In their years working with small developers through cooperative-owned gaming label Glitch, CEO Evva Karr noticed a serious problem.
While Karr had encountered many small, diverse game development teams with talented creators and brilliant ideas that they believed could be incredibly successful, those teams were struggling. Some didn't have the initial funding needed to get their projects started, while others simply lacked the practical knowledge to even publish a game. Making it, sure, but what about pitching it to publishers, marketing it, releasing it on consoles, or running a studio as a business? Turns out, none of that information is easily accessible to a lot of up and coming developers.
What's more, Karr felt that gaming audiences were being woefully underserved. Diverse individuals: women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, all play games, but frequently don't get the same opportunities to make games that have been made by the historically white and male industry over the decades. Fortunately, through Glitch, Karr was in a position to do something.
Karr started the Moonrise Fund, an early-stage gaming investment fund focused on supporting what they describe as "new types of gameplay that haven't been seen before." Moonrise is backing a steady stream of up-and-coming studios in their early stages of development on new projects, while also offering advice and mentorship as they go. All the while, it's building a network of successful developers who can share knowledge with one another and gradually build on the support it can offer to its developers over time.
While they know it sounds like a pipedream, Karr tells IGN that Moonrise is their attempt at showing the entire games industry that the ways in which games are made — and how the people who make them are treated — can be much better.
"I believe there's a bigger, better, more inclusive, and just completely revitalized game industry that's possible," Karr says. "I think it's one that's sustainable, possibly co-creative, and also shaped by new players and new experiences."
To that end, Moonrise has announced the first three studios it's backing, and offered some tidbits about their upcoming projects. The first is Future Club, a co-op game studio formed by the developers of Skull Girls and Indivisible. They're working on a secret project at the moment, though CEO Francesca Esquenazi was able to tease it a bit: an original IP that’s narrative-focused. Future Club is making it both with a mind to show off its critically-acclaimed animation and character design prowess, as well as center stories from women's perspectives.
Next up is Virtuoso Neomedia, which currently has three projects in the works, all in different genres. There's Raddminton, a fighting game and racket sport mash-up. Then there's Killer Auto, a futuristic racer. And finally, Zodiac XX is a narrative underwater dogfighting game. Virtuoso notably places particular emphasis on music in its games, and is working with artists like 2Mello and DV-i on its upcoming projects.
Finally, Moonrise is backing Perfect Garbage, the studio behind Love Shore that's also working on an unannounced genre-mash that mixes classic gameplay loops with new narrative ideas and centers the perspectives of people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Oh, and they love horror.
One thing all three studios have in common is that while they were all up and running prior to Moonrise's support, their ambitions were much smaller before their help. Son M., project director at Perfect Garbage, says that, ultimately, their goal is to be self-sustaining. "We've lived that Kickstarter life and decided we're tired of it already."
Rather than waiting until they shipped two or three more games to attract funding, Perfect Garbage was able to conceptualize its next game as the game they really, really wanted to make. Narrative designer Emmett Nahil adds that Moonrise's direction, advice, and availability was also game-changing, calling it "honest-to-god mentorship."
Ethan Redd, head of Virtuoso, notes that Moonrise was also supportive of his studio's "furious independence," saying that the studio wants to do "weird things" with games and how it releases them. And then there’s Future Club which as a worker co-op — where all employees have equal say in decision-making and profits — has a structure that could potentially make traditional games funding models challenging to work with. But because of Moonrise, they were able to make a key new hire and carve out time and space to work on something new, instead of putting aside their main project to do Skullgirls contract work to keep the lights on.
"There are games we've wanted to make for a really long time," says Future Club creative director Mariel Kinuko Cartwright. "And it's hard to find people who are on board and in the same way completely open-minded about exploring those possibilities. Moonrise…is saying, we believe in you, we want this to happen, we can help you get there because the things you want to make should exist."
Then there's the practical help, with Moonrise offering access to documents as simple as budgeting templates. Redd notes that so much of the decision-making and data is kept behind closed doors in the games industry, so developers of their size don't often get to work with actual numbers when doing things like setting goals and making sales and marketing plans. Nahil adds that this is especially true for marginalized developers.
"As a self-owned and operated indie studio, we're always doing on-the-job learning. That's all well and good, but it does help if someone gives you a textbook. You learn by doing, but you also learn by having access to the things that people have [already] learned so you're not just operating in the void."
Moonrise's goal is to support and uplift "new forms of play," and the leadership of its first three studios are eager to contribute to this vision. As Redd notes, Moonrise's open-mindedess about what games can be won't just benefit its members; anyone who likes games ultimately benefits from more new, interesting ideas.
"The fact that games [traditionally] are being made by people with similar backgrounds, similar education, all that, it homogenizes," he says. "When you bring in new people with fresh ideas, you're going to get fresh games…you're going to see people you wouldn't have seen before doing things you probably haven't seen before."
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.