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The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment has created Skybound Games specifically for publishing indie games. The new division will start off by bringing Monomi Park’s Slime Rancher and Hinterland’s The Long Dark to physical retail for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
505 Games cofounder Ian Howe will head up the new publishing venture. In the 11 years he was president at 505 Games, he brought indie darlings such as ConcernedApe’s Stardew Valley and Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve to consoles. Skybound Games will also incorporate this strategy of scouring Steam for successful PC titles to bring to other platforms, but it has other plans as well.
“The second part of it would be about Skybound’s in-house creators and IP. Can we make really great content there?” Howe said in a phone call with GamesBeat. “And then the third part will be, I guess, much more traditional publishing, creating gaming IP. That will all come from partnering with great developers.”
Skybound Entertainment’s flagship comic book series The Walking Dead has already spawned several games, like Telltale Games’ award-winning series and Scopely’s popular mobile role-playing game The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. And it’s looking to replicate that success with other IP in its portfolio — like Kirkman’s satire of and homage to the superhero genre, Invincible. That series, which ran for 14 years, is already getting the Hollywood treatment and Skybound president Dan Murray confirmed that they’re searching for developers to turn it into a game as well.
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“When it comes to a brand like Invincible, that world, we wanted to be patient, when it came to finding the right partner,” said Murray. “We’ve been having multiple conversations and we keep getting closer to getting some of that stuff into the pipeline. [Skybound Games] is another step in that direction. It’s our number one priority, outside of what we’re doing today.”
While Skybound has turned The Walking Dead into games, it’s also reached out to developers about turning their work into movies. In 2016, it announced that it was working with indie dev Night School Studio to adapt its spooky time-traveling adventure game Oxenfree into a movie and other mediums.
“Philosophically, at Skybound, the whole intention of what we’re trying to build toward is figuring out ways to not just make more Walking Dead games, but really looking at developers as creators just like we do a comic book artist or an author,” said Murray. “The whole philosophy at Skybound, the business model, is to put creators at the center of everything we do.”
For Skybound Games, that means figuring out what kind of value it can add as a publisher. Howe says this is different for every developer, and it’s a puzzle that he started thinking about when he was heading up 505. Self-publishing has become more accessible for developers because of platforms like Steam, which leaves small publishers in a tricky position.
“I started to evaluate where a publisher can add value, and that really led—it came almost from a position of humility,” said Howe. “Why do we exist? That led to figuring out where we can add value. As Dan said, how do we solve problems that traditionally occur in game development? Not on the technical side, but more on the commercial side. How do you find an audience? How do you stand out?”
Murray says that user acquisition and creating a community is one of the company’s strengths. It attends “about 100 different conventions” in a year, including San Diego Comic-Con, which boasts over 130,000 attendees. As a publisher, Skybound Games is pitching itself as a service that can help developers find and cultivate a fan base.
The kinds of games it’s looking for vary widely as well. It’s launching with The Long Dark and Slime Rancher, two fairly different titles. The former is all about grim survival in the wilderness and the latter is a colorful open-world simulation game about farming and capturing adorable blobs. Both titles have found success on their own — The Long Dark has sold 1.3 million copies and Slime Rancher has passed the 1 million mark as well.
“We can help these guys grow even more. We can explore other opportunities with them. They can do all of that without having to give up their IP. They can retain their absolute independence, which we’re completely fine with,” said Howe. “We’re at their service, to help them grow their audience. We can give them advice and guidance as to what our experience is, but ultimately they own their IP. They own their audience. That’s important, that they retain that. We can just assist them in growing even more.”
And though Skybound has experience with turning franchises into a multiplatform experience, Murray says they’re not restricted to only looking to publish games that can be turned into, for example, a movie or a comic book series.
“It’s really more about the genres that we think about, less about trying to categorize what this might specifically be from a transmedia standpoint. We don’t actually consider ourselves a transmedia company. We’re just a company that makes things that become transmedia,” said Murray with a laugh. “The Walking Dead never set out to be a transmedia IP. It became the ultimate transmedia IP because we just rolled up our sleeves and started making things.”
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