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Former Bungie CEO Harold Ryan doesn’t do anything small. And so it’s no surprise that he is running one of the most ambitious video game startups in a long time. Today, Ryan’s ProbablyMonsters is announcing it has raised $18.8 million for the company’s two triple-A game studios.
Ryan has been running the Issaquah, Washington-based ProbablyMonsters in stealth since 2016, and today the company is revealing Cauldron Studios and Firewalk Studios. The combined teams have more than 70 employees.
“For me, starting ProbablyMonsters was really a chance to step back, think about all the things that I wanted to learn or should have learned over the last 25 years in games,” Ryan said. “It was also a chance to try a new approach. My goal was to set up a new category of company.”
In July, ProbablyMonsters closed a private $18.8 million Series A round led by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; John Goff, chairman of Crescent Real Estate and Goff Capital; Luther King Capital Management affiliates; gaming executive and venture capitalist David Oxford; and other private investors.
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The amount clearly isn’t likely to be all the money that the company needs. But as an opening round, it’s pretty good. And it can probably also get funding from game publishers that are working with each of its studios.
The company plans to offer a new business model for games focused on creating world-class development studios and original games. Each studio is working on an original triple-A game (intended for the PC or consoles) that has been signed by a leading (unannounced) game publisher.
As structured, ProbablyMonsters is a new category of game company for the next generation of gaming, neither a traditional developer nor a publisher. Instead, it creates and sustains independently operated development studios, each specifically formed to develop hit entertainment franchises in genres they are passionate about.
Under Ryan’s leadership, the ProbablyMonsters team wants to establish a strong foundation built on successfully leading multiple triple-A games while establishing a positive creative culture, starting with studio formation, culture, people development, creative development, funding, staffing, administrative, and technical needs. Ryan wants to help mentor the teams to build the right culture and communicate well about the values and expectations for the workplace.
This kind of ambitious game startup doesn’t happen every day. But Ryan has had a unique career. He had a good run at Bungie, taking leadership roles at the studio that made Halo and Destiny for 16 years, from 2000 to 2016. During that time, the studio grew from less than 100 to more than 600 people.
With over 20 years of game industry history, Ryan has been part of teams that generated over $5 billion revenue through blockbuster franchises such as Halo, Destiny, Age of Empires, and MechWarrior. He has held distinguished roles including CEO and President of Bungie as well as key positions at Microsoft and with Ensemble Studios and FASA Studios.
Ryan negotiated Bungie’s divestiture from Microsoft in 2007 and demonstrated the company’s vision as a leading independent game developer while securing over a billion dollars in funding and forging strategic partnerships with Activision, Sony, and Microsoft. He is known for creating exceptional and highly creative results — both critically and commercially — with efficient teams, clear goals, and an atmosphere of respect and transparency.
The tenure at Bungie wasn’t free of controversy. Ryan got into a controversial pay dispute with Halo’s music composer Marty O’Donnell, and that wound up in tough litigation. That sort of personnel battle seemed to happen regularly at Bungie, which was always a high-stakes company.
After leaving the company in 2016, Ryan said he was able to spend time with his family, including helping his son work on a computer science project during the summer. He called that an amazing experience.
Then he began dreaming up the structure and culture for ProbablyMonsters. The name comes from quizzing about what his new company would do, with the typical response being, “I don’t know what it will be but it will probably have monsters in it.”
The culture is designed to be enticing for game developers who crave stability, diversity, inclusion, and respect, Ryan said. Stability in particular is not something that many game developers enjoy in today’s industry. Ryan wanted to learn how to grow a triple-A team from scratch and give it the backing so that developers could create with independence, freedom, and less worry about the future.