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1C Company North American PR Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on June 9, 2010 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

Last week, we met up with 1C Company for their annual Gamers' Day at the Russian Consulate. We snagged a few minutes with David Tractenberg, head of 1C's North American PR and quizzed him on a myriad of topics, including Russian drinking protocol, digital games distribution, and the attempted theft of Breach.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm David Tractenberg, and I'm president of Traction Public Relations.

WP: Tell us a little bit about 1C Company. Obviously, there are a lot of game developers from Japan, the UK and Europe, but we don't hear a lot about game developers from Russia.

DT: 1C is actually one of the largest publishers in the world by volume. In fact, we ship one metric ton of product per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We're basically the Microsoft of Russia. In fact, we've branched out to retail stores, so we have our own brand out there, and people can come into a 1C store and buy the game. Then we've got our development side as well as our publisher side. We're huge. From a sheer sales standpoint, we're the largest in Eastern and Central Europe by far.

WP: Obviously, American developers create games from the American point of view, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but 1C has a few games, such as Men of War: Vietnam, where you see the American side and the Russian side. What kind of perspective change does that give gamers?

DT: We love doing that. The fact is that no one understands the Russian perspective better than 1C. This is who we are. With something like the Vietnam game, there were Russian consultants all throughout the Viet Cong. Not only do we show the American side, but we also allow you to play as those consultants helping the Viet Cong to overtake the U.S. side. They give you a choice. You can play either side, but it's a lot like a WWII game where we said, "Everyone knows the American angle. Let's add the Moscow angle."

WP: What's the difference in working with a Russian developer versus, say, working with a Japanese developer?

DT: Cheaper. Oh, sorry, did you want a longer answer? (laughs) The Russian developers are very technical. They're excellent, especially on the graphical side. More than anything, what I see from them are detailed physics. So you'll see our truck games down to those more on the war side, very, very detailed physics. They like to delve into really the minutiae. If you take a look at something like Theatre of War, where most games would model the tank shell, we model the tank shell velocity, weight and everything, whether or not it hits the target. Once it hits, we then model the damage it does to the tank, whether or not it penetrates the armor. If it penetrates the armor, does it actually ricochet around? If it ricochets around, does it actually hit one of the people inside the tank and therefore degrade their performance?

WP: What about some of these classic titles? How did 1C come about the King's Bounty license? It's an old DOS, PC game that was then brought to the Sega Genesis and was remade by 3DO for the PlayStation 2. Now 1C has updated it and brought the expansion pack for the sequel to the PC. How did that come about?

DT: You know, it was an early '80s title. It was in fact made by the guys who did the Heroes of Might and Magic. They had said they wanted to get away from RPGs and more on just, in effect, the strategy board gaming side. We're huge fans of the original one, so some of our developers actually came to us and begged. They said, "Please, please please, we promise it'll be a great game." We threw them a couple of dollars and said, "All right. Let's see what we can do." We came out with King's Bounty: The Legend, and everyone loved it. It won some game awards. I personally have played it for about 60 hours. I love the game. I keep playing it over and over again. I'm not saying that as a PR guy; I'm saying it as a big gamer. I love King's Bounty, so it's been a really good franchise for us. It was such a smart move in the end to let these guys run with their passion.

WP: You mentioned that the age of digital distribution is a big thing for 1C. Why is digital distribution so big? Why not focus on retailers? Why go digital?

DT: It's not that we don't have retail, but we found two things. One, the market seems to be going digital, not just us. People are going to Steam, GamersGate, all those guys, and they're finding that it's a more effective way of getting their product out. They're finding that it's a less expensive way. For us, though, it's the fact that we're a true global publisher. Our games go everywhere. You look at other publishers, and they'll focus on the Americas or they'll focus on the Asian culture. We go absolutely everywhere, so for us, digital allows us to do worldwide launches and really get everything out on the table.

WP: We've got to ask, is it weird for a Russian publisher to include American voice actors in games?

DT: I, personally, on the American side, have been punishing them. It's just been horrible. They had the worst translations until this year, when we actually hired real American actors and brought them in to do voice stuff because it was killing me. It really was. It was the one thing that would drop our scores.

WP: We're going to change gears a little bit. Obviously you do a lot of work with 1C, and you've got a few other clients. We saw your name mentioned in a press release and a few legal documents earlier this year in something to do with Breach. Somebody tried to steal the game at PAX East. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?

DT: Yeah, that was Atomic Games. Breach is a military action shooter. We were showing it for the first time at PAX East. This is going to be an Xbox Live Arcade game, $15, just amazing. We're having a lot of fun, doing four-on-four battles, and one guy stepped away to the bathroom, and when he stepped away, this guy, Justin May, stepped in, plugged in his laptop, and started to download our code. Someone saw him after about two minutes. He only got about 15 MB, so it was not a lot. We asked him, "What's going on?" There was an officer with full body armor there. We chase him into the crowd. One of the guys picks him up out of the crowd and drags him into a side room to wait for Boston PD to show up. I mean, really? Out of everyone on the show floor, you choose the game with guys wearing body armor?

WP: Atomic Games has a military contract, if I'm not mistaken, correct?

DT: That's correct. We actually make simulations for U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

WP: This wasn't the smartest thing for someone to do right in the middle of a major gaming convention.

DT: He wasn't the shiniest penny in the fountain.

WP: When should we expect to see Breach on Xbox Live Arcade?

DT: Honestly, we don't have a firm date. Unfortunately, XBLA controls when the game comes out. The dates they've given us put us head-to-head with Medal of Honor or Call of Duty, so we're trying to decide whether we want to go head-to-head with them, if we want to hold it or if we want to release it.

WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

DT: You know what? The only thing I'd say is to keep an eye out for Rig 'n' Roll. That's our next game coming out from 1C. Everyone loves this title. It's a truck-driving simulator, and it's 1,000 miles of real California roadway. For some reason, people are dying to haul refrigerator trucks four three hours up the coast. Everyone loves this, and it's going to be coming out very, very soon.

WP: You've worked with 1C all these years. What is the coolest Russian phrase that you've learned?

DT: Stromnaya. This was actually taught to me by a former member of the KGB. It's when you don't drink with people all night and you go to a party and catch up. I was working, so afterward, he looks at me and says, "David, Stromnaya." I said, "What does that mean?" And they poured me seven shots. I was so sick the next day! This is a Russian phrase when you come late to a party and they've been drinking without you. These guys can drink!

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