Introducing Mohawk Games

I have been waiting to write this post since before I shipped my first game, since before I joined the industry, since before I even learned how to program. Today, I’d like to introduce Mohawk Games, an independent studio dedicated to making innovative, core strategy games.

We are living in the age of the independent game studio – never before have our tools been so powerful, the distribution channels so accessible, and open development so valuable. A robust market exists for original strategy games, my team has the experience to make them, and I am passionate about creating them.

Indeed, independent developers can now do what the big publishers can’t or won’t do. We can take risks on original mechanics and unusual ideas, ones which would never justify budgets that start with seven figures. We can sell a game once, for a fair price, instead of alienating our audience with vertiginous business models. We can work directly with our audience, learning from their experiences and trying to match their dreams.

I am beyond excited to finally create a game of my own, and I hope that you will follow us as we stop dangling our legs and jump. As a start, the following six points define what makes us unique as a game studio:

Gameplay First
Our games will emphasize quality of play above all else. The goal is to make games that will be played for years, based on elegant, replayable systems which are not limited by finite content creation. (In other words, we are building Spelunky, not Uncharted.) Our development process emphasizes rapid iteration above all else, requiring our games to be playable as soon as possible, so that we have time to find the fun. Our gameplay depth emerges from meaningful decisions and procedural content, so no two playthroughs are ever the same.

Designers Are Programmers
Our games are built upon systems and mechanics, which create interesting and enjoyable challenges as they collide with each other. The designers best able to create these systems are the ones who can code their ideas directly into the game, instead of relying upon other programmers to translate their design documents. Mohawk will enable these individuals to iterate as fast as possible without technical friction. Further, we will recruit talented designer/programmers who might otherwise be forced into narrow roles because the games industry, as a whole, hires pure designers.

Technology Supports Design
Although much of our company will be programmers, we are not a technology company. We are a games company. We will leverage cross-platform engines to build our games using one language and a shared codebase. Our internal libraries will provide the basic building blocks for making strategy games – hex grids, A* pathfinding, minimaps, popup help, matchmaking, lobbies, scenario editors, and so on. The engineering goal is to enable rapid prototyping so that designers can go from conception to execution as quickly as possible.

Budgets Matter
The key to game development is to iterate through the design-develop-test-evaluate loop as many times as possible before release. Most teams run out of money before they can start iterating rapidly on a working prototype, which is when the most progress is possible. Taking budgets seriously is the only way to ensure a game gets the iteration it deserves. Thus, we will be aggressive in ensuring that our money is used efficiently and responsibly, and our teams will stay small to keep costs down. Ultimately, every expenditure needs to justify itself in product quality; the cost of bloat is too high.

Community-Led Development
Games cannot grow in a vacuum, without the oxygen of player feedback. Thus, we will involve the community in the iteration process as soon as possible. We will interact directly with our fans, learning from them and never assuming that we know better. We will use alternative funding methods, such as crowdfunding and early access programs, to enable a virtuous cycle in which fans can support our ideas while also holding us accountable to their expectations.

Extensive Mod Support
Communities often understand a game better than the designers themselves; they discover what the game actually is by witnessing how the gameplay changes as stories and strategies spread online. Modding is the ultimate expression of a community’s commitment to a game, by working hard to extend and improve the company’s official work. We will provide powerful tools to our fans to change our games, we will host these mods on our servers to help them spread organically, and – when possible – we will sell them and share the revenue with their creators.

Before finishing, I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people who helped make Mohawk possible. I must thank Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs for giving me the keys to Civilization in the first place, an opportunity which changed my life. I’d like to thank Tim Train, David Edery, and Jon Shafer for their business advice throughout the process, Jim Alley for his awesome work designing our logo, and Dorian Newcomb for taking the jump with me. Thanks to Dan Baker and the Oxide team for hosting us during our early days and helping get the prototype working. Finally, I especially need to thank Brad Wardell, Derek Paxton, and everyone else at Stardock for helping make today happen. We’ll make it count.