Rime developer Tequila Works has signed a publishing agreement with new UK start-up Glowmade.
The firm will publish an unannounced free-to-play "creation" game that will be released on mobile initially, with versions coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch. The game will be playable across all platforms except PS4, so gamers can pick up the game on one system and continue on another.
"I think this game is going to change how people will perceive indies, because they can create their own indie game," Tequila Works CEO Raúl Rubio tells GamesIndustry.biz.
"I hope people like it, because what Glowmade has made is really astonishing. This is something that will change how some games are made, and how games are perceived by the public."
Glowmade co-founder and technical director Jonny Hopper adds: "Back in the day, I did a lot of work with Media Molecule and I worked on the first two LittleBigPlanets. When we started the project, we had a little social vignette creator. You could make these little dioramas and put your stuff in and it was interactive and fun to do. That was always the core of it, and then we kind of ended up just thinking, let's just turn this into a proper game. Because that's even more fun. We've always been about making something creative that empowers people."
Glowmade is the second Guildford studio Tequila Works has partnered with following its recent partnership with Cavalier Game Studios on The Sexy Brutale. Yet whereas that was a full co-development relationship, the deal with Glowmade is closer to a traditional publishing deal.
"We have some sort of love relationship with Guildford," laughs Rubio. "Maybe it is because in Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect was from Guildford. Even though he wasn't, he was from a planet close to Betelgeuse.
"As you know, The Sexy Brutale was a co-production with Cavalier Game Studios, who were Lionhead. I was good friends with a lot of people from Lionhead before it closed. Some of the staff moved elsewhere, and some of them stayed in Guildford and started their own studios. And one of them is Glowmade. When Jonny knew we were supporting Cavalier, they approached us. They showed us an idea they had, actually it was a game they had, actually it was a technology they had. It was very big, and we were blown away because the possibilities are amazing.
"We decided that the best we could do, because they had the vision and the creativity, was to be the publisher. In the same way we published The Sexy Brutale, but in this case we are more like a mentor. They are the developers. Of course we are providing assistance in everything we can. Sometimes we provide help with animation, art, whatever."
"We are not going to be those publishers that go: 'This beer is nice, but can you make it more wine?' Why would we want to do that?"
Raúl Rubio, Tequila Works
Hopper continues: "We basically ran out of money. We were trying to get funding, and I emailed Raúl because I knew him a bit. I said we needed some money, and asked if they had any projects that we could help out on, and he said, 'No, but we have some money. We want to do publishing. Let's talk.' So that really worked out. We found a share vision on the game, and we went from there. It happened really fast."
The deal is the latest in Tequila Work's evolution into a full games publisher, although the firm says it's currently only committing to one externally developed project at a time.
"Glowmade has freedom to do what they want," Rubio explains. "They are the developer. This is their game. We don't want to step on their shoes because we are developers ourselves, and we know that creativity doesn't work that way. We are not going to be those guys that go, 'This beer is nice, but can you make it more like wine?' Why would we want to do that? With Glowmade it is very simple. We are trying to mentor them, because cross-platform is very difficult, free-to-play is super difficult, mobile is something that is very obtuse and arcane. And dealing with distributors is also a pain... we are supporting all of that pain, so they can focus on what we know is essential, which is the creativity to make a great game. As developers, we think it is our duty to support other developers through that."
He continues: "With Tequila Works we have learned, the hard way, how to do marketing and distribution. It would be a shame if we are not taking advantage of that to help others. When we started we were helped ourselves. Hello Games, for example, helped us a lot, and Double Fine... A strong community means that there will be better games, fewer clones and more originality."
Glowmade fits into the Tequila Works' pattern of supporting small, inventive indie products from experienced teams. Despite the big success it has had with Rime and The Sexy Brutale, the company says it has no plans to scale up and start building AAA-sized products.
"We could [go AAA], but we won't," Rubio continues. "We've been in AAA before. We've been there, done that. It's not something that we're particularly excited about. "If we were to make a Tequila Works game with 300 people I'm fairly sure it would be amazing, but it's not what we want to do. If you are making a super big game with an $80 million budget, there's no way we can be risky. If you're going to spend hundreds of millions, then you have to base it around basic, visceral instincts, like shooting people in the face. But when you try to go deeper, and we are becoming adults so we have deeper messages to share, then bigger budgets are never the answer."
Glowmade is a small team of six core members, with additional freelance support, and its creative culture fits with Tequila Works' own. This is a developer that puts creativity at the heart of its plans - in fact, the team first met during one of Lionhead's famous Creation Days, where staff were asked to build a game prototype in two days.
"I started the company in 2015 with two guys, Adam and Mike. We became friends at one of the Lionhead Creative Days"
Jonny Hopper, Glowmade
"Me, Adam and Mike, and another guy called Ian who works at Hello Games now, we put together this two-day prototype called Inkwells on the Creative Day," recounts Hopper. "It was a modern day text adventure that was all about footprints being drawn out over pieces of paper and it being narrated. It was very beautiful. We became friends. The opportunity then came to start the company, which happened before the Lionhead closure. We had complementary skill sets, Adam is the artist and Mike is the designer, so it was a good starting point."
Hopper says that having a fellow developer as a publisher has been a refreshing experience.
"If you talk to a lot of developers, you'll find most of them have a horror story about a bad publisher experience," he says. "Tequila Works has been really amazing. They've basically said that they trust our vision and told us to get on with it. They've supported us and given us feedback, but they've left us to make a lot of the decisions. We're not being pushed into doing something we don't want to, which can happen. Because they get it, and know what we're going to do. They've been supportive of the decision making process."
One of the things that Tequila Works and Glowmade are most excited about is the ability to play across platforms.
"[Cross play] was always important in my mind," says Hopper. "I wanted it to be seamless and easy, and it is. That was definitely one of the design decisions that we made. The guy who is doing our Xbox development, he can load it up and see what we've been doing on our iPhones. There are some unanswered political questions about how well it will work. We need to make sure that the platform holders are okay about that. There are lots of issues around moderation and what we can and can't do on certain platforms. PC is the wild west, you can do whatever you want. iOS has more strict terms, and then Sony, Nintendo and Xbox are even more strict. We need to figure out how to make that work."
Well, PlayStation is currently prohibiting cross-platform play entirely.
"Nintendo is usually perceived as being this super traditional, Kyoto, family-owned company. But they support cross-platform. If Nintendo can find a way, then I'm sure Sony can find a way"
Raúl Rubio, Tequila Works
"Sony isn't really a priority, because they've got their own creative gaming franchises, which is made just down the road" continues Hopper. "I don't want to compete with Dreams or LittleBigPlanet. We're not trying to do that. It's more about Microsoft and Nintendo, and we actually think the Nintendo version could be the definitive version of them all, because you have the tactility of the touch screen, but you get the controllers as well. We are excited about that one."
Rubio continues: "Nintendo is usually perceived as being this super traditional, family-owned company, but they're super cool. They support cross-platform. For us, this is amazing. If Nintendo can find a way, then I'm sure Sony can find a way."
This project is a new experience for Tequila Works and Glowmade. It is their first cross-play project, first free-to-play title and their first mobile game, too. It will be a learning experience for them both.
"We understand PC, we understand console, but we don't have much experience in mobile," admits Rubio. "So to understand this super competitive market is key, because we are used to spending time polishing the game and making it perfect. But in mobile it is a different world, in the sense that if we don't do a soft launch then we are not going to get any player metrics.
"And this isn't just another Clash of Clans. We are proposing something different."
Hopper concludes: "On mobile, there is nothing quite doing what we're doing. We thought that was a good starting point."