Game industry veterans Guha and Karthik Bala have formed a new independent game studio called Velan Studios in New York.
The Bala brothers are best known for starting Vicarious Visions, an Activision-owned game studio that grew to more than 150 employees. That company worked on more than 100 games, including big console releases like Guitar Hero, Skylanders Swap Force, and Skylanders Superchargers. The company’s games sold as many as 40 million or 50 million units and generated billions in sales.
In an interview with GamesBeat, the brothers said they enjoyed their time at Vicarious, which lasted for more than 25 years, but they left earlier this year because they felt the urge to do something new.
“It was a great run,” Karthik Bala said in an interview. “Emotionally, it was very challenging to leave. It’s been our growth from childhood to adulthood. There are amazingly talented folks there.”
He added, “It was time. It’s like kids. They grow up.”
Velan Studios will focus on making experimental games. It will be based in Troy, N.Y., near Albany. The Bala brothers said they haven’t chosen to focus on anything new yet, such as mobile or virtual reality titles. Rather, they said they will assemble small teams that will begin prototyping games and then move forward based on the results.
In 1991, Karthik was 15 and Guha was 14 when they started Vicarious Visions during high school. Their first office was in their parents’ basement.
Troy is home to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where the brothers grew their first company in the institute’s incubator and tech park. They later moved the studio to Menands, N.Y., and then sold the company to Activision Publishing in 2005. They moved to the forefront of triple-A console games as part of Activision’s studio network.
“We are at a time when technology is exploding in every possible direction,” said Karthik Bala, founder and CEO. “New platforms, interfaces, sensors, cloud computing, maker technologies. The list goes on. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for new innovation, creativity, and commercial opportunity in video games.”
After leaving Vicarious in March, the brothers started spending time at leading universities to discuss the future of entertainment software and tools. They also formed Velan Ventures, a venture investment firm. But the brothers miss their old company.
The state of New York is keen to increase the economic impact of gaming with the Digital Gaming Hub program at universities, such as Rensselaer, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and New York University.
“Troy is a great location to expand the video game development landscape in the capital region because it is a place where more and more creative companies are calling home,” said Guha Bala, founder and president. “We are excited to bring more creative talent to the area and make the capital region of New York State a destination for the world’s best developers.”
Guha Bala said the goal is to build a core team of industry veterans with new talent from places like Rensselaer.
The Bala brothers said they managed a succession plan at Vicarious.
“We’ve always been entrepreneurs at heart,” Guha Bala said. “It was time to go back to our roots as entrepreneurs.”
Karthik Bala said, “The goal is to build a core team, so we can build prototyping teams to explore gameplay and new experiences.”
The name “Velan” means spear bearer in Tamil, and the company’s logo is a tip of the spear. That’s a reference to being on the leading edge of innovation in games.
“Our aspirations are to build a great studio,” Karthik Bala said.
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