Introducing Offworld Trading Company

UPDATE 01/28/2015: Offworld Trading Company has been revealed! Check out the official website for screenshots, video, and tons of details.

For a game about corporations and colonization, Offworld Trading Company has always been a very personal game for me, a game I have wanted to make since before joining the industry. I am most drawn to games that make me think and adapt and change; Offworld does that better than any game I have ever played.

We have called Offworld Trading Company an “economic RTS” – what do we mean by that? First of all, Offworld fits the format of a classic real-time strategy game like StarCraft or Age of Empires II, meaning that the game supports up to 8 players, can be played in less than an hour, and is intensely competitive. Offworld is economic because, instead of the two or three resources found in a traditional RTS, our game has thirteen different types. Indeed, the game has no units to fight with at all, only buildings that turn resources of one type into those of another.

In Offworld, the player’s most important weapon is money, not guns.

The setting is Mars, and each player controls a corporation trying to claim, develop, and exploit its own bit of alien soil. The game starts with an exploration phase, during which players decide where to found their colonies based on nearby resources and buildable plots of land. Next, players use their limited number of claims to start extracting these resources – maybe an ice condenser right here to get water, or maybe a metal mine over there for iron? Extra claims can be used to create factories that turn these base resources into something more valuable. A hydrolysis farm could turn water into food while an electrolysis reactor will split water into oxygen and fuel. Most importantly, players only start with a few claims, meaning that they can’t produce everything.

Instead, every resource can be bought or sold on the open market, with prices fluctuating according to what the players do. If everyone decides not to build farms and just buy food, the price will go up. Instead, if they all sell, the price will go down. Thus, the key to success is predicting which resources will go up in price and which ones will go down. Buy low, sell high, and do it first.

What makes Offworld special is that each game is unique. Random maps create a different combination of resources each time, meaning the market will change naturally to reflect this unique distribution. What happens when a map has very little water? Or when iron is everywhere? Unlike RTS games with well-known build orders that eventually become rote, Offworld has no “best” resource. If the community thinks that oxygen is the most lucrative resource, then these players will all flood the market, driving the price down, and the winner will be busy producing something else.

Offworld Trading Company contains much, much more – auctions, espionage, sabotage, patents, stocks, even pirates – but the core of the game is how this free market system coupled with random maps creates a game that never gets old. We’ve been playing Offworld internally for months and months now, and it continually surprises us. We want to get the game into your hands as soon as possible, so we will share the roadmap for turning our prototype into a polished final product.

Today, we launch our website and begin taking pre-orders. Everyone who buys the Elite Edition pre-order will get access to our playable prototype this Fall. We are excited to share Offworld with our community so that we can start to learn from you. The game still has plenty of room to grow – an economic RTS is a great fit for a dynamic campaign, for example – and we don’t want to grow it in a vacuum. Offworld Trading Company is a unique game, and its story starts now.

Also, hexes.

More Press!

I did a couple podcasts this week to go into greater detail about the goals of our studio, the design of our new game, and why we feel that the time is right to go independent:

I also did an interview with in the wake of our announcement. We discuss the advantages of independent development and my thoughts on free-to-play games. Further, I talk about our philosophy of open development in the age of Kickstarter and Early Access: “The last thing you want when you’re developing a game is to lock yourself away in a room for three years and at the end of it hope that you come out with something that’s good. As much as possible you want to get real, honest feedback on the progress you’re making.”


Early Press!

In preparation for our announcement, I’ve been speaking with journalists and friends about the new studio and our upcoming game, and the resulting stories are now public. For more details on Mohawk’s development philosophy, our relationship with Stardock, and my goals for Mars (just a codename as, legally, we will need a more unique name), check out the following stories:

Game Informer – “Instead of the core mechanics being about combat and military and rushing people, [Mars] uses a tycoon game mechanic.”

Gamasutra – “I wanted to make a competitive multiplayer RTS that was significantly different than anything out there. I wanted it to be original.”

IGN – “I want to make large-scale games, and they’re not going to be five-dollar games. They’re definitely not going to be one-dollar games.”

PC Gamer – “I’m just bored with what’s out there. I want to see the genre stretch and expand. I feel like it’s a genre that should be as varied as board games.”

Follow me on Twitter for the latest.

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.