Earlier this year, Aidan Karabaich and Anthony Leung left Riot Games to co-found their own studio, Singularity 6. And while their new studio's work will certainly be informed from their experiences at the League of Legends developer, they aren't looking to compete with their old employer. In fact, speaking with GamesIndustry.biz yesterday, Leung said competition may not be much of a focus for them at all.
"In general, [the industry] has a really big focus on high intensity, competitive games," Leung said. "That's a major trend people are rapidly following. With our first product, we're taking something that might have some competitive elements, but there's a real opportunity in the game space that's being underdelivered in low competitive experiences right now."
"We want to build a future where games have a positive impact on our players and games are adding meaningfully to their lives in a positive way"Aidan Karabaich
They aren't the only ones who think there's an underserved audience there right now. In announcing the studio today, Singularity 6 also revealed that it has secured $2.5 million in seed funding from venture capitalist firm London Venture Partners, whose portfolio also includes Unity and Boss Studios, among others. Leung said LVP was their first choice of partner for this endeavor because of the firm's particular focus and expertise in gaming. Where other VCs might be more attracted to buzzy markets like esports, augmented reality, or blockchain, LVP's familiarity with the industry might make it more confident pursuing overlooked opportunities instead of chasing trends.
Karabaich said that their goal is to create "a genre defining social simulation experience," a game that combines deep and compelling gameplay with the sort of enriching community that can be found in the best anecdotes about guilds in games like World of Warcraft, Everquest, or Ultima Online.
"We want to take that experience and put a huge emphasis on developing that in any product that we're making and really bring that to the forefront," Karabaich said. "We want to make that a typical experience people expect to have, coupled with compelling gameplay loops inside of it... We want to build a future where games have a positive impact on our players and games are adding meaningfully to their lives in a positive way."
That ambition to be a force of good in their players' lives is something the pair return to time and again during the discussion.
"Society is changing a lot with technology, and we think in the near future that means changes to how our culture and lifestyle affects us finding value and meaning and social fulfillment," Leung said. "We think that games play a key part in that fabric of our lifestyle, at least serving as more than just superficial entertainment. And that's the space we want to deliver on."
"Society is changing a lot with technology, and we think in the near future that means changes to how our culture and lifestyle affects us finding value and meaning and social fulfillment. We think that games play a key part in that fabric of our lifestyle..."Aidan Karabaich
Of course, there's no shortage of stories in the games industry about players who care deeply for a game but express that affinity in toxic ways. But Karabaich and Leung seem mindful that optimizing for engagement is not the same thing as having a positive influence on people.
"A huge component of that is something that in many ways dictates what kind of community exists within your title, is the game design," Karabaich said. "Because we know we're looking to build a really strong and positive community from the outset, we can have that impact the design decisions we're making at this stage and be very intentional about the kinds of things we allow players to have in terms of interactions and what they're able to do between each other."
Leung namechecked a few titles that serve as helpful reference points as they try to achieve that.
"Some of the titles that are huge influences for us are The Sims, Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild," Leung said. "And when you think about how you add an online community to that, we're definitely thinking we really want to have much more options to select, to opt into it. You're not by default opted into the entire social media experience; it's more like choosing which experiences you want to be part of."
That's not to say they're leaving their experience at Riot behind. Karabaich said the studio's focus on players is something they plan to carry over.
"We absolutely make decisions around what is going to be the best outcome for players," he said. "On the monetization side, we take that as the number one we're basing decisions around. What is going to create the best experience for our players long term, and what is going to be the best outcome for them?"
As for what won't be carried over, Riot's recent workplace culture woes would be something to avoid. Given that Singularity 6 is working in a social simulation genre, Karabaich hopes women will be a major portion of the audience, if not the primary one.
"We absolutely think that's just another reason when we look at how we're building out this team, that's an important component for us to have representation at all levels of the company," he said. "That's for many reasons, but one of those is that the kind of products we're building, we think a large part of that target audience will be female."
However the fan base is composed, Singularity 6 has some time to build it. The studio is considering an Early Access release of its debut title, but even an in-development release would be at least a year away.