Look out indie developers, because this is Garnett Lee’s damn show now. Lee, an games-industry veteran, is joining indie-publishing house Raw Fury. In this role, which he is calling brand alchemist and marketing vanguard, he’s helping smaller studios find their audience.
Lee most recently worked at Amazon, which continues to skirt around the edge of the games business. That experience put him in touch with the biggest-budget gaming projects in the world. But now he’s excited to work with indies. Raw Fury, he says, reminds of him of his time as editor at the now-defunct (but still much beloved) 1UP.com gaming website.
“I worked at Amazon for a long time, and it was awesome to be involved in the big side of games,” Lee told Gamesbeat. “When I was at Amazon, I was doing biz dev and developer relations around indie games for a while. There’s a passion and a love and a sort of craziness that’s there. So as I got to know [Raw Fury boss Jonas Antonsson], who was one of the founders of Raw Fury, what really sealed the deal was when I visited them in Stockholm. I walked into the office and I’m like — I hate to overuse it — but wow, this is like 1UP.”
Raw Fury is a group of passionate people “just going for it,” according to Lee. The publisher is responsible for indie releases like Dandara, Sable, and Kingdom: New Lands. But the company doesn’t just go through the motions to put those games out.
“Even if it’s the kind of thing where someone would say, ‘that’s not going to work’ — no one stops you,” said Lee. “‘This is the cool thing to do for these games, so let’s see if it works.’ I love that attitude.”
Why Garnett Lee is joining Raw Fury
If you listen to podcasts, then you know Garnett Lee. Or, at the very least, you’ve felt his influence. While at 1UP, he helped launch and hosted the 1UP Yours podcast. That show quickly settled on a format that is widely recognizable today. It had Lee hosting the show with three other regulars from the 1UP staff to talk games-industry news and “what you’ve been playing.” Today, you can still find countless podcasts attempting to re-create that feel. We try on GamesBeat Decides, and podcasts like /Filmcast credit 1UP Yours as a direct influence.
And the reason that 1UP Yours worked is because 1UP.com was a lot like being in a band. Everyone was working together to create a certain sound, but each individual had the freedom to contribute their own style and taste. And that’s how Raw Fury operates as well.
Raw Fury is like joining a band
Lee says that Raw Fury has the same energy as 1UP.
“It’s like being in a band and everything’s a jam session,” said Lee. “When you get together to talk about a game, even when we’re just reviewing builds and looking at the games coming in — it’s so cool, because no one’s worried about things like ‘what is the message of the game going to be?’ It’s more like, that’s a really cool riff. That’s awesome. I’d like to play that. Or wow, we just sat and played this for two hours, that’s amazing.”
Lee likened the experience to The 1UP Show, which was another fan-favorite 1UP production. It was similar to a sketch show where the staff would deal with one wacky thing or another, and then they would have lengthy segments to talk about games.
“I have these flashbacks already to times when [1UP vets] Ryan [O’Donnell], Che [Chou], and James Mielke and all those people would be working on 1UP Show skits,” said Lee. “We didn’t really think of them as skits. We just sat down and rapped. This place is making games the same way.”
Lee also plans to use his time at Raw Fury to start a new video show. He wants to have conversations with developers from within the Raw Fury family and without. He continued to run shows for years after leaving 1UP, and it’s still one of his passions.
Do indies need Raw Fury?
It’s easy to look at indie publishing as something that is potentially growing outdated. It’s easier than ever to self-publish on mobile, Steam, and the consoles. So then why would anyone making a game want to split up their sales with more partners? Lee still thinks Raw Fury can help.
“Working with a publisher obviously brings more mouths to feed and more overhead into the process,” Lee acknowledged. “The answer really stands out to me from what I saw at Raw Fury. We make it so you can pay yourself every month while you’re working on the game and have a roof over your head.”
This arrangement enables Raw Fury to take pressure off of indies. They can focus on creativity instead of other demands. And it gives creators someone they can call to take care of emergent problems.
The goal is to avoid situations where a game disappears for years after a small studio gets a lot of attention at something like PAX. Raw Fury wants to offer the support and structure to help keep those studios feeling confident and like they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“All of these games have cool, creative sparks, but the creative spark is so hard to keep burning when you’re 12 months in and you’re like, wow, I still have so many things I need to get done in front of me,” said Lee. “By virtue of pulling together a lot of small developers — we’re able to give them a central set of services, so to speak. All those things that a larger-scale operation would have, but distributed out to smaller teams that are making indie games.”
Indie publishing still matters
And that’s another thing that attracted Lee to the job — he feels he can make a difference.
“I love this opportunity to be working with developers in a way where I can help with what I learned in a big environment and big structure,” he said. “I can help game developers who are one, two, five, 12, 20 person shops be successful. The most important thing for an indie developer is to find someone, whether it be Raw Fury or whomever else out there, who believes in them and can let them do what they do best. Because in order for them to be able to keep doing what they want to do, at some point they have to be able to connect with their audience.”
Raw Fury’s first concern isn’t finding blockbuster hits
Talk to any investment company not named Tencent about video games, and they will tell you the same thing. They will say that investing in development is too risky because gaming is such a hit-driven business. It’s difficult to call winners and losers.
So you would think that finding potential hits would preoccupy the minds of everyone at Raw Fury. Lee claims that’s not the case.
“When you look at the titles, it’s not about, ‘is this going to be a potential million-plus seller?’ It’s like, ‘does this game speak to us and do something cool,’” said Lee. “Do the developers have an amazing creative imagination? Does this need to get made? And sometimes we look at games and just say, ‘this game needs to get made.’”
That attitude is what gave Lee the confidence to pick up and move from the West Coast of the United States to Raw Fury’s hometown of Stockholm.
“It’s a family of people who are working together and they’ve figured out how to make indie game development work for indie game developers,” said Lee. “And how to make the artistic things they want and how to achieve successes that let Raw Fury and the developers wind up being financially successful to the extent that we’re okay, and we can keep doing this stuff and not be stuck in a boom-bust cycle.”
Paying the bills
But does making cool things pay the bills for Raw Fury? Lee says yes.
“It pays the bills and then some,” he said. “I think one of the things we lose sight of is we live in a gaudy world. We live in a world where Fortnite has billions with a B dollars of revenue. For some sorts of investors, that makes the notion of a slow and steady, a moderate return on investment, not that exciting. That’s why so many people are so attracted to that. There’s no denying that the big games of today are attracting huge audiences with monstrous amounts of revenue. That has sort of, in a sense, resulted in something of a talent vacuum, or maybe just a vacuum in general, around art games, around indie games, around artistic endeavors.”
Lee notes that Flower, the petal-blowing simulator from Thatgamecompany, is more than 10 years old. And even though indie games have matured since then, he doesn’t think they’ve grown stagnant.
“What’s awesome about walking into Raw Fury is it’s a place where everyone is there because they believe in the beauty and artistry of games,” said Lee. “And there’s a way to make those games in a way that puts a roof over our head, buys us all the beer we want, and lets us sit down and play whatever we want to on Thursday evening in front of the television. That’s good enough. You don’t have to be toasting Dom Perignon and driving a Ferrari to be successful.”