It’s only been a couple of months since we profiled Agostino Simonetta in his new role at Sweden’s Thunderful Group, but already the former ID@Xbox director seems well established, heading up strategy and investment across a group that includes the studios Image & Form (SteamWorld), Zoink (Lost in Random), Coatsink (Jurassic World: Aftermath), as well as it’s most recent acquisition, Robot Teddy.
It’s that latest acquisition, announced earlier this month, that Simonetta seems most excited by, in as much as it establishes the three foundational pillars the group intends to build its future upon; development, publishing and, now, with the celebrated consulting agency and its founder Callum Underwood leading the way, investment – giving the group a reach it previously lacked. “That’s actually one of the appealing characteristics of Robot Teddy, its relationship with the independent community, but also how widely distributed and international it is, which is very important to us as we grow as a company.”
When MCV last spoke with Simonetta (MCV #970) he was still pondering a direction for Thunderful, or rather, all options in terms of genre, monetisation, and platform, were firmly on the table. With a bespoke response to every decision, every challenge, and every potential deal, there they’ll stay, with flexibility very much at the heart of how the group conducts its business. “Exactly” exclaims Simonetta. “You know, some businesses, especially large organisations, struggle to have that level of flexibility. As we grow, we want to make sure we build that flexibility into the DNA of the company, because the market is always evolving. The market is dynamic.”
SOMETHING THUNDERFUL IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
Less aligned with flexibility and more about visibility was Thunderful World, an online showcase that last night unveiled the games Thunderful would be releasing in the weeks and months ahead. As well as anticipated titles like Xbox console exclusive The Gunk and curious platform puzzler Cursed to Golf, it was revealed that Thunderful would be publishing the mobile release of indie favourite Super Meat Boy Forever, while the popular SteamWorld franchise would be moving into 3D with the third-person co-op adventure SteamWorld Headhunter.
The format of Thunderful World was familiar to anyone who’s been forced to watch any of the virtual-only showcase events over the last 18 months, whether Gamescom or DC FanDome, but there was an undeniable quirkiness to proceedings, thanks in part to the involvement of Mark Hamill. He cut a bemused figure compared to the more game-aware Geoff Keighley, but as well as the 16 games highlighted, it’s what helped the event stand out.
“One of the challenges we have right now” says Thunderful CEO Brjánn Sigurgeirsson, “ is that we are quite a new name, so I think it’s good for us to show the public that our line-up is actually quite extensive. Obviously we’re not going to show everything that we are working on, but a fair chunk of it, so it’s a good opportunity. I think it’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s a great marketing exercise” agrees Simonetta, “but the one thing I love about doing it – and I’m so happy that we can do it at Thunderful – is when you have developers, whether internal or developers we are partnering with, get that big moment of visibility. I wouldn’t dare to say that Thunderful has the power to shine the same level of light as the console platforms, but to have all the eyes of the industry on teams that’ve been crafting something special are very lovely moments. It’s a validation of the path we have taken.”
ALL THESES THUNDERFUL WORLDS
It’s been ten years (almost to the day) since the first Nintendo Direct gave some online insight into what a major publisher was working on, while for the likes of E3 and gamescom, the online showcase seems less assured. Is it one that Thunderful will persist with, or can we expect the company to revert to type in 2022 and hire a booth to tour the world’s revived game expos?
“We’ll see about that,” says Sigurgeirsson. “The pandemic has levelled the playing field a little bit in many ways, right? I mean, it’s not a question of whether a developer can afford to go to GDC or gamescom, as you can do it via video now. Also, it’s been done before and it’s a format that works. We can pre-record pretty much all of it and control it very tightly.”
“It’s the beginning of a great journey,” says Simonetta. “We have about 220 people in Thunderful Games. We have eight development studios across four different countries, and about 40 people in our publishing team. There is an awareness of Thunderful, that it’s really a European powerhouse in gaming and that’s something that is important for us, for people to understand.”