Pt 1: CEO Christofer Sundberg on how the studio is getting back on track

Avalanche: weathering the storm

The first thing Christofer Sundberg says as I switch on my recorder is that 2009 was a bad year for the company.

It’s the kind of blunt, untampered honesty that can catch people by surprise in an industry where “everything’s going just fine”, and where developers are overly keen to “thank our publisher for their exceptional support.”Gas Powered Games’ Chris Taylor didn’t go as far as saying that indie studios have lost their pride – and nerve – in an industry controlled by the heavy hand of publishers, but he made it clear that the concept of independence had faded over the years.Avalanche Studios remains the battered and bruised exception to the rule. The Swedish outfit is committed to holding onto its own IP, and its CEO Christopher Sundberg is not shy about calling it how he sees it. Of course, with the studio having cut some 100 staff in two years – along with postponing projects and buying new IPs – there was clearly a lot of ground Develop wanted to cover.

Part one below.

You just announced the acquisition of the IP rights for The Hunter. How did this come about?

Last year was a bad year for most companies including ourselves. Emote Games (The Hunter co-owner) suffered from financial problems so they weren’t able to continue their business, and continue their development of The Hunter.

So, as we are – and have always been – the developer of the game client, it became natural that we would be the ones driving the future development of the service. To actually make it happen there were many complicated contractual things we had to sort out, and we had to talk to the administrators of Emote, as well as the developer. So it has been a long negotiation process, but it’s finally sorted.

These things are always easier said than done.
Yes, and especially when a company goes out of business, the staff disappear and are less motivated to return calls and emails, so it was a long process but it’s done now.

How important is your own IP to staying independent?
Oh it’s key. And The Hunter is a huge IP for us. Unfortunately, it was just starting to really kick off just as the problems started last year. There is a lot of work to be done to gain back the confidence of the community, so we have to work hard on that.

The Hunter is actually the biggest investment we’ve ever put into our own IP, so it’s super important. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our employees and the community that we have promised to take care of this game and make it what we really want it to be.

How many users does The Hunter have today?
In all honesty I don’t know right now.

I read that it had over 100,000 at one stage.
It’s possible that’s the correct number for registered users, but the number of active users and paying subscribers has fallen quite drastically since November. It’s our priority to turn that around; we are going to release some new things for free so people come back on board.

We understand you’re working on a new project. I was wondering about your workforce allocation as Just Cause 2 is close to completion and The Hunter won’t need all your 100-plus staff…
Most of the company is working on this new big project. We are finishing up Just Cause 2, I think there’s less than ten people working on that game now as it gets closer to release.

What’s your new project?
Can’t say.

But most of your team is working on it?
Yes. And what’s happening with the hunter is that we’re going to announce a strategic change with Avalanche. What we are going to do is start up a new studio, with separate management, that will be able to focus 100 per cent on The Hunter.

We will own the studio but it needs to be managed as a separate studio; not as Avalanche. We’re the studio about big explosions and bodies flying around. [Laughs] I can’t give out any more details than that just yet.

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