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Pandemic co-founder turns toward social games

Pandemic co-founder turns toward social games

January 4, 2012 | By Tom Curtis




It's been two years since the closure of renowned Mercenaries developer Pandemic Studios, and company co-founder Greg Borrud has since announced his return to game development.

But like other veterans of the games industry, he has strayed from his roots as a "hardcore game" developer, and instead hopes to find success in the growing social market with the foundation of L.A.-based Seismic Games, where Borrud serves as CEO.

Seismic announced its existence Wednesday, and also confirmed it raised $2 million in series A funding, led by DJF Frontier, DFJ Network partner fund and venture capitalist Tom Matlack.

Fellow Pandemic co-founders Josh Resnick and Andrew Goldman have moved away from games since Pandemic parent Electronic Arts closed the studio in 2009, but Borrud told Gamasutra that his passion for games hasn't waned since Pandemic's end, and he wanted to make sure he could return to the industry with more foresight than ever.

"There was a period there where Josh, Andrew and myself, the co-founders of Pandemic, had to remain neutral. We couldn't do anything for a period of time," explained Borrud. "It was an interesting time to be forced to not work, in a way, but it was a great advantage because we had an opportunity to lift our heads out of the craziness that was going on and take a look around and see what is happening in games right now."

As it turns out, Borrud saw something special happening on social networks. He said the smaller projects and emerging business models would let him take creative risks more easily, while at the same time would protect the company if those risks don't pan out.

"I'm not sure I was excited about any of the games I was playing in the social space, but I was excited by the ability to, with relatively low risk, try stuff out. When you put out a new game [on social networks], you aren't betting the whole company on it. You're betting a decent amount of money, but you can turn it out in a year, and you can really push the boundaries."

Thus, Borrud, along with Chris Miller of Vivendi and Eric Gewirtz of Pandemic and Activision, last year founded Seismic Games, which is aimed primarily at social gaming. Now that he's gotten his foot in the door, Borrud finds the social space reminiscent of the days when he first founded Pandemic.

"Honestly, the climate reminds me a lot of when we started Pandemic in 1998. We started as a PC developer, and we saw that space grow and we grew onto the consoles. We've seen that history, and we see that potential in social games. Getting in at the ground floor is incredibly exciting."

According to Borrud, social games are still very much in their infancy, and if things play out the way he expects, Seismic Games is prepared to adapt to where the market is headed.

"What I saw in all this was a replay of the mid-90s. It was like I was looking at Sim City, or Command & Conquer, or Warcraft. I felt like I was looking at RTS games from the mid-90s, and I was like, 'I've seen how this plays out!' Games started here, but then got really good and even more mass-market, especially as they started focusing more on the characters."

Borrud explained that as PC gaming moved into the new millennium, the games became more personal, focusing more on characters than large-scale management scenarios. With the social space currently dominated by city management titles like CityVille or Empires and Allies, the space could be primed to see a similar transition.

"For us, the question is: How do we bring in some of these light role-playing elements and make it more focused on my guy than on my farm or on my city? We've seen that with things like Sim City going to The Sims, and we think that same thing will happen in social games."

Despite likening the social space to the hardcore PC market of the 1990s, Borrud said he has no desire to make games for that audience again. Rather, he hopes to take lessons learned in the hardcore space to help make his studio's social games a bit more interesting for the casual player.

"For us, the excitement is reaching those new audiences. Those audiences that don't know the history of games, who haven't played Diablo or Call of Duty. The idea isn't to make hardcore games for a casual consumer, but there are certain game elements that make those games so compelling, and we want to direct those elements at a more casual consumer, to help bring the entertainment back into these games."

Seismic Games has yet to reveal its current projects, but hopes to debut its first game in early 2012.


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