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Jane Jensen’s Moebius signed by a publisher looking to put story first

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Phoenix Online Publishing arrived on the scene today with news that it will publish Jane Jensen's Moebius: Empire Rising — and that won't be the first story-driven title from the new publisher.

Its story began as Phoenix Online Studios, a developer with a passion for adventure games, and its new mission is lies its roots as a development studio founded by old-school adventure game fans. Since 2004, Phoenix Online Studios has created games like The Silver Lining and Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. Today, those behind Phoenix Online Studios announced a new initiative to publish games by like-minded developers.

Phoenix Online Publishing's general manager, Scott Steinberg, told Polygon this week that the company thinks it can distinguish itself in the publishing ecosystem in a few ways. The first is a desire to partner with independent developers who make games that can distinguish themselves with their stories.

"In many cases," Steinberg said, "the hardware is standardized, the genres are standardized, but if you look, the ones that stand out always put character, storytelling and atmosphere first."

"We would now love ... to give other developers the chance to shine."

He sees Phoenix Online Publishing as logical progression of what began with Phoenix Online Studios and a way to help developers create and modernize the kinds of games it already likes to develop and play.

"Phoenix Online Studios is the next natural evolution," he said. "Having been such a rich part of the story and adventure game scene, we would now love to give back to it and give other developers the chance to shine."

Although its roots are in the adventure game genre, Steinberg said that the Phoenix's publishing arm won't be limited to that genre.

"Obviously we adore adventure games," he said. "But we are looking to put story first on every platform in every genre."

Alongside the announcement of its formation, Phoenix Online Publishing also revealed its first four games: Moebius: Empire Rising, an adventure game by Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen due out April 15 on Mac and Windows PC; Quest for Infamy, a lighthearted fantasy role-playing game due out in Q2 2014 on Linux, Mac and Windows PC; The Last Door: Collector's Edition, a horror-themed adventure game due out in Q2 2014 on Mac, Linux, Windows PC, Android and iOS; and Lost Civilization, an adventure starring an amateur archeologist due out April 15 on Mac and Windows PC and in Q2 2014 on Android and iOS.

Moebius: Empire Rising's Jane Jensen said her partnership with Phoenix Online Publishing seems like a "total match."

"I've been doing everything for the studio."

Jensen funded the game on Kickstarter in 2012. She founded her development company, Pinkerton Road Studio, with her husband. She began working with Phoenix Online Studios to create the adventure game's cut scenes because of what Phoenix could offer.

"I knew that they loved adventure games," Jensen told Polygon, "and I knew that they had some really good adventure game tools from Cognition — the cinematic tools, some of the dialogue editors and things like that — and I wanted Moebius to be very cinematic. We ended up using them for development on Moebius."

Running a very small development studio left her with three options: take on business aspects like distribution, publishing, creating the retail box herself, hiring someone to do it internally or finding a partner.

"The last couple of years, I've been doing everything for the studio," she said. "All the business and the financing and the production and the design and the game's creative direction. I really needed to pull off of the business side as much as possible and focus on creative."

That's why Pinkerton started looking at development partners. When the game launches in April, it will do so in partnership with Phoenix Online Publishing.

"I think their story is a total match for us," she said. "They're really about storytelling, and that's certainly what my games are about and what Pinkerton Road's games are about. I think it's a great fit."

In other words, Moebius: Empire Rising is the kind of game from the kind of developer with the kind of relationship that Steinberg said Phoenix Online Publishing wants to foster.

"You make the types of games you want."

"We are to video games what an independent record label is to the music business," he said. "Our specific aim is not only to be able to provide high-quality story-driven games across the board and introduce new players to it and catch the eye of old players whose interests are going underserved. It's also to provide a platform so that other game developers in the community — those who might not otherwise have a chance to be able to get attention around those games or make the games that people are really hungry for."

If things go as planned, the new publisher will be able to build relationships with its independent development partners, help them keep their lights on and then continue to bring more  games to the market.

That's the pitch and the plan for Phoenix Online Publishing, unveiled today.

"We're trying to say, 'You make the types of games that you want. We will do our damnedest to make sure they get in as many players' hands as possible, that you give them the highest quality games that you can offer, and that you do it in such a way to have a sustainable model.

"Because, by the way, longterm relationships are what we're trying to create."