PlaySide Publishing knows what it wants

PlaySide Publishing has announced its first title. We ask its head, Harley Homewood, about the strategy moving forward
Dynasty of the Sands, by Rocket Flair Studios and PlaySide Publishing

Australian game developer PlaySide Studios, touted as the largest game developer in the country, is taking its first steps into the world of game publishing. After announcing its publishing arm in mid-2022, the company finally revealed the first title to be released under the PlaySide Publishing label in May 2023 – Dynasty of the Sands, a city-building game set in Ancient Egypt, developed for PC by Northern Irish team, Rocket Flair Studios.

Given one of PlaySide’s most recent and well-received releases, Age of Darkness: Final Stand, was also in the strategy game realm, it’s perhaps no surprise that Dynasty of the Sands speaks to a very similar audience demographic.

Sound Strategy

Harley Homewood, Global Head of Publishing at PlaySide, suggests there’s definitely some reasoning behind that decision. ‘We know there’s an audience that we’ve kind of already established with Age of Darkness, a kind of a core, [real-time strategy], simulation, colony-building kind of player. And we want to be able to target that audience and then branch out from that.’

‘But it’s also about the kind of games we want to play as well. Having games that excite us internally, and are the sorts of things we would play in our free time, that’s a massive plus, because then the whole team is enthused.’

In a nice twist of fate, Homewood, who is based in the UK, came to PlaySide from an eight-year stint working and eventually leading the publishing team at Team17. The British developer and publisher was formerly known almost exclusively for its Worms franchise, and is now a prolific publisher of high-profile independent games. Homewood was actually at Team17 when the company signed the publishing rights to Age of Darkness from PlaySide Studios, during a period where Team17 also signed several other games from Australia and New Zealand studios – Hell Let Loose, Before We Leave, Dredge, Moving Out, among others.

Harley Homewood
Harley Homewood. Image supplied.

But the move to PlaySide came from the opportunity to start that publishing journey again from the beginning once more – he had joined Team17 when the company was beginning to ramp up their global publishing efforts in 2014. 

‘When I look back, the bit that I enjoyed and found most exciting at the time was when we were growing from something small, and it was kind of agile. You could be in charge of making key decisions and have an impact on the direction and the strategy.’ After becoming aware of PlaySide through Age of Darkness, and seeing their ambitions for publishing, the new role seemed like an opportunity to ‘do something fresh and new with a fast-growing, up-and-coming company.’

Part of that direction and strategy, at least for the moment, is to try to carve out a more defined publishing agenda, and to seemingly build at least some kind of clear identity or reputation in the industry, akin to a Devolver Digital, TinyBuild, or Annapurna.

Homewood said the strategy at Team17 was ‘genre-agnostic’. ‘We would sign anything that we thought was good fun, whether it was an Overcooked-style game, or whether it was Hell Let Loose.‘ With PlaySide Publishing, he says the team ‘definitely wants to be more focused and more targeted than that.’

‘We definitely have a “type.” Well, I think we’ve defined it not as a type of game, but a type of audience that we want to go after.’

‘We’re sort of going after an audience type which is essentially core gamers. Core gamers on Steam, which can be extremely broad, but we’ve narrowed that down to a few different genre types. We’re definitely interested in things like, real-time strategy games, role-playing games, action role-playing games, city-buildings, and simulation.’

Age of Darkness: Final Stand. Image: PlaySide Studios

‘Up and Over’ into the Northern Hemisphere

With a collective fixation on games that focus on exploration and expansion, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the studio had few qualms about headquartering PlaySide Publishing in Homewood’s home territory of the UK; PlaySide Publishing’s other employee, Game Scout Allan Adham, is also UK-based.

‘There was a definite, deliberate intent to have some coverage on this side of the globe, certainly where we wanted to launch the publishing division,’ Homewood said.

‘It gives us easy access into Europe, easier access to the US. Major platform partners and platform holders are based in these kinds of regions, and in the US, as well. So it was definitely intended to have a footprint over here.’

Coming from a publisher that extended a helping hand to so many Australian-based independent games, it’s surprising to learn PlaySide’s first signing will not be from a fellow Australian studio. That being said, Homewood claims the signing of Rocket Flair, a UK-based developer, is just through circumstance, and not indicative of any kind of strategy moving forward.

Dynasty of the Sands. Image: Rocket Flair Studios / PlaySide Publishing

‘There are no rules around that at the moment. This one just so happens to be very close to where we are. But we’re talking to teams from all over the place – that are in Melbourne, that are right down the road from the studio. Teams in the US, Europe, you name it. There’s no kind of restriction. We’re talking to teams from all over the globe.’

Building PlaySide’s Own Dynasty

As to what the next steps for PlaySide Publishing are, Homewood describes the current day-to-day as that ‘small and agile’ company he desired, with Adlham and himself wearing several hats – a working lifestyle that’s no stranger to Australians. Working this way for a while, and growing only when they need to, seems to be the order of the day. 

As to why developers should consider partnering with PlaySide Publishing over other companies, Homewood takes a realist approach.

‘I don’t think we’ve set ourselves out to be massively different from anyone else out there. I think trying to say that we’ve got a load of unique selling points that are very different from everyone else is probably a bit disingenuous.’

‘But we’ve got a good amount of combined experience between us both from sourcing content, working with development teams, but also identifying the kind of do’s and don’ts – things that we’ve learned from our past experiences.’

‘And we are developer-centric. The company is a development studio, right? At heart, we make games – the CEO is a game designer by trade – we want to be working with developers and support them as much as possible to generate the best quality version of the game they possibly can.’

‘We believe that if we make good quality games, then the games can do a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s not easy, and the rest doesn’t just fall into place, but it makes your life easier when you’ve got a really good game to work on in the first place.’

Dynasty of the Sands from Rocket Flair Studios and PlaySide Publishing releases in 2024. You can wishlist it on Steam.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran