People’s need to stay home hasn’t hurt Other Ocean, an independent video game company.
When a public health emergency forces billions of people to stay home, they are bound to be on the lookout for something to occupy their time.
For video game enthusiasts (also called gamers), this meant more time with their consoles. The Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) recently released a study of Canadian gamers in 2020. It found that while there aren’t many new people coming to video games this year, gamers themselves are playing them a lot during the pandemic. This was the case for about 58 percent of adult players and 80 percent of teens. It even found that playing games makes them feel better about staying at home – 65 percent for adults and 78 percent for teens.
For a relatively young indie developer like Other Ocean, this was a somewhat fortunate thing. In February of 2019, the company released a new original title called “Project Winter”, initially developed in St. John’s Studio with support from Canada Media Fund. The online multiplayer game includes cooperation, but also deception. As the group tries to survive the wild wilderness, traitors, known to each other but not to the other players, lurk among them. Their goal is to sabotage the efforts of other survivors without projecting themselves as traitors.
As Ryan Hale explains, there have been popular board games based on this type of premise, but for online video games, it has not been more explored than some electronic versions of those board games. Communication is an important component of the gameplay. Part of the fun is ultimately inferring who in the group is working against her.
“The game itself is very social,” explained Hill, Product Manager at Other Ocean Group. “It’s a really good outlet for people who are stuck at home. They can’t go to their friend’s house and enjoy a board game or social gathering, so instead, they jump online and do it in virtual space instead.”
In the second half of 2019, the game attracted a noticeable fanbase in Japan, with some popular online broadcasters – players with massive online followers gaining millions of viewers – presenting props and showing “Project Winter” that excitement has moved west to China, the country where It now accounts for 29 percent of the game’s total sales. The United States has adopted the “Winter Project”, which accounts for 17 percent of game sales, and Russia and Brazil are also strong markets.
“Really, it’s a global game, not just at home,” Hill said.
Hill admits that there has been a spike in sales as countries enter lockdown. The game’s sales numbers in 2020 are about 10 times what they were in the whole of 2019.
The fact that “Project Winter” is an original intellectual property is very important, according to Deirdre Ayre, head of Canadian operations at Other Ocean Group, who also has a studio in Charlottetown. Aside from the fact that this genre of games allows employee creativity to spike unobstructed, a successful native IP is far more profitable for the company than games that use licensed IP addresses. Today, it represents Ocean’s most successful original IP to date.
“Most of our work over the years has been in a third-party contract with major publishers,” Ayer said, highlighting Other Ocean’s previous work on games associated with noteworthy brands such as Minecraft for Nintendo 3DS and animated series like “The Simpsons” and Rick and Morty.
“We’ve worked on titles with very big names, but these are ours. That’s the really special thing about this. This is the effort of the team that we built in St. Johns and Charlottetown … and it’s very difficult to achieve success with a license nobody had heard of before when Compete with Disney in the World, EA, or all these very famous titles and licenses. “
The impact of the pandemic
ESAC board member Arye cannot say definitively whether the COVID-19 pandemic has helped the game reach new fans, indicating that it was already running well and gaining traction before the pandemic. But she also fully understands that it’s a game for our times.
“It’s hard to know. We don’t know what would have happened had it not been for the epidemic.” “But this is the type of game … Maybe it did better because people are at home and looking for ways to interact and socialize with each other and interact.”
The other Ocean Group employs more than 75 employees. The company has hired nearly a dozen new employees since the start of the pandemic and is posting more jobs now. While he doesn’t intend to give up his lucrative business with partners on licensed IP addresses, “Project Winter” has dampened the appetites of other oceans to produce games that can build on that success.
“We have two new projects that we are still planning and hope to start in the new year,” Hill said. “Now that we have gained experience in this matter and know the shortcomings we had in Project Winter, we know how to make it better … We are more ready to move into 2021 with a brand new project and we hope to see it succeed.”
Andrew Robinson is a business correspondent for St. Johns.