With the help of AAA industry veteran designers John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite, LOLApps' Ravenwood Fairreached 10 million users, as the company announced today. But Romero has moved on to found a new company, and Brathwaite now reveals she's going, too.
As her LinkedIn page now reflects, Brathwaite -- widely-known as the longest-serving woman in game development -- will take the role of chief operating officer, co-founder and game designer at Loot Drop, the studio Romero recently launched with longtime colleagues Robert Sirotek and Tom Hall, who are Loot Drop's CEO and Austin office studio head, respectively. Loot Drop is headquartered in San Mateo.
Brathwaite talked to Gamasutra about how exciting it was for a crew of passionate designers who've been such longtime colleagues to be launching in a new direction together. Many storied game developers have left the AAA space to explore the social gaming frontier, like Raph Koster and Steve Meretzky, who were just joined at Playdom by BioWare's Gordon Walton.
"There's this whole slew of us just entering the social space... this just seemed like such a crazy, exciting time" for a new company, Brathwaite tells us. One of the pleasures of working at LOLApps was the feeling of a return to the scrappy, small-team environment in which all of these longtime designers formed their lasting working relationships and friendships.
To Romero, Brathwaite, Sirotek and Hall, it was "the perfect opportunity to start a company with friends and with people we've known for years," she says.
The Facebook space as breeding ground for new and meaningful game design forms, however, has been much debated, with plenty of questioning in the media and among fans about the gradual but notable migration of key talent from "AAA" development to social network games.
"The weird thing that happens when people say there's this massive 'brain drain' into these social games -- nobody would say there's a massive 'brain drain into first-person shooters' nor would anybody claim that all PC games are first-person shooters," she suggests, highlighting the key problem in her view: perception.
"Instead of thinking of Facebook as this amorphous 'social game thing', I think of Facebook as a platform," Brathwaite tells us, "on which I can have a huge variety of games and a huge variety of experience."
So while she concedes that the strategy-lite, farm, city and fashion simulators that proliferate all over Facebook appear to be "predominant" for now, she also believes "that game style is literally the tip of an iceberg." Instead of seeing a slew of veterans exiting the established games space to build generalized social titles, she sees new opportunities to investigate, and a massive addressable audience ready to receive new experiments in game design.
"500 million installed players... represents a huge market," she points out. "And it is dangerous to determine the type of games that people are making by the platform they choose to work on."
In Brathwaite's view, the next couple of years will bring more traditional types of games onto the Facebook platform, even as those popular genres simultaneously continue to grow and exist in the spaces they always have. "And I believe that the game design talent that's coming in... is what's going to make that happen," she says.
For now, being back on small teams with the some of the same friends and colleagues with whom she collaborated in the 1980s "is such an allure I can't even tell you."
And there's another unique chance for Brathwaite in developing for Facebook: "I am, for the first time in my entire career, my own target demographic; I am a woman in my 40s," she says. For the first time in her life, when she tells female friends in her age group what she's always done for a living ever since the Wizardry series, people don't picture "those shooter things". Nobody asks her "aren't games violent and horrible?" like they did decades ago when the form was less understood.
"That is wonderful for me, to be making games for my literal gender peers," she says. "And at the same time I get to work with friends I've known forever."
It was the right time to leave LOLApps, she says, now that Ravenwood Fair is well on its way and she and Romero are able to serve in more of a consulting role. And while Loot Drop isn't ready to unveil its current project, it's been announced that it'll be funded and published by social gaming company RockYou.
"I'll be going into Loot Drop to assist John in shipping his new game," she explains. "At some point I'm going to start a new game, but at this point, our focus is on the Facebook game he's working on."
"You have two game designers who have done nothing in their lives but make games," she enthuses. "It's constant; there is truly nothing else i would rather do. We live, eat, breathe and sleep games, and we are truly grateful for that."