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Former CEO of Bungie founds new multi-studio AAA game company

Former CEO of Bungie founds new multi-studio AAA game company

October 9, 2019 | By Kris Graft

The person who for years led Halo and Destiny developer Bungie has re-emerged with a new multi-studio game company that plans to create triple-A games within a non-traditional business structure.

Harold Ryan, who was CEO and president of Bungie for over 15 years (and orchestrated the 2007 divestiture from Microsoft) has unveiled ProbablyMonsters, which he said is a new kind of game company that’s not quite a studio, and not a publisher.

The privately-owned Issaquah, Wash.-based company guides and invests in new studios in which it is a majority owner. Ryan explained that these studios operate as standalone businesses under their own respective management, although ProbablyMonsters helps with business planning, helps flesh out inititial creative vision for games, and offers ongoing development support.

"The goal is to build development teams that eventually don't need me,” Ryan said in an interview with Gamasutra.

ProbablyMonsters has been operating in stealth mode since 2016, the same year Ryan left Bungie. The company already has two studios: Cauldron Studios and Firewalk Studios. Both studios are working on respective original triple-A games that have each been individually signed by a major publisher, and both are led by experienced talent.

Cauldron is headed by Dave Matthews, who has a long background in leading triple-A teams within franchises such as God of War and Myst, and also was lead character artist at SCEA and art director at Bungie and WB Games. Cauldron’s game director is CJ Cowan, who was story lead on Destiny's House of Wolves and Taken King.

Firewalk is led by Tony Hsu, who was SVP and GM of Activision Publishing’s Destiny unit. He’s working with Firewalk game director Ryan Ellis, who was creative director at Bungie and before that, lead artist at Oddworld Inhabitants.

After selecting the studios heads and game directors, ProbablyMonsters worked directly with the leaders of respective studios to help them lay the foundation to build a successful leadership team, to understand business realities, and establish the vision for a successful game. Then raising money was the next step, with funding coming from ProbablyMonsters itself and from external funders. Finding publishers for the games is also a key part of ProbablyMonsters' responsibilities.

A major focus for Ryan when founding the company was company culture, as he repeated themes of mutual respect, transparency, openness, and predictability within the business. He said for about a year after leaving Bungie, along with a small handful of colleagues, he was thinking about what he really wanted out of a new game company.

"[We were] really thinking about culture, business structure, what could we do that would help solve some of the social pressures on individual people on the teams, from a company structure point of view,” he said.

Ryan fully acknowledged that careers in game development are often tumultuous. Poor working conditions, studio closures, and general job instability continue to negatively affect industry talent. To try to counter that, he said he wants ProbablyMonsters' studios to be "predictable to the employees."

"[I'd like them to] understand what to expect when they come to work and what kind of environment they were going to be in,” he said. "I think more so than ever, game development is a career for people and it should be a place [where] everyone deserves the right to belong to a place where they're safe; where they can reliably show up for work and be a part of the team, and know what's going to happen."

Ryan said studios founded under the umbrella of ProbablyMonsters aren’t necessarily destined to stay there forever. "In success, those teams have the opportunity to become wholly independent,” he said, echoing the same kind of divestiture his previous company, Bungie, experienced in 2007.

A press statement said ProbablyMonsters closed a Series A funding round of $18.8 million led by Dallas Cowboys GM Jerry Jones and Crescent Real Estate Chairman John Goff of Goff Capital.

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