In October 2012 social game developer Zynga unexpectedly shuttered Zynga Boston. Four months on, developers from the now-defunct studio are launching their first game as a new independent studio, Proletariat.
Speaking to Polygon, Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak said the team of veteran game designers who have worked at companies like Insomniac Games, Turbine and Harmonix have decided to stay in the mobile and tablet game development space for the same reason they moved into social games to begin with: they want to make games that people will talk about for all the right reasons.
"That was the appeal for us," says Sivak, who was working at Conduit Labs with Proletariat's founders before Zynga acquired the studio in 2010. "It was all about making really, really big games that could have tons of users and become something that was beyond what a boxed title could do. Something people talked about at their kitchen tables around dinner."
"It was a totally new opportunity to create something that could at the time have cultural impact."
Sivak says that after years of working on blockbuster-sized games that required three to five year development cycles and had niche audiences, the developers wanted a new challenge, and that challenge was social games.
"Social games were a new, interesting way of designing," he says. "It was a totally new opportunity to create something that could at the time have cultural impact. When you look at a game the size of FarmVille, at one point it had 32 million daily active users — it's hard to say there's a game that makes more of an impact on culture as a whole."
The team of developers who came to form Zynga Boston created the Indiana Jones Adventure World Facebook game. With Zynga Boston now behind them, the five senior members of the studio have formed Proletariat, an independent studio that has its sights set on mobile and tablet games that will get people talking.
Sivak says the team of five brings with them a wealth of experience both from their time working on AAA games and at Zynga, and their experiences have taught them what to do and what not to do.
"It's a shock when Zynga closes a game, which is not true for any other social game developer."
"We learned how to run games as live services — that was without a doubt our most valuable lesson learned from Zynga," Sivak says. "That's the thing that Zynga does extremely well, and it's the thing people often forget about —Zynga games go on and on, and they don't lose that many users. It's a shock when Zynga closes a game, which is not true for any other social game developer."
With a small team, Sivak says Proletariat has also learned that it doesn't want to follow the big studio way of greenlighting and launching games, which he says involves too much red tape and hoop-jumping. Proletariat's focus is on creating more "core" experiences for the changing mobile and tablet audience, and the team intends to do that through a back-to-basics approach of prototyping and iterating games they feel are fun.
It's early days for the new studio and its debut mobile game, Letter Rush — a twist on the find-a-word mechanic where players have to find all the letters of a word in a jumbled heap in the time it takes for the word to float across the screen— is out next week. Sivak says he'd be lying if he were to say he believed there was no way the new studio could fail. Launching a new studio puts the team in a position as precarious as working for a company that could close their operations without notice. The difference, he says, is the fate of Proletariat is now in its own hands.
"We don't have the luxury of working on something we know isn't good," Sivak says. "We have to work on something we know is awesome, otherwise we won't be pushing ourselves as hard to make it happen."