Pure Bang Games founder Ben Walsh is making good on a lifelong dream of managing a studio of his own. He made the plunge in June 2010 when he began running the company out of his house.
Walsh, an Ex-Bethesda Softworks employee, chose to base his studio in Baltimore, his hometown, to take advantage of all the talent in the area. Most of his employees are recent graduates from surrounding colleges. Walsh described Baltimore as an open and creative environment to work in not to mention the affordable cost of living in the area.
“Most studios are based in California where you can’t even rent an apartment for a million let alone buy,” Walsh said, “Here, I can raise a family.”
Pure Bang is now based out of a row home at 3207 Eastern Ave., which is shared with a real estate agent to help cut costs. The building is small, but offers enough space for the employees to work. At the entrance is a meeting room with a television used to demonstrate projects. With a picture of a fictional character, board games and comic books; it’s not your average meeting room.
Downstairs is the heart of the company. The basement is a long, narrow, low-lit room with the walls lined with plastic fold-out tables. On each table sits a computer or laptop each employee, creating a workspace for them to express their creative magic.
In the two-and-a-half years since Pure Bang was formed, the studio has produced eight different titles, where a major studio such as Blizzard or Epic Games may only make one or two. The studio’s most successful game was “My Pet Rock,” a Facebook game where players could adopt, customize and take care of their very own pet rock. The game had more than 500,000 unique players and 60,000 shared screenshots from the game.
“My Pet Rock” was retired by Pure Bang in July 2012, after running for a year and a half. Facebook is constantly changing the structure of their application marketplace, which introduced new bugs Pure Bang did not have the resources to keep up with.
“We were sad to see it go,” Walsh said, “but the team had moved on to new projects.”
Pure Bang is currently working on a number of games for undisclosed parties, which the employees cannot name yet. However the excitement for the projects could be seen by how the team kept referencing them.
When asked about the games Walsh said, “…just wait.”
Programmer David Noonan loves the environment of Pure Bang games and he said he feels very comfortable with his co-workers whom he’d rather refer to as friends.
“I don’t even mind the times we have to work over,” Noonan said, “because I know we can always hang out later.”
One of Noonan’s first projects was the game “007 Carte Blanche Blackjack” based on the latest James Bond novel. This project was done completely in “crunch time,” which is something most developers dread to hear. “Crunch time” for Pure Bang is when everyone on the team is working overtime on a project every day in order to make deadlines.
“We generally don’t have that much crunch time,” said Walsh, “We had maybe six weeks of it last year.”
Three of those six weeks last year were spent working on “007 Carte Blanche Blackjack,” which the company was approached by The Syndicate on behalf of Simon & Schuster to complete. They were given a short amount of time and a small budget, but Walsh was ultimately satisfied with the final project.
“We learn more and more with each project we have,” Walsh said.
Walsh is far from the first developer to move from big-time development down to an indie setting. The trend has emerged in the recent years with big names such as Markus Persson, Jonathan Blow and Edmund McMillen, as they become more and more successful and wealthy off of their projects. The big reason behind the trend however, is a change in the distribution of games.
Ten years ago, digital distribution of games on consoles was unheard of. Most games back then still released expansion packs physically opposed to digitally. This was because of slower internet speeds and smaller memory storage in consoles. Now, hard drives in consoles are generally more than 200 gigabytes and dial-up is rare, which allows developers to reach consumers digitally without having to go through retailers.
As well as advances in software, ten years ago there was no hardware such as tablets. Tablets offer developers ways to reach audiences with short, simple experiences in app stores created by the companies who create each tablet.
Another developer similar to Walsh, who has moved from a major development studio to indie is Ben Kane of Going Loud Studios. Kane has developed three games by himself and all have been released on Xbox Live Indie Games. Kane’s most successful game, “DLC Quest,” is satire reflecting on how many mainstream games not only make you pay for a game, but also make you pay for things that are essential for a complete experience. A recent title, “Asura’s Wrath,” finished the game on a cliffhanger and made consumers pay for the downloadable ending.
“I was interested in the whole package of being an independent developer,” Kane said, “Control over design was just one element of that. Being in charge of the software architecture, the business decisions, marketing, art style and everything in between was what appealed to me.”
Being indie carries a sense of personal pride as individuals can identify with their final product. Pure Bang programmer Drew Nicolo has been with the company from its inception. Even though he grew up assuming he would end up working as a programmer at a large studio, Nicolo has grabbed on to the success of Pure Bang. He was even lead designer on Pure Bang’s upcoming title, “Super Nut Jump.”
“You don’t make a WoW (“World of Warcraft”)-killer, simply by trying to make a WoW-killer,” Nicolo said. Meaning that originality will trump all competition.
Being an indie studio, doesn’t guarantee success. Only a small percentage of indie studios find success, and not one will even come close to the huge success “Minecraft” was, which made $80 million on PCs and tablets before even being released on Xbox Live. Being indie is something more, it’s having control of the product you’re making, it’s offering alternatives to the same generic military-shooters or sports games that dominate the market each year.
“Being indie is when someone has a vision and wants to see it reach the public,” Walsh said, “An indie developer is someone who loves making games so much they would do it for free.”