Indie publisher Raw Fury announced in December that it raised a seed round of $600,000, and it revealed today that one of the angel investors is Multiplay founder Craig Fletcher, who invested $125,000. Other investors who participated include former Unity CEO David Helgason and former Electronic Arts executive Karl Magnus Troedsson, who led the round.
U.K. retailer Game Digital acquired the game server hosting company Multiplay in 2015, and Fletcher stayed on as senior vice president of esports. Game sold Multiplay’s digital division to Unity in November, and in December, Fletcher left to start his investment fund and consultancy Wicked Sick. He is still involved and consults with Game as a “brand ambassador.”
“So Wicked Sick is the entity I set up to do consulting, advising, helping people either outside the industry understand what is this games thing, or esports,” said Fletcher in an interview with GamesBeat. “There’s very few people who have built successful companies in esports, exited them, and/or are independent. All the people who you want to talk to are usually aligned to a brand or an esports organization. I can talk very independently and say what I think about all of them, what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
Fletcher has a long history with esports. He began hosting LAN (local area network) parties in 1995, running tournaments for games like Id Software’s Doom II. After founding Multiplay, he also started Insomnia Gaming Festival, one of the U.K.’s biggest game events, where folks can bring their own computers or consoles to play with other people. That started in 1999 and is still running. In addition to Insomnia, Multiplay has organized several other social gaming events like the Minecraft convention Minecon in 2012.
With Fletcher’s well-documented interest in multiplayer games, it might seem odd that he’s teaming up with Raw Fury, which has a portfolio of mainly single-player titles like the stylish Metroidvania Dandara, the fiefdom-building side-scroller Kingdom, and the upcoming strategy game Bad North. However, Fletcher says that he’s passionate about single-player experiences as well. And he’s seeing how communities can emerge around these types of games.
“There would be releases of big single-player games, like Deus Ex, something like that, and you’d see people bringing their PCs from all over the country to take part in this LAN party [at Insomnia], and they’d spend half the event playing single-player games, because it was the big new game that had come out,” said Fletcher. “Ultimately it’s about a shared experience. There’s five people sat round that now, and only two or playing, but they’re all sharing the experience. That’s the thing about LAN parties. ‘How did you get past that bit?’ ‘How did you do on that boss?’ It’s part of bringing people together to share a passion for games.”
Raw Fury also has multiplayer in its repertoire. Kingdom: Two Crowns is a two-player expansion on the original game, adding in split-screen adventuring. And its psychedelic platformer Uurnog Uurnlimited lets player two play as a tiny dog-like creature on player one’s leash.
Fletcher says that it’s gotten a lot easier for indie developers to incorporate multiplayer into their games in recent years. This is mainly because of third-party providers and tools, and as examples, he points to his company Multiplay along with PlayFab, a live game operations startup that Microsoft recently acquired.
“My old company, Multiplay, were bought by Unity to provide a very easy way to deploy servers and not have to worry about running a live ops team,” said Fletcher. “You look at some of the middleware providers getting bought up, whether it’s PlayFab or people like that, where they abstract out a lot of this stuff. There will be more tools developed that allow you to do more. Certainly as the big three cloud platforms come in and want to help, they’re buying up these tools and including them in their stack to help developers focus on making their game great, not worrying about what their TCP [Transmission Control Protocol] stack looks like.”
Fletcher thinks indies will innovate in the multiplayer space. He cites games like Kingdom: Two Crowns as well as the couch co-op resurgence that has manifested in titles like Ghost Town Games’ Overcooked on the Nintendo Switch.
One of the questions Fletcher gets is how to “make an esports game,” and his answer is that that isn’t really possible. Instead, he says to focus on engaging players and creating a community around a title. And this can come from any developer, triple-A or indie. For instance, Overcooked already got some playtime at a recent Insomnia event.
“You can put all the building blocks in place for it to become an esports game, but those games are crowned by the community,” said Fletcher. “They’ll decide if they’ll adopt your game as an esports title. Some of the earliest titles in esports were in spite of, rather than because of, their publishers and their developers. And so it’s interesting how that works out.”
Ultimately, Fletcher says what drew him to invest in Raw Fury was his relationship with the team, whom he got to know while many of them were at Paradox Interactive, along with what he calls its “core ethos.”
“There’s a really good curation process,” said Fletcher. “And they know what they love. If a lot of us who are gamers love something, it’s a good chance that a good chunk of the gaming population is going to love it too. So I think it’s the culture of, we’re all gamers, we want to make games that other gamers would love too, and the selection process they go through is really good for that.”