Crunch culture has become the hot topic of the last 12 months. MCV@gamescom speaks to Fernando Rizo, CEO of new publishing outfit Modern Wolf, about how it’s trying to treat devs better.
Modern Wolf is a new indie publisher, which hopes to succeed because it’s more ethical in its approach, rather than despite it. The publisher is funded by ex-Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood and his Supernova Capital fund,
Modern Wolf is run by CEO Fernando Rizo, who recently moved on from Splash Damage too, and has broad digital marketing experience. He told us: “Consumers are starting to care about how their games are made and about the conditions under which developers work.”
He then explained why he’s the one to lead this new approach: “I was a biz dev and marketing consultant for lots of different industry groups. I helped those guys negotiate a ton of publishing deals and every time I did that I thought: ‘A lot of these publishing deals are pretty predatory’.
“I thought: ‘could an empathetic person, who’s done this process a million times, who’s been an indie dev themselves, could they set up a publisher that was designed to be more developer-centric, more transparent?’”
He hopes to achieve that by putting “a premium on the stability of the businesses” the firm will work with: “Indie devs are fragile and they have to jump through some pretty awful hoops just to get a game out of the door for a publisher, so let’s make a publisher that doesn’t act like that, let’s make a publisher that helps make indies sustainable businesses, coaches them if necessary and provides continuity funding after the game ships.”
And such funding can make the difference between a dev surviving and not, claimed Rizo: “I worked with a couple of different indies that were on the verge of going out of business after the game shipped, because the first royalty cheques took two to four months to show up.
“Could an empathetic person, who’s done this process a million times, set up a publisher that was designed to be more developer-centric, more transparent?”
“We want to create a scenario where nobody has to get laid off, where you can keep your talent in-house to work on the next thing. We’ll cover you.”
More flexibility sounds great, but games still need to ship to make a profit for developer and publisher both. Modern Wolf will then have to tread a careful line between kindness and pragmatism.
“We can help the developer create a milestone plan at the beginning – we’re not going to impose arbitrary milestones from above, we’re going to work with them, the plan will change, but the game does need to ship, roughly on time,” Rizo concurred.
Modern Wolf is vocal about trying to care for the mental health of its developers, as much as it can at least: “We’re not doctors, but having been in those developers’ shoes, we know what the common causes of stress are: cashflow and random shifting requests from publishers. We can limit those by saying you’ve got final creative control of your product, we’re never going to tell you: ‘It’s two months out, you should have multiplayer.’”
We asked him if making life easier for developers will make it harder for the publishing team: do consumers care about publishers’ mental health?
“Probably not,” Rizo laughed. “But we’re happy to eat that stress if it makes our developers’ lives easier. One of the things we have with Supernova backing us is that we can help our developers become sturdier businesses, we offer leadership coaching, we offer financial workshops: planning expansion, hiring intelligently,” he continued.
The publisher is also keen to find games from under-represented regions, such as one of its five launch titles, Toge productions’ Necronator: Dead Wrong, from Indonesia. “It’s maybe not the most ‘hard-nosed’ business decision, but I would love to find folk from less represented regions. We can expose them to a bigger audience, and it would do the universe of game dev good if there were more diverse voices represented,” concluded Rizo.