In its early stages, the new studio will focus on cultivating partnerships and reputation. Brevik and Wang talk with GameDaily about their business strategy.
Games industry veterans David Brevik and Bill Wang have partnered to open up a new publishing and development label. Skystone Games, according to the press release, is envisioned “as a global developer and publisher of multiplatform video games.” As part of its debut, Skystone has announced a pair of upcoming games: Undying from developer Vanimals, and Spaceline Crew from Coffeenauts.
“One of the biggest joys in this industry is uncovering hidden gems--projects that are absolutely special, but don’t ever really get the attention they deserve,” Brevik, who is the studio president, said in a statement. “That’s a problem we want to help solve. Our team has a proven track record of doing just that, and we want to shine a spotlight on the sort of talent that deserves to be recognized in a very crowded and competitive world.”
The issue of discoverability has become a notoriously difficult nut to crack, as recent years have seen a flood of prospective game developers make a play for the indie market. There has been some ground gained in the arena, mostly in the form of initiatives from digital storefronts. While Skystone seems determined to take its shot in this regard, Wang said that there’s no magic formula that can eliminate the challenges of digital discoverability.
“As we all know, for the real estate business, it is about location, location, and location. For our industry, it is about quality, quality, and quality,” Wang, Skystone’s CEO, told GameDaily. “We will only launch high quality content. Together with our marketing efforts, we hope to pull players to our games by word of mouth instead of spending a lot of money on UA. Over time, we will build Skystone brand name similar to what Blizzard and Supercell have done.”
If there’s anyone well-equipped to handle such a challenge, it’s Brevik and Wang. Together, the two boast decades of games industry experience. For instance, Brevik spent 11 years as president of Blizzard North, where he helped create the Diablo franchise.
“With nearly 30 years of experience in the industry, I’ve been through the process many times as a developer and as a publisher,” Brevik told GameDaily. “Having a developer-led publisher is the best kind in my opinion. We understand what it is like to make your vision become reality and how difficult that journey can be. I believe that we can help developers make better games, better processes, and also bring attention to their creations. I want to be a publisher that I would want to work with as a developer.”
For his part, Wang has supplemented a 10-year stint as vice president of Neverwinter publisher Perfect World with experience at a number of smaller studios. Now, Wang is bringing his pedigree and know-how to Skystone, where he plans to take advantage of his years of networking and Brevik’s dev chops.
“I have traveled around the world to identify talented studios and help them succeed for the past 12 years,” Wang explained. “Also, I have overseen the releases of both F2P and premium games. By leveraging my global network with developers, publishers, and platform owners, publishing experience, and David’s development skills, I believe we can make a difference and help grow the industry by getting more developers to succeed.”
Out of the gate, Skystone isn’t going to get overly ambitious with large-scale projects like Diablo 3 or Neverwinter, Wang said. Rather, it will focus on helping small and midsize studios realize their projects and deliver “fun and compelling content.” Skystone plans to remain small, at least in these early stages, in order to foster a close-knit, family-like environment.
Wang explained that being able to remain agile is one of the more advantageous aspects of staying small. This allows the team to make quick decisions and adjustments as in the face of sudden business shifts. It also means it’s easier to manage and communicate internally, as well as with the company’s stable of partners. That doesn’t mean Skystone is averse to growth, but that’s a long-term concern at the moment.
“We will tailor our team size to business needs. We plan to add more titles to our portfolio year after year. We will grow the team size in accordance with the business growth,” Wang said.
Brevik explained that growing too large too quickly can make a business feel impersonal and obscure the founding principles.
“I remember when Blizzard first started and what it was like,” Brevik recalled. “We were a small tight-knit group that could iterate quickly on ideas, listen to everyone and change the industry. As companies grow, they often start to lose what made them great.”
Of course, one of the looming challenges of opening a new game studio in 2020 is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In a landscape where many business owners are reticent to spend and grow, Skystone sees opportunity.
“We believe opportunity is present in the midst of a crisis,” Wang explained. “When others are fearful and reluctant to invest in developers at this moment, we can be greedy and aggressively pursue opportunity.
“For example, when the financial crisis hit the US in late 2008, nobody wanted to spend money on funding startups,” he continued. “I was able to make my first investment in the US with Runic Studios. With the $1 million investment, the Runic team was able to release Torchlight 1 and 2. They are not only critical successes, but commercial successes with 8 million units sold.”
Brevik acknowledged that opening a publishing studio is a challenging endeavour even outside of pandemic conditions, but the games industry is better-equipped than most other business sectors to weather a crisis such as the coronavirus.
“I believe that gaming hasn’t been negatively affected by this crisis as much as many other industries, and so it makes it one of the better businesses to create right now,” he said. “People are hungry for gaming content as we shelter in place.”
Looking at the stats illustrates the truth in Brevik’s statement. In a report from April, analyst firm Ampere Analysis noted that while the industry as a whole isn’t necessarily recession-proof, video games is one of the few sectors that has actually seen growth over the last few months. In fact, game revenues grew by 35% in March according to NPD Group, putting an end to several months of steady decline.
Brevik and Wang are more than capable of navigating the challenges of opening a new publishing studio regardless of economic conditions, but it’s not just a keen business sense that will get Skystone off the ground. Creating a strong rapport with prospective partners and development studios is just as important as any financial security the team can offer, a conceit that’s not lost on Brevik.
“We really want to create a close, long-lasting relationship with our partners,” he said. “When we choose to work together, we are trying to bring you into our family-styled business. We work together to solve problems and be honest and straightforward with each other. We believe that this style brings out the best in everyone and the best in our products.”
Wang echoed this sentiment, noting that reputation is the most important capital in today’s games industry.
“We run this business with our minds and our hearts. We put our players first and treat our partners with respect and honesty. We will never make a one-sided deal that only benefits Skystone. We sincerely hope to work with our partners to grow the industry together.”
With the pedigree commanded by Wang and Brevik, Skystone Games appears well-positioned to make a noticeable impact on the games industry. COVID-19 has certainly bred a tumultuous business environment, but video games are enjoying a period of growth, offering an attractive opportunity. Moving forward, it should be enlightening to track Skystone’s progress as 2020 continues.
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