5 Years of Kitfox Games
It’s 2013. I’m 29. I’ve been living in Montreal for almost three years.
I’ve been a full-time, professional game designer for 5 years, on MMOs like The Secret World and Age of Conan. My Norwegian employer company, Funcom, who’s been a dream for me and my career, has informed me that they’re moving the studio to North Carolina. They ask me to join them; I choose instead to become unemployed.
I work with Rebecca Cohen-Palacios on the first, fledgling programs of Pixelles. I tinker with prototypes in GameMaker. I write. I go to a lot of Mont Royal Game Society meetings. I update my CV. I make a portfolio website. I interview positively at Ubisoft, for the (then-unannounced) For Honor.
Then, I hear about Execution Labs. In fact, standing in the lamplight of wonderful lesbian bar The Royal Phoenix (RIP) at a Mont Royal Games Society (RIP) meetup, the Execution Labs (RIP) founder Jason Della Rocca tells me about it himself.
“Tanya,” Jason says, “You have to apply. You just have to.”
I’d never thought of “going indie” fulltime before, but I… find myself agreeing with him. It sounds too good to be true: they’ll spend up to $75k funding us, if I pitch them a studio and a mobile game that can be launched in 6 months. They’ll give us free equipment and studio space, teach us the business and marketing side, and connect us with their extensive mentorship network. We don’t have to pay them back. All they want is to own a relatively small percentage of the studio, and take a small percentage of our first game’s revenues.
“But… I don’t have a team,” I say.
“Find one,” he says.
“I don’t have a game idea ready to pitch you.”
“So make one.”
“How long do I have?”
“Well… (grimacing) you have ten days before the application’s due.”
So I decide to try. How many times in your life do you get a too-good-to-be-true opportunity, at just the right time? I feel like I’m offering a minimum-wage trip into the Amazon rainforest — we’ll have a guide, but it’s going to be deadly. We’ll probably go back to known territory after we finish a brief survey of the wilderness. Unless it all goes down in flames.
But the MRGS community responds positively to my call! I meet a bunch of people who are kind, sincere, and talented, who wouldn’t mind joining my team for 6 months.
I meet folks in this Second Cup (RIP) and pitched them on a procedural strategy Arthurian legends game called Fallen Camelot. (We later abandon this idea within a week of starting work, in favor of one we can prototype more quickly.)
When Kitfox Games starts working together in June 2013 at Execution Labs, we are four:
- Me, the Captain
- Greg Londish, Lead Programmer (the only one I’d worked with before, once on a jam)
- Mike Ditchburn, Programmer (we’d met once before)
- Xin Ran Liu, Artist (we’d never met before)
Greg leaves very soon to focus on his health, and Jongwoo Kim joins soon after that, a new acquaintance we met in Execution Labs.
We don’t know each other very well. We don’t know what our company is called yet. We don’t whether our studio will make it to 2014, but we’re happy to trust each other for the ride. We learn that we were each born in a different country, and we each have different tastes in games. But we know we are going to make a game together, or learn from trying, and that’s enough.
Soon, we pick the name Kitfox. We like foxes (they’re clever and graceful), and Kit foxes in particular were a favorite of mine in childhood, growing up in the Mojave. I thought it was appropriate that they were small, scrappy, and traveled in larger social groups than most foxes. We saw ourselves, in their struggle.
And then I blink, and it’s June, 2018. Woah. If I think back, I mean, I guess we spent the time well…
June 2013: we announce Shattered Planet!
October 2013: create our first jam game, Sculptorgeist (note: doesn’t work on Chrome)
March 2014: our first game launch — Shattered Planet on iOS and Android, 100k downloads in 4 days
April 2014: Kitfox Games graduates Execution Labs, incorporates legally
September 2014: Moon Hunters Kickstarter is successful, for $178k!
August 2015: co-founder Mike Ditchburn leaves the company, but remains a friend. Employee #1 is hired: Marcelo Perez
March 2016: Moon Hunters launches on Steam
February 2017: We get our first office, shared with KO-OP Mode
August 2017: The Shrouded Isle launches on Steam
October 2017: We announce Boyfriend Dungeon
June 2018: 5 year anniversary
Kitfox has released 3 commercial games, in some combination of 11 languages and on all major platforms. We’ve won a bunch of awards. Nobody’s gone into debt. We’ve grown, sustainably, to 8 permanent employees. I’ve spoken at the Game Developer’s Conference for four years running. We haven’t ever had sustained overtime. We pay ourselves a little better each year. We’ve taken in over 2 million dollars (from various sources).
We’re lucky. I don’t know what we did to deserve such good fortune, but I’m grateful to any and all gods or demons involved. Oh, and also grateful to all of our friends, family, investors, customers, and cheerleaders around the world. Without your support, we couldn’t have made it here. Maybe you were the gods and demons all along.
Over the past 5 years we’ve discovered that what we want most is to make intriguing worlds that are different for each player. We want to make games that are high-quality, gameplay-focused, and we want to do it in a professional, respectful manner.
Most of all, we want to always keep learning. We’re going to keep making mistakes, because we’re going to keep challenging ourselves, but they’ll always be new mistakes, as we grow, as developers and as people. That’s what Kitfox means, to me.
Today, to celebrate, we’re going to eat cake, drink champagne, and chill with some friends. The future looks bright, but no matter what’s in store, I’m unspeakably proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
From the bottom of our foxy hearts, thank you!