Announcing Spry Fox (my happy new company)

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How do you change the world?  For me one of the brightest opportunities to have a meaningful impact is by creating games. Video games, board games, games inside applications…you name it.  We are living amidst an explosion of game innovation that will shape the very culture of our society. In the past 15 years, I’ve had the honor to work at some of the biggest companies in our industry and seen this opportunity growing.  And I’m humbled by the fact that well over 16 million unique players have been delighted by the games I’ve designed.  Averaging a million plus players a year is a good start.

Now it is time to push games even further. I’m pleased to formally announce the birth of Spry Fox, a new kind of game development studio that I’ve co-founded with my good friend, David Edery. The fearless Tom Buscaglia is our general counsel.

What do I mean by “new kind of game development studio?” Put simply: we focus on the business and design aspects of game development. We do not employ developers and we do not outsource. We create games by partnering with other talented individuals whose development abilities we respect, and everyone shares in the profit. In this regard, Spry Fox functions somewhat like a modern movie studiowe form teams around a project that everyone is passionate about, and the team disbands when the project is done (or, in the case of a free-to-play game, when the projects stops generating meaningful revenue). With a bit of luck, a team will gel nicely and may reunite many times (ala a Kevin Smith production), but it isn’t strictly necessary. We work together on what we love, and we part ways when our interests diverge.

Such a system puts the incentives where they belong: the team is focused on making a great innovative game, not on compromising the soul of their idea (or the creators) to ensure the survival of the studio.

 

 

Game studios of this sort have been attempted in the past, but the most prominent attempts have focused on larger, more expensive projects, which plays against the strengths of the distributed model. More importantly, previous studios appear to have been fixated on the debatable benefits of “outsourcing,” as opposed to building true partnerships with outside individuals and firms who are treated as integral to the creative process and who share in the profit. We believe that by building small, tightly-knit teams, we can make this work.

 

 

Most importantly, we have no interest in becoming yet another middleman in the increasingly crowded digital publishing space. When I am involved in a project, I play a major role in every aspect of a game’s design, including building the UI, architecting the major gameplay loops, fine tuning the balance, mentoring and directing the art production (when I don’t just pop out the art myself.) When David is involved in a project, he is deeply involved in the design (particularly with an eye towards monetization systems), the in-game writing, and all aspects of the business including marketing and distribution. We are not publishers. We are co-creators.

Spry Fox is focused primarily on emerging opportunities in the digital game market. For now, this means two things: web-based free-to-play games for various demographics, and downloadable titles for emerging platforms like mobile. Our reasons for focusing on these two things are straightforward:

  • There are strategic benefits to focusing on under-served markets
  • As noted earlier, our development model likely works best with smaller teams
  • We don’t enjoy waiting two+ years to discover whether our game will resonate with fans or not.

Some of you might wonder if developing “web-based free-to-play games” qualifies as targeting an under-served market. I’ve written about this in the past and I’d argue that there is no opportunity more compelling at this moment in time. The ratio of quality content to potential consumers is vastly out of whack on the Web relative to the console ecosystem or the iPhone app market. Despite the fact that 99% of all Internet-enabled PCs have Flash installed, boasting an audience more than 10x the size of even the most popular game console, you can literally count on one hand the number of really good Flash-based F2P games in any particular genre. That’s our kind of market.

Because our teams are (and will continue to be) relatively small, we need to focus on design methodologies that deliver the greatest amount of bang for the buck. That means user-generated content, procedurally generated content, and multiplayer mechanics that don’t require a constant influx of expensive content. So that’s exactly what we’ve started doing.

  • We’re building on my previous work with Andy Moore to create a bigger, more engaging, multiplayer version of Steambirds that will fully capitalize on that IP’s potential (with an intermediate version in the meanwhile).  Can we resurrect turn-based games for an entirely new generation of players?  Why not try?
  • We’re working with Andre Spierings to evolve the impossibly cute Bunni into the fully social experience we have always known it could be.  I’ve been immensely inspired by the vision of what Spore could have been. 
  • And we have two downloadable games and one exceedingly unusual flash MMOG in the works, (but unfortunately I can’t share any more information about those projects at this time!)

As these projects ramp up, I’ve been having immense amounts of fun doing some consulting across a large slice of the gaming universe (console games, f2p games, serious games, etc). Here I’ve again been partnering with David over at Fuzbi. Unfortunately, there is limited time to work with everyone, but I’m happy sharing my thoughts on design with forward-looking teams passionate about changing the world.

I can’t wait to share more with you all soon. Thanks for reading this post and for all your comments and encouragement in the past. And if you think you’d like to work with Spry Fox (or Fuzbi), don’t hesitate to drop me a line. We’re more than a little busy right now, but the future is always just around the corner. 🙂

take care,
Danc.

29 Comments

  1. I was wondering when you would do this. Seems today is the day! ^-^Congratulations and good luck to you both.O.P.S: Considering your setup I'm pretty sure the answer is no, but I'll ask anyway – can I invest?

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  2. Anonymous says

    Great idea, and I wish you luck. There is a definite lack of joy and happiness in game design and company structure. I look forward to seeing what you all do, and I hope to work with people of your mindset when my training wheels finally come off.

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  3. I like the sound of the new company model and wish you the best of luck. I hope that you are willing to move beyond just Flash and into the world of SVG/Canvas/Javascript as well for Web-based MMO/Social games. Maybe then we can cross paths 😛

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  4. Congrats and good luck! I loved playing through Steambirds. I had to keep at it till I got 4 stars on every mission. :)Keep up the fantastic work. Garry

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  5. Yay! This is exactly the way I've wanted to work myself, and it's not always easy to explain that to people… \”No, I don't want to be overlord over an army of programmer slaves, thank you very much.\”Now I can just point people to this blog post! 🙂 I really want to see you succeed – and maybe fail a bit too and learn from your mistakes and post all about it on your blog so we can learn from them too. Thank you! 😀

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  6. Anonymous says

    Hi Danc,So… I take it you've left the beast? Would it be impolite to congratulate you for this instead of setting up your own shop? :pI've been involved in a number of attempts to get something like this underway in the UK, but they all floundered on either method or funding. Especially funding. While I'm very much in support of what you're doing, it's a bit sad for me in that as a design and script company I don't see much hope of being involved in such small projects – even though I much prefer working on them. True, we occasionally manage to fund our own projects, but because we have no programming talent in house it hasn't gone very well thus far. For the most part, we're doomed to work with the monster companies.Anyway, would love to meet up at GDC this year – perhaps we can plan a meeting for once instead of just the random encounter? :)Best of luck with the new endeavour!Chris.

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  7. Very cool and appealing! I think your concept should work out great, especially as you seem to have excellent focus and really know what you want to do.Also, I'm quite partial to Bunni and have long wanted to see it evolve. (I'd love to contribute on this, but I suspect you're not looking for an additional game designer for this project.)I very much look forward to seeing what you guys produce.- Jack, Mercator Games

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  8. \”How do you change the world? For me one of the brightest opportunities to have a meaningful impact is by creating games.\” – I would love to hear more from you about how you arrived at this conclusion.

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  9. Best of luck to you good sir. I've never posted here before, but I do read it often and I love your game design work and your graphics. Who knows, maybe one day I will work with you as a level designer/user experience designer or something more.- Raymond Benefield from ReachingPerfection.com, a Game/Level Design focused blog with a heavy Halo flavor.

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  10. Hey there Danc,doubt you remember me, but I've run into you on a RPG Maker-Webpage a few years ago. Ever since, I've been following your blog and actually been bothered by the lack of functionality to comment without any kind of cheezy account noone needs… but I guess I'll get one in order to congratulate you on this ;)So yeah: I wish you the best of luck for your project there, as it's really what a few of us game designers out there think about. (I'm of course talking about those that aren't thinking money first, quality later). As a bunch of commentors said before me, I'm sure the quality pack you got together there can get something nice up and running… and I'm curious what new developments that'll lead to that I can follow on this blog.I'm not gonna pretend I can keep up with you guys in design or the subcategories. However, as I never see you do betatesting before, I'm quite convinced I can help you guys out in case – after all, aside from the abilites to bring your thoughts to paper and work with a general understanding of how things work, you have to enjoy games, right?So, I know you'll most enjoy your new occupation there. Have fun, have success, and make sure you don't loose your valueable sense for what the player wants! (not that I'd think you would)- Mike

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  11. I loved the idea a lot! I wish there was more companies with your ideas. In these blockbuster games we don't see much expression.I really am rooting for you guys, I want you to be an example for everyone to follow from now on.But it leaves me curious about one thing: the income. I know this is a not company-focused games, but well, you all have to eat right?I'd love to contribute, as everyone, but I doubt you need any game designer, programmer or whatever. Oh well, best of luck.Sorry for my bad English and typing,- João, Brantkings

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  12. But in the movie industry you usually get high remuneration for each project because the team knows it will be disassembled once it's over and they don't know when they will work on another project. Do you expect to make tons of money or hope that people will accept an average salary without the security of future projects?Don't get me wrong, it sounds great from a motivational point of view, but I am worried about how realistic/profitable will be to assemble a team of really talented professionals. Hope everything works out well for you guys.Congratulations and best of luck.

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  13. Congratulations, that sounds really great!As a brazilian design student – one that is profoundly interested in game design -, I'm often looking for national gaming companies in order to get to know the \”state of art\” here in Brazil. Sadly, it seems to me that our companies always try to get started based on the main market: long, huge projects, using generic ideas and old technology – and no innovation at all despite of \”being brazilian\”. I firstly pursued a Computer Science degree, and then left it for a Graphics Design one, in hope of someday making games. In the meanwhile, I can only feel hopeless for the national gaming \”industry\”, which doesn't seem to learn with previous errors and doesn't seem to invest in good ideas, good projects, \”brave new markets\” and \”new kinds game development studios\”, like yours.And then comes this \”don't hesitate to drop me a line\” of yours, which made me drop some lines for the very first time on Lost Garden, despite of having read it for the past 3 years and a half. I've never worked on a game project except for personal stuff made in Game Maker, but I read and write a lot about game design and feel frustrated to know there won't be any local gaming company which would help me \”change the world\”. I feel very compromised with game design theory and the study of the art (can I call it that way?), but this doesn't seem to have much space when people are thinking \”hey, y'know what would make money? A medieval fantasy MMORPG with anime graphics!\”In spite of that, I still intend to work with games as soon as I get my bachelor degree. I feel we're in the middle of a wind of change in speaking of videogames, a change from being a \”teenage medium\” to a more mature one – much like when cinema went from Laurel-and-Hardy-like comedy to a wider range of narratives and styles – and I want to be part of it. Using a somewhat simplistic example, three years ago I wrote in my personal blog about my will of making a game like Minecraft, and there we have Minecraft now, being a huge success :~That makes me feel like I'm not working hard enough to get into the gaming market – and I probably ain't. So treat this comment as a conscience-reliever, just so I can't say I didn't try when the moment was right. I really don't have a \”gaming curriculum vitae\” yet, but I recently expressed some of my ideas on a commentary at Rock Paper Shotgun: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/17/minecraft-mine-the-gap-day-4/comment-page-2/#comment-513001Besides that, if anyone at Spry Fox happen to understand portuguese, here goes a more recent blog post (http://continue.com.br/03/10/2010/mine-craft-discover) and my older personal blog (https://nocontrole.wordpress.com/). And, why not, my e-mail (lipedal@gmail.com)Thanks for the attention and sorry for the bad english. Best of luck to Spry Fox!

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  14. So – when do you officially stop being a \”lapsed game developer\” and start being a game developer again – and why? How about a *whole post* about that?

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