Now here’s an interesting collab. Yes, it’s yet another “ex-Blizzard people form a new studio and investors give them stacks of money” studio, but it’s the particular people who make this story interesting: It’s Jen Oneal, J Allen Brack, and John Donham. They’ve teamed up to found Magic Soup Games.
Brack, of course, succeeded Mike Morhaime as president of Blizzard before he was ousted by Activision as an apparent fall guy for Activision-Blizzard’s outrageous sexual harassment and discrimination scandal.
Brack was succeeded by a pair of co-leads, including Jen Oneal, who’d been with Activision two decades before rising to the top of Vicarious Visions and then Blizzard. Unfortunately, ABK’s bungle over tokenism and pay and discrimination led her to resign a few months later, citing (among other things) the sexual harassment she herself had faced over the years. She’ll be CEO of the new company.
And John Donham is probably best-known to MMORPG players for his long tenure at SOE, where he shepherded the likes of EverQuest, PlanetSide, and Star Wars Galaxies, though of course, he also served as an exec at Blizzard and Amazon. My god, he even worked on Raph Koster’s Metaplace.
The other thing that makes this unusual is that the “investors” here are… the three of them; VentureBeat says “trio funded the new studio themselves in an effort to preserve creative independence.” The piece on VentureBeat shows them all in chef’s outfits with silly chef titles, playing up the “soup” theme.
Of course, we don’t know that they’re necessarily building an MMO. The official site declares the devs “create massive games that make you feel good”), and the open position for a server engineers and concept artists specifically mention an “upcoming multiplayer game” set in a “new IP.” Yes, you just saw the words “massive” and “multiplayer”! More generally, the studio aims to “build original AAA games that are genuinely uplifting and inclusive for players around the world.” Don’t expect anything soon, however, as the studio currently has just five employees as it begins to ramp up. Here’s Oneal on the topic:
“It’s too early to discuss the details. But the spirit is that we will lean on our experience building triple-A games and triple-A teams to create something that brings out the best in people, that celebrates the positive power of what this medium can express. We’re working on something that doesn’t fit neatly into any existing genre today.”
“I also feel strongly about creating a diverse and inclusive company, and it’s fulfilling to be able to create something from the ground up where that is a core principle from day one,” she further notes, and it’s hard not to imagine her looking pointedly at ABK as she says it.
Indeed, VentureBeat asks both Brack and Oneal about their experiences at Blizzard. Oneal says the team and her mentees made it hard to leave, while Brack says he’d already struggled with “differences in vision with Activision-Blizzard” before his departure. “I still believe Blizzard can re-emerge as a haven for creatives with a positive culture for all employees, and I know there are a lot of good people investing their energy into just that,” Brack says.
“I’m so grateful that J. and I stayed in touch,” Oneal says, as if to explain how she came to found a company with someone she replaced under unusual circumstances. “That was part of the journey, feeling like we were going through this big change together. We have bonded over our love of making games and figured out that together we can make the company we always wanted to make with the kind of team we always wanted to work with.”