"We were just lucky, you know," Klemens Kundratitz laughs in response to my inquiry about the series of events that led to his company's acquisition of Saints Row, Metro, and Volition Games from THQ in 2013. The CEO of Deep Silver parent Koch Media's affable nature only slightly masks a strategic mind that has led his company out of the shadows over the past year.
Kundratitz lays out a methodical path that ultimately culminated in January's surprise results from the THQ bankruptcy auction. "Step by step, there was a very visible evolution of our company," he says.
He identifies Dead Island as representing a series of crucial growth benchmarks for the company. "First there was the trailer that sold the game that came from the outside, and that game gave us some global exposure and global reach," Kundratitz explains. "That led to the acquisition of the two THQ assets. First we had to prove we could do a global launch. Then we had to prove that we could manage more than one product. It's been long in our strategy to enter into the mobile space, and we did that at the end of last year. This is just the beginning."
Despite the rapid growth, Kundratitz continues to maintain a modest perspective. "It's very important that we don't try to do everything at once. We are certainly an independent publisher," he says. "We like to stress that we are not among the evil part of the industry. Still, we have a reach, and we are very focused on gamers."
I ask him what his thought process was leading up to the auction and how that has changed in the months since Metro: Last Light and Saints Row IV were released. "You can imagine when you sit in this big bidding room in Delaware, and there are all these other companies around you bidding for the assets, and you're the one at the end who prevails," he recounts.
Deep Silver paid $ 22.3 million for Volition and Saints Row. Metro: Last Light cost the company another $ 5.8 million. "You have that thought, 'What did I just do?'" he laughs. "But only for a fraction of a second."
The gamble has paid off. Both titles have recuperated the investment, and Metro: Last Light sold more in its first week than the first title in the series, Metro 2033, sold to that point since its 2010 release.
Kundratitz, who has in the past hinted at more titles in the Metro series, tells me that he has been in contact with the franchise's Ukraine-based team, 4A Games. Tensions have been growing in the region since last year, recently resulting in Russian military incursion and the annexation of Crimea, an ethnically Russian section of the country.
"We've been in touch all along, and we care about their lives," he says. "We are concerned about their working conditions such that they can be productive as a team. Even though a lot of havoc happened around them, the team itself is intact."
While Kundratitz wouldn't confirm what 4A Games and Volition are working on, he did tell me that there will be some big announcements at E3 in June. He also says that the recent acquisitions continue to be a source of growth, but not at the expense of losing the company values or identity. There is no intention of going toe-to-toe with the likes of EA or Activision.
"We believe that the time is absolutely right for an independent publisher to blossom," he says. "We think that we are that independent. We have the majors, as I call them, and a very active independent scene. But we are a global publisher that can fill a gap that other companies have filled in the past, but aren't around anymore. The market needs someone like us."