After operating without fanfare for several months, development studio PushButton Labs has formally announced its existence and stated its plans to target "emerging consumer markets" with web-driven games and other software.
The Eugene, Oregon-based studio was established by GarageGames co-founders Jeff Tunnell and Rick Overman; Tunnell was also a co-founder of now-defunct developer Dynamix, where Overman was an early employee.
Also on board is fellow GarageGames veteran Tim Aste, who spoke to Gamasutra prior to today's announcement about PushButton's multi-pronged strategy. The company plans to take full advantage of the increasingly diverse ways games are now developed and distributed.
Tiered Development To Mitigate Risk
"We are stepping away from boxed products almost entirely," he explained. "Our new games will be targeted towards being digitally distributed and being web-based, and all the grey areas in between."
Aste explained that part of PushButton's business model is to establish new game properties that can be initially created with Flash or other web-based platforms, with the more successful such titles moving onto larger-scale production.
"If the test goes well in the wild, we can step it up a notch and sink more time, effort, and money into that title and bring it to a more official distribution outlet, or even just put all that effort back into the web game and improve it," he said.
But on the other hand, "If it flops and gets no traction, we are hit with minimum setbacks in time and money, not nearly as much as if we had spent a year and blew through a large budget."
With that model, Aste said, PushButton hopes to avoid many of the budgetary issues currently afflicting the industry and retain the ability to attempt innovative designs without prohibitive risk.
"A Very Large Pond"
One of the studio's first Flash games is Grunts: Skirmish
, described at one point as "tower defense meets Advance Wars
." Its development process is an example of the scalability PushButton plans to achieve: "The art for the game is 2D Sprites rendered from 3D animated models, so if it ever took off it would be a quick process to level that game up to a more extensive version," says artist Aste.
It's also an example of the open-ended view PushButton takes of its chosen genres and platforms.
Aste says the studio's focus is "solely web-based and social gaming," but rather than staying within the traditional confines of that world ("most people think of Flash as vector-based 'find the hidden object' games"), the company finds that in reality, social and web games are part of "a very large pond, with everything from tiny Facebook games, to Flash games that get millions of plays, to the high-end stuff like what is going on over at InstantAction or Blurst."
Open Source For Fun And Profit
One interesting aspect of PushButton's development strategy is its heavy use of open-source development tools. Although its founders come from GarageGames, which develops the affordable but for-profit engine Torque, PushButton is creating an open-source content management system as well as an open-source Flash game engine.
Why? "We have to make this technology for our games either way," Aste explains. "By putting this technology out there under the MIT license we are actually getting more work done on it for free than if we had paid to have programmers in-house. It's also proliferating faster than if we charged for it while helping a lot of developers with their own projects."
The company can then later charge for "premium components and assets," while keeping the core tech free and open.
"The engine is more of a framework in that sense. There will be plenty of free components of course," says Aste. For example, "we have written a component-based networking library for one of our games to enable multiplayer. We will put that up for sale for a small fee, and it will plug right into the engine."
The company even plans to allow other developers to get in on the act: eventually, anyone who creates new components for PushButton's open-source tech will be able to share or sell their additions via an officially-supported marketplace.
While PushButton hasn't yet indicated a timeframe for any of its projects, Aste said the company has news "in the near future" about a "classic game property [rescued] from the nether world of a PC game publisher collapse."