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Facing the challenges of starting a small, sustainable online game studio in 2016

In a new Polygon feature Joe Piepiora and fellow Empyrean Interactive cofounder Geoff Virtue speak about their efforts to build a smaller, more sustainable online game studio in a post-MMORPG world.

Alex Wawro

August 8, 2016

2 Min Read

"One of the big issues we have in our industry is that it’s such a cyclical churn that occurs, so no one can establish roots."

- Empyrean Interactive cofounder Joe Piepiora.

The game industry has long struggled with a tricky problem: how do you develop a game and ship it without hiring a bunch of people, then laying them off when the game is done?

Earlier this year Carbine Studios ran into this problem and wound up laying off a bunch of people as its free-to-play (and formerly pay-to-play) MMORPG WildStar evolved "from a product in development to a live title." 

One of those people was Joe Piepiora, and in a new Polygon feature he and fellow Empyrean Interactive cofounder Geoff Virtue (pictured, Piepiora on the left) speak about their efforts to build a smaller, more sustainable online game studio after Piepiora was laid off from Carbine.

"Most [of] the people on our team have 10-plus years of experience. We have a lot of survivors on this team," Piepiora told Polygon, noting that Empyrean has grown to twelve people strong since it was founded four months ago. "A unifying theme for Empyrean was building a studio that was family-oriented and allowed people to set down roots for 15 or 20 years."

That's an intriguingly bold, long-term approach to take with what is effectively an indie online game studio; while Piepiora seems leery of suggesting Empyrean is in the business of building traditional MMORPGs, he tells Polygon that the studio is trying to capitalize on its experience in that space (many staffers spent time at Carbine or other MMORPG-focused outfits like Turbine and 38 Studios) to build something spiritually similar.

"We’re trying to recapture our love for MMOs, make it smaller and more manageable, and get it out there more quickly," Piepiora said. "These games are in development for three, five, six years sometimes. The game you start with is very different from the game you make at the very end, and people’s opinions on media change so much in that time. We’re trying to make a game today, put it out in two years and market it as quickly as possible. We actually want to do it faster than two years."

The story of how they plan to do so, along with the challenges Empyrean has already encountered while trying to design, pitch and fund a not-so-massively-multiplayer game in 2016, are worth reading over on Polygon.

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