Dino Patti was one of the business leaders behind single-player games such as Limbo and Inside. But he wished there was a way to easily make those single-player games into shared, networked experiences.
That’s why he co-founded a startup called Coherence in partnership with Peter Björklund, who helped create the networking technology behind the Frostbite game engine used in Electronic Arts’ games. The aim is to make networking, multiplayer, and persistence features available to small game developers who would otherwise have a hard time implementing them in their games.
Coherence is one of two startups Patti is working on. Earlier, he cofounded Jumpship with Chris Olsen to work on a new title called Somerville. Patti said that project is going well, and last year he convinced Chinese game giant NetEase to invest in Jumpship.
I caught up with Patti at the recent Gamelab conference in Barcelona. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What’s your new thing called?
Dino Patti: It’s called Coherence. It’s a creative idea, but we think it’s very doable, because we have one of the best network engineers on the team. He’s a Swedish guy called Peter Björklund. He did the network tech for the Frostbite engine. He knows exactly what it takes to make this. When we approached him and asked if he wanted to be part of it, he stepped right up, because it’s what he’s been thinking about for a long time, how to make network gaming work on a large scale.
GamesBeat: What was the basic concept? How far are you describing at this stage, what it can do and so on?
Patti: We’re still in development. Right now we’re working with some early-stage customers in shaping the tech. We’re planning on release in the first half of the next year, when it’ll be very usable in a self-service kind of way.
GamesBeat: Normally this would be something that each developer would have to make on their own. What will it replace or supplant?
Patti: If you want to do a network game, you can use this, but I really want–the point of streaming this is to convince people who are doing single-player games today that they could so easily make the same game networked. That’s where the interesting things are.
People who do networked games all do them the same way. People who do single-player games — one of my favorite examples of this is Journey, where there’s a networked interactive experience you can have within a single-player game. I feel that what’s important for us is that we need to enable small creators, one-person studios to five- or 10-person studios, to think about making their games online and persistent from the get-go, because it’s easy.
GamesBeat: Like Journey, they can bring in other players into something that’s normally a single-player experience?
Patti: This is just one of the concepts we’re working with, but I think there’s a quality in single-player games, and would it be so good to combine that experience with a network interaction. It doesn’t all need to be super hardcore competitive games and so on.
GamesBeat: Have you heard of the Hatch guys that spun out of Rovio? They’re doing cloud games on mobile platforms, and they talked about how bringing cloud into mobile was interesting, because then you could have someone spectate a single-player game. If you’re playing Monument Valley, someone could watch, and then when you hit a hard part you could hand the controls to someone else who knows how to play it.
Patti: Yeah, yeah, that’s super interesting. One of the interesting things with this is we create a coherent world where things can just connect. And when I say “things” I mean, there could be a console, a PC, or a mobile phone, and all of these things can reach into this world. One person could play with a phone and another person could play with a VR headset. They have different interfaces and they can do different things. There are so many game experiences to be had when we can connect all of those devices to something persistent and have something happening right away.
There are so many games that are single-player now, but it’s so easy to imagine them with online connections and persistence on a large scale. No one has done a Transport Tycoon on a global scale. But you could just start building in a place and build for so long that you eventually run into your friend, who’s started in a totally different place. There are endless things you can do.
The important thing is, this will happen if we enable small creators to do this without big investments. If you look at any other big game idea, some of the biggest games are made without the need for investment. Take DOTA, or Counter-Strike. Because they started without investment, they could be free to just do the best gameplay possible.
Lowering the barrier for creators is so important. When I look at Unity and what they’ve done for developers, taking a person who wasn’t a developer before, or maybe part of a team, and letting them sit down with Unity and create a game — I want that same person now to be able to do the same game by themselves, but networked, without any effort. Games can get more and more connected. So many games are being made by small teams now, and a lot of them aren’t networked simply because it’s so hard for that team to do it.
GamesBeat: How far along is the project? Is it a large team already, or a small one?
Patti: We’re still pretty small. Right now it’s important for us to build a core, and we’re pretty far with that. We still have a ways to go, but we’re aiming to be done by the beginning of next year, the first half at least.
GamesBeat: What was your earlier startup? Is that going parallel with this technology?
Patti: Jumpship? With Jumpship I’ve always been the executive producer, and I’ll continue to do that. With the game we’re doing right now, I don’t think there’s a need for the Coherence technology, but it’s definitely something I’ve talked with my partner about. We could unlock some things that couldn’t be done before.
That’s a separate company, though. Some super interesting things are happening there, and we’ll be doing some announcements later this year on that front.
GamesBeat: What else was inspirational here? Why did this opportunity come up for you?
Patti: I’ve always love tech, and I’ve always loved networking. Of course I’ve been driven to do single-player experiences for the last part of my life, and I also enjoy the emotional impact they have, but I’ve found that what I really liked about that is the impact. What turns me on about this tech is that we can have an impact. If we do this successfully, we can have an impact on how networked games can be made for the future and inspire people who didn’t think about networking before.
We could look back on this and see that we were the ones who started a revolution around making all games connected in some way. When we allow small creators to create some crazy shit, there will be some really fantastic things amid all this craziness.
GamesBeat: We talked about Improbable a little. Does anybody else out there seem to be doing anything that’s relevant to this space or similar?
Patti: For me, the challenge with the other engines out there is that they’re not focused on games. They didn’t start by building the core of things around games. We’re game developers in our company. We all know what game developers want and need and like. We’re trying to build this in the best possible way so people can just pick it up and use it. If you don’t do that in the beginning it’s super hard, I would say.
Then there’s the whole latency issue. Latency for games is incredibly important. Depending on the type of game you do, of course, but if you want to do FPS, it doesn’t take much latency to ruin the experience. As I said, we have the guy who built the Battlefield network tech, so he definitely knows what it takes to make these types of games responsive and realistic.
GamesBeat: How many companies have you started now altogether?
Patti: Only these two. [laughs] I’ve been involved in several things, but lately I’ve tried to focus on those two companies. Right now I’m trying to focus a lot on Coherence, because it needs more of my attention right now.
GamesBeat: Do you plan to raise any money?
Patti: Yeah, for sure. In many ways this is — with the vision we have for this company we’re looking at doing some raises, for sure.
GamesBeat: It still seems challenging to work on two things at once.
Patti: Yeah, but Superman is also a journalist. [laughs] Elon Musk is sending stuff to Mars while also making cars. But it’s super tough, and I’ve been stressed lately about a lot of things. I’m thinking about reaching the next level of my own personal development and finding out how to hire really smart people around me. My partner in Jumpship is a crazy talent.
I’m always looking to improve my personal workflow around the things I do. Coherence is something I’m going to stick to for a long time, because it’s going to be really exciting, the road we have in front of us. We already have things now that we’ll be able to talk about soon, new announcements and so on.
GamesBeat: Have you played anything lately that’s inspired you or become relevant to what you’re working on?
Patti: I haven’t had much time for games recently, to be honest. It’s just been work and family. But there are so many good games. I really need to go back and play some more.
GamesBeat: At this point, what was the impact of Inside? How was that personally fulfilling for you?
Patti: Being a part of creating that was amazing. We had a great team there. I’m really proud of that game. We had the patience and determination to do something really high-quality that nobody else dared to do. I learned a lot from that. But also, only the most hardcore gamers think about it right now. It’s weird how it’s died down a bit. You have so many good games coming out.
It’s becoming a harder and harder space — when you first played games like DOOM or Prince of Persia, you remember that a lot because there really wasn’t very much else. You could play that for a month or two before anything else released. It’s harder and harder to have that big impact. But it’s not a reason not to try.
That’s another reason why I think what we’re doing at Coherence is something that’s going to evolve and make a continuous impact. Something like Inside launches and peaks in sales, and of course it has a massive impact — many people were affected by the story — but you still have a really quick roll-off after that when you release games that way.
GamesBeat: If single-player games become more connected, what becomes the opportunity for them? People could just come back to these games over and over again, or never quit them?
Patti: If you look at games that have connected elements, they spread so much more. We all love couch games and play them at conferences, but they don’t spread as easily as games like Fortnite, where everyone plays with their friends in big groups. A lot of the way games spread is because you play them with other people.
Another thing is, when games become persistent online, we unlock so many new ways of building their business models. Right now we look at premium and free-to-play, but online you can build things like stores where you can trade. You can monetize in any way you want. You could do subscriptions and many other models. There are so many ways of exploring new business opportunities. We want to ensure that creators can create value and then find out how to monetize after that.
GamesBeat: David Cage mentioned yesterday that a lot of people played Detroit with their spouse or somebody else on the couch, more socially. It’s an interesting view of single-player games. Until Dawn did something similar.
Patti: I knew a lot of people who played Limbo and Inside with their girlfriend or boyfriend sitting beside them. But I still think there’s a barrier to those games spreading as much as a Fortnite or a PUBG or any other social online games.
Making it easier to let these games spread — when you think about it, how do images or videos go viral? Why can’t we make an easier way to get into games from different devices? If we have this connection between mobile phones and PC and everything else, wherever you get the link, people can join. We can have games that spread virally, with no installation, no barrier to entry.
Disclosure: The organizers of Gamelab paid my way to Barcelona. Our coverage remains objective.