Soul-crushing crunch time to be sure to launch a new game on time; the risk of being fired once a project is complete; the multiplication of microtransactions in full-priced games while locking important features behind a paywall… The videogame industry is not living its brightest moment, but a new publisher, Modern Wolf, aims to set some new standards.
« I think that consumers are starting to ask questions about how their games are made, and that’s important », says Fernando Rizo, CEO of Modern Wolf. Directly after the Gamescom Convention in Cologne, Germany, where the company was « officially » introduced, Rizo took some time to answer Pieuvre.ca’s questions on gaming and ethics. « We’re holding ourselves to a high standard… We’re happy to stand up to that scrutiny and I think it’s important that consumers continue to apply pressure on developers that expect employees to work monstrously long hours. For better or worse, consumer pressure is one of the most important levers we have in modern capitalism », he adds.
Born on a « positively frigid » night on a business trip to Montreal, where Rizo, then Director of Marketing & Business Development for the Splash Damage Studio, was sent with the Creative Director, Andreas Gschwari, Modern Wolf centers around the idea of the wolf pack. « A family », explains Rizo by email.
« What I’m trying to do is make a publisher that developers trust because it’s scrupulously fair, always transparent, and holds itself to a high ethical standard. We’re on the same side as the devs. »
Was it risky to « come out » as an « ethical » publisher, when behemoth AAA studios and publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and others are sometimes known for the harsh working conditions of their employees, yet keep raking in money from game sales and other microtransactions? Wouldn’t it cast Modern Wolf as an outlier, condemned to the fringes of the industry? « Our positioning is what I truly believe, what my business partner Andreas truly believes, what our investors believe. I was an indie developer myself, and I worked for years as a consultant to other indies. Modern Wolf will treat developers the way I would want to be treated », mentions Fernando Rizo.
If it’s a risk, so be it, he says, before adding that it’d be a risk « that I’m happy to take ».
Hard road ahead
From rags to riches, however, there may still be a long way to go: a publisher has to sign developers, after all, then sell games. For its grand debut, so to speak, Modern Wolf has five indie games in development in its catalogue. If they range from science fiction to rogue-like political management, Rizo mentions that all of these titles are linked.
« I think that there’s a line connecting up everything in our catalog: they’re slightly slower-paced games, maybe a little more thoughtful games. I call them strategy-adjacent: we’re trying to build a catalogue of games that folks who play, say, Civilization or Crusader Kings or Rimworld would like », he explains.
« The selection had much more to do with how we got on with the developers and we saw eye-to-eye with them than anything else. Like I said, Modern Wolf is a family, and we’re trying to only bring in people that we want to work with again and again. Signing five games all at once like this is actually a bit crazy of us — some publishers take a couple of years to sign this many. I wanted us to make a big splash coming out of the gate and I think we’ve done that – it’ll pay dividends for all of our developers in the months and years to come, I hope. »
The first of the initial five games to be published by Modern Wolf, Necronator: Dead Wrong, described as a « deck-building twist on the lane defense strategy genre », is scheduled for this autumn. Another game, Ostranauts, a « noir spaceship-life sim », is supposed to come out in « late 2019 ».
As for the ethical side of business, Modern Wolf has already one measure in place: no crunch. So no period of extended overtime to finish a game in time. The publisher also prides itself of being particularly transparent with the developers.
« A lot of publishers I respect have reached out to offer their well wishes, and I appreciate that more than I can say. There’s a lot of truly great publishers out there like Raw Fury, Paradox, and No More Robots, among others. Us taking this stance isn’t a rebuke to everyone else in the space, just some. And I haven’t heard from any of those », mentions Fernando Rizo, before specifying that « the company plans to talk more about some of our other practices in the near future ».