9 Dots and thatgamecompany vets launch Astra Fund to support "thinking games"

Astra is being pitched as a philanthropic fund for "games that make you think."

Fledging financier Astra Fund has invested in six projects including an unannounced title from Zach Gage and Orta Therox and a new studio founded by Nick Suttner (Carto), David Hellman (Braid) and Nico Ricabarren (Ethereal) called Furniture & Mattress.

Astra is being pitched as a philanthropic fund for "games that make you think," and is led by former thatgamecompany producer Eileen Hollinger and 9 Dots president Josh Taylor.

The venture was established with a mission to support and promote the creation of thinking games, which it describes as "puzzle, strategy and genre-bending games that challenge players and spark genuine curiosity." Astra points to titles like Baba is You and The Gardens Between as projects it would have funded.

Astra provides project financing and self-publishing support, and has also been offering year-long patron grants to eight individual "fellows" to support their work.

Fellows will receive $45,000 to "hone their craft and develop new ideas." Larger project financing options including investments ranging from $150,000 to $1 million, offered alongside revenue share agreements for smaller teams, are also being made available.

Speaking to Game Developer about Astra, co-founder Josh Taylor said its fellows would usually be developers who are early-career or attempting to transition into full-time development from another industry.

"Our goal is to support fellows in becoming better thinking game designers and in creating commercially viable games," added Taylor.

Taylor and fellow co-founder Hollinger explained the fellowship initiative has been constructed around three pillars: inspiration, improvement, and community. Those selected for the program will be able to access a guest speaker series that aims to inspire, check in regularly with Hollinger to discuss career goals and receive feedback, and join a Discord community where they can bounce ideas around and support each other.

"We open up applications for the fellowship once a year. We select 8 to 12 fellows per cohort. In the application process we look at three things: 1) past work 2) learning goals and 3) career goals," said Hollinger, explaining how the initiative works. "Our screeners and selection committee evaluate every application, and we work closely with Astra mentors to finalize the selection."

Astra also claims to offer developer-friendly terms, such as allowing creators to retain ownership of their IP and "highly favorable revenue splits."

"Not only are we highly motivated to support teams to achieve sustainability -- but as a non-profit we are actually legally obligated to offer better terms than the market would. Aside from ownership of IP, we offer highly favorable revenue splits," continued Hollinger.

"Developers collect revenue directly from the platforms from the first dollar and we exclude merchandise and sequels/prequels from the split. Although we aren't yet making the terms public, we do share them early on in our conversations with developers."

Chatting more broadly about Astra's long-term ambitions, Taylor suggests that bringing thinking games to broad audiences will "nurture problem-solving culture" and create a virtuous cycle that'll help expand the genre.

"More available thinking games leads to more players discovering thinking games. This leads to more homes developing a strong problem-solving culture. This cycle hasn’t been widely activated yet," says Taylor. "We aim to fix that."

Astra's initial list of project includes Paper Trail from Newfangled Games, Star Stuff by Animo Games, Schrodinger's Cat Burgler from Abandoned Sheep, Rytmos by Floppy Club, and two unannounced titles from Furniture and Mattress and Zach Gage and Orta Therox.

Hollinger said all of Astra's games and teams are "grounded in a love for the genre." You can find out more about the company over on the Astra website.

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