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thatgamecompany's heart remains unchanged after post-Journey exodus

Last year's launch of Journey saw the exodus of several key thatgamecompany members, but co-founder Jenova Chen says the heart of the studio remains unchanged.

The studio is "definitely different, but a majority of the people who worked on Journey are still in the company," he said. "And we have some new blood coming. We are back up to 12 people and soon we might be 13."

Thatgamecompany won eight of its 11 categories, including game of the year, at the DICE awards for Journey at this week's DICE summit. In a talk earlier this week, Chen said that while the game was a critical success it wasn't really a financial one, bankrupting the company as development extended to three years on the game.

After the game launched, the studio saw four high profile departures: co-founder and president Kellee Santiago, Journey executive producer Robin Hunicke, "feel engineer" John Nesky and producer and designer Chris Bell.

Chen said the four left for a variety of reasons, but that the timing was dictated by the completion of Journey. Initially, the group committed to staying for the five year contract thatgamecompany had with Sony Computer Entertainment, but when the game took longer to complete, they decided to see the project through.

While Chen didn't want to talk about any of his former colleagues individually, he said that he feels that change, in general, is often good for everyone.

"When I left EA I thought it was bad because I left a project, but I felt a lot happier and became more productive. And if I hadn't left none of our games would have been made.

"When people decided to leave, they had their reasons and now they are working on to their own things."

The studio is "definitely different, but a majority of the people who worked on Journey are still in the company."

Chen said what kept the group together for so long was in part that Sony contract.

"At the end of the contract we needed to figure out where we wanted to go," he said. "There was a discussion about the aspirations of the company."

Since departing thatgamecompany, all four have found new projects.

Santiago continues her work on Indie Fund, an angel-style investment firm that aims to help new indie developers with "unique voices" get and stay financially independent. Hunicke recently co-founded Funomena, a company currently working on a game that "takes data from a pedometer and does something fun with it." Bell and Nesky formed The Wilderness, working on an indie game called Way.

And thatgamecompany broke free of Sony, raising $5.5 million in venture capital money to help fund and self-publish their next game.

Chen said since publishing Journey they studio has been inundated with job applications, but they've strived to stay small.

"We are kind of afraid of growth," he said. "flow had four people working on it. Flower was nine and Journey was 12."

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