“Distribution and marketing of the 2016 Game of the Year had been solely the remit of Asmodee in Germany until recently, but Codenames is now returning to its roots. While HeidelBÄR Games will manage the title as publisher, Heidelberger Spieleverlag will become the first point of contact for distribution matters. At the same time, Asmodee Germany will focus on further developing the brand from a distribution perspective in strategic sales markets and target new customer groups”, announced HeidelBÄR Games GmbH in late 2021.
We spoke with Heiko Eller-Bilz, owner and CEO of HeidelBÄR Games GmbH, about the reasons for this development and an interesting publisher setup.
What led to the decision to have HeidelBÄR Games and Heidelberger Spieleverlag take over distribution in the German market again?
Already back in autumn 2019, HeidelBÄR Games acquired all German-language licensing and distribution rights for Czech Games Edition products from Asmodee – except for Codenames. Our publishing house had only been recently re-established at that time. And that meant we were in a phase in which we had to decide what we could handle. We felt we were probably not yet in a position to do full justice to Codenames. So the question of whether we would acquire it from Asmodee together with the other strong CGE products never even arose. After all, over 100,000 copies of Codenames are sold each year in the German-speaking area. Now, three years later, we have established ourselves so well together with our exclusive distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag that we can unite Codenames with the rest of the CGE product family.
Do all of the ideas for new products come from CGE or does everybody get together around the table?
A publisher like CGE spends more time on itself and product development than you might imagine. It only makes sense to bring partner publishing houses on board from a certain point. This is no different for games from HeidelBÄR Games. In a sense, we only come into play when a game is 70% to 80% finished. This ensures that our insights into the German market can be incorporated. Depending on the project, our input may also be requested earlier on. But we are currently lacking the events, such as the Spielwarenmesse also recently, where we can conveniently advise each other on a product. Hopefully that will change again soon.
At this moment in time, it would be difficult for us to honestly claim that we have much of an input into developments at CGE. However, we recently got to meet up in person. So we know what’s coming down the tracks, even if nothing has been announced at this stage. The positive thing about this is that it allows us to focus on ensuring the best possible implementation for the German-speaking market. People often underestimate just how much is involved in that. And, of course, we have also been constantly expanding our own publishing programme since our establishment, which has registered its biggest national and international success to date with SPICY.
What role do game designers play in this publishing house cooperation?
CGE has succeeded in mobilising many creative minds from its own environment. These include some well-known designers, such as Vlaada Chvatil, but also people from within its own publishing house, such as recently the designers of the Lost Ruins of Arnak. This was nominated for expert game of the year in 2021 and won the German Game Award that same year. The trust in the cooperation with long-standing partners and friends is what really matters to us at HeidelBÄR Games and also CGE. We are lucky enough to get to work with partners and also designers who we like and respect and with whom we have a well-established friendship. Of course, newcomers also frequently come up with terrific ideas that we need just as much in order to make great games. Our designers and those of CGE are generally involved right up to the final step and play their part – that’s why we also engage in intensive dialogue with the CGE game developers.
What support can retailers expect when it comes to selling Codenames?
Obviously, good sales and continued great numbers for the Codenames series are extremely important for ourselves and Heidelberger. That’s why we are working closely together with retail on this. Initiatives range from a reduced cost price for certain volumes and improved conditions on extending the Codenames range through to marketing measures designed to bring new customers into contact with Codenames. For instance, there’s codenames.game, the digital version of the game that is played online. New features have only just been added in 2022 and we’ve been able to acquire numerous new contacts for the game IP through this version. All Codenames products are accompanied all year round by suitable PR and social media measures in the German-speaking market. For the POS, we have plans not only for displays at this time but are also thinking about using, for example, demo materials so that the game can be tried out without obligation or promotional materials that could be used as giveaways to encourage consumers to buy.
Thanks for the interview, Heiko Eller-Bilz.