac will sell around 30000 units at least.

The problem with Linux gaming is that the Windows version will as a rule always be available sooner because the porting process takes time. Moreover, on Linux you don't have the economies of scale that you have on Windows so you will need to keep your prices higher than the Windows version. This again increases the appeal of the Windows version. The Windows games market has a very short life-span and games are subject to a continuous price-erosion.

You may choose to keep your Linux pricing in line with the Windows version. This will somewhat increase volume but not enough to offset the decreased revenue.

On Mac or Amiga, you don't suffer from this type of problems because users simply don't have the option of dual-booting and dare I say it, users are more loyal to their platform than Linux users.

A.T. Hun: Based on the sales figures for Shogo, can you foresee Hyperion porting more games to Linux?

Ben Hermans: We are not ruling anything out at this stage but it's clear any further porting would have to be part of our multi-platform strategy. We also port to Mac and Amiga. Paradoxically, we can make more money in the Amiga market where margins are much higher and where we don't get bombarded by people asking for free binaries because they bought the Windows version.

A.T. Hun: Are there any new Linux ports in the works right now for Hyperion?

Ben Hermans: None at this point.

A.T. Hun: One thing that may have hurt sales was a lack of availability in the United States. When I got my copy, I ordered it from Tux Games which is based in the UK. Is there a possibility of making Shogo or future titles available through, say, Electronics Boutique or some other U.S.-based e-tailer?

Ben Hermans: Our publisher did a poor job at arranging distribution. Nonetheless, it's clear that many distributors which jumped on the bandwagon of the Linux hype some months ago, have had second thoughts because of the dismal sales figures.

The Linux dealer market is very fragmented and disorganised. When you ask your run of the mill dealer for sales figures for the most prominent Loki games, the numbers are frightfully low.

A.T. Hun: It was announced yesterday (ed. note: August 13) that Loki Software has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. What do you think is the greatest barrier to Linux gaming becoming a more viable market?

Ben Hermans: Windows or should I say "Linux users supporting Windows rather than Linux". Linux users are simply not willing to wait longer and pay more for a native Linux version of a game when they can get the Windows version earlier and cheaper. Developments like Wine are not exactly going to make Linux game development more viable, quite the contrary.

The Linux community is very vocal and for a while Linux was extremely trendy. I have the impression that Loki bought into the hype and assumed that users would be a lot more loyal to the platform than they really are. It's clear that if Loki doesn't make it, Linux gaming will be dead and buried.

I wish to thank Hyperion Entertainment's Ben Hermans for his time in responding to this interview and for his willingness to patiently answer all the questions I've had since Shogo's release. And hey, while you're at it, why not pick up a copy of Shogo for Linux from Tux Games?