Take-Two launch ‘indie’ publishing label Private Division

Reminding us all that the term ‘indie’ is meaningless, Take-Two Interactive–the multi-billion-dollar owners of GTA devs Rockstar Games, Civ and XCOM studio Firaxis, and 2K–have launched an indie publishing label. It’s named Private Division and that combined with the logo ↑ makes me think: Twin Peaks-themed porn site. But they have gathered a fair number of big names for their initial lineup, including Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey from the new studio of Assassin’s Creed creative director Patrice Désilet, a yet-unannounced RPG from Tim Cain and his Fallout cohorts at Obsidian Entertainment, games from fellas who worked on Battlefields and Halos, and Kerbal Space Program (which Take-Two now own). Hey, if leads to good games getting made, wank yourselves wild with your indie fantasies.

Take-Two’s official word is that Private Division is “a new publishing label comprised of proven games industry veterans that is dedicated to bringing titles from top independent developers to market.” I believe they mean ‘independent’ in the sense of “the studios making them are not publicly traded on the stock market.”

So! What have we got? There’s Ancestors, an action-adventure survival game about a fantasy world where monkeys gradually turn into human beings (through a wizard? dunno). That mysterious Obsidian RPG is led by Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, who were designers on the original Fallout (as well as its producer and lead artist, respectively), so that’s certainly something to keep an eye on. Former DICE folks David Goldfarb and Ben Cousins are making an unannounced RPG codenamed Project Wight. Marcus Lehto, who was art director on the early Halo games, is making a new sci-fi FPS at his V1 Interactive studio. Kerbal Space Program rounds out the initial lineup.

Some interesting names and games there. Other than Kerbal, mind, none of these games are expected to launch before April 1st, 2019.

‘Indie publishing labels’ are v. in right now. Several smaller publishers have their own, and bigguns are getting into it too. Electronic Arts dabble with the idea every few years, and presently are calling theirs EA Originals. We live in strange cycles, with people quitting their stifling jobs at big publishers and studios to go independent and contribute to a scene that’s partially a kickback against unimaginative AAA games and endless sequels, then publishers deciding they want in on this and opening their wallets to sign up ‘indies’… how strange everything is. That only describes one form of ‘indie’, to be clear. And we do all already accept that ‘indie’ is meaningless, don’t we?

But you can tell Private Division is proper indie because their unveiling video opens with twee indie music:

17 Comments

  1. cakeisalie says:

    So indie is basically going the same way as the craft beer and microbrewery industry.

    • Vilos Cohaagen says:

      It is kind of inevitable. Unless a term has some kind of legally binding definition and restriction (such as the term Architect in France) if it can make someone money it will be co-opted (hence everyone outside France appending Architect or Engineer to their non-architect/non-engineer job titles).

      But yes, as Alice said above the term ‘indie’ no longer has any meaning (if it ever did, really)

      • khamul says:

        My father is a bricks-and-mortar architect, with the 7 years of degree that goes with it. I work in software, and had the title ‘System Architect’ for a while, which was something that really, genuinely, deeply annoyed him.

        Which I really shouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much as I did.

  2. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    How is this different to any other publishing deal other tan branding this as ‘indie’? It sounds exactly the same as the traditional publishing deal.

    Also, give the CEO of Take Two’s comments I assume all the games will be hobbled by microtransactions and loot boxes?

    • Gothnak says:

      I believe it is different in the fact that they are primarily interested in making deals with small indie devs rather that farming out their own IPs to large ‘Indie’ companies.

      For example, Climax are an indie company, but they are massive, have no real IPs of their own, and just make games for massive publishers.

    • khamul says:

      Can you link to those comments?

      Most of my exposure to Take 2 has been via Firaxis, and I would describe myself, broadly speaking, as a pretty happy customer. They’re not forcing anything vile, like Origin, on me, and I think I’ve had pretty good value for money on the XCOM expansions.

      Self-funding and Kickstarter has – normally – an upper limit in the amount of money available, which restricts what you can do in a game. Some of the games I’ve enjoyed most have been in the A/AA space: bigger and more polished than you can do with a Kickstarter, but not with the kind of marketing spend and consequent need to control risk and get guaranteed return that you get with a AAA game. I’m thinking of something like Divinity Original Sin.

      If having a big wallet out there looking to pour cash into innovative games companies to let them do something at that scale is the result of this, that would be a Good Thing. I don’t care about the ‘indie’ brand – what I care about is Cool Stuff getting made.

      Of course, yeah, what’ll probably happen is that business won’t see the projected return, they’ll get scared, they’ll take control, and all the creativity will be lost. But, unfortunately, that is how humans are. You want a better world? We need to become better people.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    So is this an attempt at a sort of a AAA indie initiative, designed to wipe out the third wave of the bedroom coders – soaking up gamers’ indie spend by out-competing them on production values?

    Or possibly something more benign – a return of the mid-budget, publisher-funded but sub-AAA tier that went all but extinct in the last decade? Or something else entirely?

    Time will tell I suppose. That logo, though – it’s so unfriendly. It doesn’t say ‘charming mom’n’pop coder store’ at all. To me it says.. look at all this money we have. We’re going to fuck someone with it.

    • Gothnak says:

      I ‘think’ it’s EA trying to find the big hits in the Indie world and getting a slice of the pie.

      They can fund an internal dev at £60mil and get one game out, stick in microtransactions and feck it all up, or they can fund 40 x £500k games and get one or two hits and make a profit even if 20 of them fail entirely.

      As long as the people who talk to the studios are competent and the deals are sensible, then in theory everyone wins. Often those indie devs won’t have got funding and will have closed.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      I’m hoping it’s your “benign” option. The production costs on AAAs have skyrocketed, while the retail price is still what it was ten years ago. It’s getting to the point where AAAs can’t just be “good” in order to be profitable. They have to be a cultural phenomenon just to break even (without microtransactions).

      We’ve seen indie games become major successes without all of the AAA bells and whistles, and without AAA production costs. Of course the big publishers are going to want to get in on that.

  4. Core says:

    I got the impression from the game informer article about this that the participating studios will retain complete control of their IP?

  5. automatic says:

    That’s not indie. It’s just corps assimilating whatever poses a threat to their dominance using spare risk capital. This behavior is as old as corporativism itself. See the punk movement and entertainment industries. It’s pathetic what they turned them into and that’s exactly what is going to happen to these devs. At the first sign of a sales low they will be putting their creativity freedom in a drawer in favor of meeting publisher goals. Just like RPS itself and the increasing number of hardware advertising articles. Yeah, some os us noticed.

    • Nelyeth says:

      Oh no, you mean to tell me that, by recruiting a hardware person, they are writing more hardware reviews, some being bad and some being good because some hardware is bad and some hardware is good, without detracting from the usual number and quality of articles we’d usually get since it’s a new person writing the hardware part?

      I’ve noticed that too, fellow observant person.

      • automatic says:

        “Tendency” refers to something that may happen in the future, known based on past experiences and suggested by present facts. Sometimes it changes, sometimes it does not.

  6. Gothnak says:

    I have an indie dev studio, the options are…

    1. Develop a game yourself, fund yourself, get the game out, hope to make your money back, if not, close.
    2. Come up with a game idea and demo, stick it on Kickstarter, fund it through the community, get the game out.
    3. Come up with a game idea and demo, take it to a publisher, they pay for the dev, they take a cut of the profits.

    All of those are indie development, just because the publisher stumps up the cash doesn’t stop making it indie. It just depends on the contract as to how much creative control you are giving to the publisher, usually they are in control of marketing, localisation and testing and you make the game with the minimum of bother and then share the profits.

    • sosolidshoe says:

      It kinda does, IMO. Stop making it indie, I mean. “Indie”, as in “independent”, as in “not under the thumb of a publisher”.

      These pseudo-indie setups where publishers step in at some stage in the process aren’t proper indie games because there is always some level of corporate influence involved. You could maybe get away with still calling the game indie if you produced it entirely “on spec” then shopped the fully complete product around publishers with a simple “you market the game, we give you a cut of the profit” deal, but if they get involved during development they *will* stick their fingers in and mess around – Take Two might allow the devs to keep ownership of the IP, but there’s no way they let them retain complete creative control.

  7. Ghostwise says:

    I can see the “Twin Peaks-themed porn” angle, but to me it looked more like Zombie Tom Clancy driving a Renault.

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