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Aurora Punks founder Robert Bäckström wanted to find a way to help small indie studios creative innovative games while trying to navigate the complexities of working with big publishers. So he turned to his experience as a punk rocker to create a video game collective.
Bäckström had the experience of being both a successful game developer and a former punk rocker and music publisher. He had a label, Skrammel Records, and it was all about helping scrappy punk bands survive. The rockers had a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos about helping other bands in the hardcore scene where he grew up. They helped each other arrange shows, produce records, and deal with promotion and other tasks with limited resources, he said in an interview with GamesBeat.
“Working together is key — with minimal distance between creator, instigator, and audience,” he said.
And that’s how he has organized Aurora Punks, as a collective of indie game studios in Stockholm, Sweden. It has a new studio today, Wimasima. Bäckström said that many indie game developers have to approach publishers too soon, when they have very little done, because they have no money to develop a real prototype with a lot of promise. They often settle for deals that favor the publisher and have to make compromises to their vision. The collective has been around for about a year.
Bäckström hopes that Aurora Punks can give indie devs more time to create what they really want to create and survive on their own for longer. Bäckström has more than 15 years of experience developing and publishing games for Raw Fury and Fatshark. After Tencent bought a minority stake in Fatshark in 2019, Bäckström gathered enough money to go out on his own. He wanted to create a company that was all about having developers help each other to survive and preserve their tenacity to do things on their own.
The collective indie studios under the Aurora Punks umbrella work together, sharing resources such as expertise, funding, and network access. They can get resources and revenue to fuel them during the development cycle and develop games that are a mix of arcade, art, retro, innovation, playfulness, and passion. It is neither an angel investor nor a publisher. But it is there to ensure that one failure won’t doom a brand new studio.
“We give them more design freedom, without worrying about money too early,” Bäckström said.
Bäckström said that the company has a total of five game studios in the collective now, including a one called Wimasima. Wimasima has four students trying to break into games.
“Wimasima is just the type of studio we want in the collective — highly skilled, lots of passion, and a no-prestige approach to game development — meaning they are willing to both share and receive knowledge,” Bäckström said.
Those studios have access to talent across the collective, and each member can have a say in whether to admit a new studio into the collective, Bäckström said. Wimasima joins Limit Break, Pixadome Games, Loot Locker (a backend for indies), and Upstream Arcade. All told, 24 people are now in the collective, including a half dozen or so in the main company. Aurora Punks invest around $60,000 to $180,000 per studio.
The first two games coming under the Aurora Punks banner are Robot Lord Rising, a comedic co-op arena card battle game developed by Limit Break, and Chenso Club, a 2D roguelike platformer from Pixadome Games.
With its games, Aurora Punks will help developers get their concepts ready, either for more funding or for a launch. The collective has no portfolio strategy per see, but it does look for teams of passionate developers who will be a good fit in the collective. It promises to provide them with a stable environment where creativity is the major defining factor. It doesn’t have an endless budget. In fact, it has to spend wisely. But it operates in a democratic way with both creative freedom and transparency.
The team is spread from Malmo in the south to Boden in the north. Among the founders are seasoned members of the Swedish game industry scene with Karl Troedsson (ex-DICE), Mathias Wiking (Starbreeze and Paradox), and Alexander Bergendahl (Avalance, Poppermost) on the board of directors. Its studios are as far away as Upstream Arcade in the United Kingdom.
Overall, I like this idea. And it’s not just coming from a former punk rocker that has no credibility. It’s from a seasoned game executive, and it reminds me of the remark that Shawn Layden, former chairman of Sony Worldwide Studios, said at our recent GamesBeat Summit 2021 event. He said young developers should hold onto and own and develop their ideas before they go to publishers, who may want to own them.
“For young people with your ideas, try to hold on to them as long as you can,” Layden said.
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