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A new gaming company wants to disrupt the industry

Keerthi Vedantam, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

SEATTLE -- The man responsible for the insanely popular Halo franchise, which garnered $3 billion in the span of its first three releases, is ready to talk about his new project.

Harold Ryan, the former studio head and then later president of Bungie, the game development company responsible for the Halo, Age of Empires and Destiny franchises, left in 2016 to quietly establish a company focused on creating partnerships between video game developers and publishers.

Its name, improbably, is ProbablyMonsters.

"The bigger and bigger the consumer audience gets, the more and more original entertainment they're hungry for," Ryan said. "Building the right culture is an important part of being able to do that sustainably."

Perhaps it's not surprising, considering Ryan's history. When Bungie was bought by Microsoft in 2000, it resisted moving into a standard Microsoft building in a move to preserve its culture of independence. In 2007, Ryan led Bungie's departure from Microsoft after employees alleged Microsoft was prioritizing the Halo franchise over new projects. Bungie left behind Halo's intellectual property in the split.

ProbablyMonsters will be coordinating production contracts between developers that create what the industry calls "AAA games" and publishers that market and sell those games. It revealed two new development studios to work on such games -- ones with production and marketing budgets that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars but will keep players engaged for months, or even years, like the Halo or Destiny franchises.

 

"Triple-A games cost a lot of money ... and I think when you are a publisher, you are going to be careful of the content you are creating," said Kristina Hudson, director of the Washington Interactive Network, a local gaming industry group. "So a lot of times there's not a lot of originality from the triple-A developers. You see more creativity from the independent developers."

There are a few independent video game developers. Bungie is joined by another Seattle-area game publisher TinyBuild.

But most AAA-game development studios are stuck in the push-and-pull between them and publishers. In 2018, the Korean game publisher NCSoft shut down Carbine Studios, a game development studio in California created by the minds behind World of Warcraft. In February, the same publisher laid off more than 100 employees from Bellevue-based ArenaNet, which developed Guild Wars 2.

"They were trying to build new teams, new IPs (intellectual properties), and this is sort of universal in the bigger games companies," Ryan said.

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