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The creator of Just Cause 2 on running a next-gen sandbox developer

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

In 2008, Avalanche Studios laid off over two-thirds of its roughly 160 person staff. Since then, the Swedish developer has released the blockbuster open-world action game Just Cause 2, opened and expanded a studio in New York and signed a number of deals with publishers to create next-generation sandbox games. This week, we had a chance to meet with Avalanche Studio founder Christofer Sundberg to discuss the future of his company.

"We'll be in radio silence [about the games] until E3," Sundberg said. "We have two bigger projects in development. One in New York. One in Stockholm. And we just started a mobile division - it's just three people." Sundberg wouldn't say what the games are, though he describes Avalanche Studios as a maker of next-generation sandbox games.

Sundberg was eager to talk about the studios, particularly the new office in downtown Manhattan. He calls the low point five years ago an "opportunity to change." His company had grown quickly, but a struggling economy caused a number of expensive projects to be canceled by their risk-averse publishers.

With the studio size reduced, Sundberg focused on signing contracts with American publishers. Opening a New York office was key. In Sweden, the company fell in a contractual middle-ground. Development conversations would begin with a publisher's American division, before being passed to the European division, which according to Sundberg, often lacked the authority to finalize an agreement.

Now established in New York, Sundberg says he's having more conversations with American publishers than ever before. "We just came from showing a publisher something," he said, careful not to reveal additional details.

The New York studio has also been a boon for recruitment. "There are maybe 1500 developers in Sweden," Sundberg estimated, "and 300 are at DICE [...] Competition has gotten quite unhealthy in Stockholm." New York, on the other hand, is almost competition free when it comes to major developers. Asked why Avalanche didn't expand to Canada, which has significant tax breaks, or California, which has a massive pool of talent, Sundberg again cited competition as a concern.

While Sundberg couldn't reveal exactly how many projects had been canceled in the past five years, he acknowledged there had been many. The industry's instability, however, hasn't convinced him to sell Avalanche Studios to a publisher.

"It's easier to cut internal [studios]," he said. Independent from a publisher, Avalanche Studios may lose contracts, but they are free to pitch every publisher. They may lose two-thirds of their staff, but they aren't shutdown entirely. They are able to rebuild. Sundberg believes his studio will make such a comeback this year.

"Just wait till June," he said, his publicist giving him sharp look, bringing his sentence to an abrupt halt. Sunderberg smiled: "We'll have more to say in June."

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