×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ex-Bungie Boss Harold Ryan Launches Triple-A Game Startup ProbablyMonsters

Harold Ryan, after more than three years in stealth mode, is finally ready to talk about his next venture after leaving as head of Bungie, the game studio behind hits like “Halo” and “Destiny.”

Ryan said he’s set up ProbablyMonsters as a different kind of game developer: It functions as a holding company and incubator that will launch and support multiple subsidiary studios, each one built around a specific game title.

“The teams we’re building are set up as independent studios,” said Ryan, ProbablyMonsters’ CEO and founder. The overarching goal: “to build a culture of trust and accountability between the leadership and people on their team.”

The Seattle-area company is unveiling its first two development studios: Firewalk Studios, led by Tony Hsu, previously SVP and GM of the “Destiny” business unit at Activision; and Cauldron Studios, headed by Dave Matthews, formerly lead character artist at Sony Computer Entertainment of America and art director at Bungie and WB Games. Ryan said ProbablyMonsters is in the process of forming its third studio.

Though he’s now talking publicly about ProbablyMonsters, Ryan is still stingy with details. Both of the studios have signed to top-tier publishers, according to Ryan, but he wouldn’t identify them. The games the ProbablyMonsters studios are developing have budgets of over $50 million, but Ryan declined to divulge anything about the titles — including genre or release timeline — saying that will be left to the publishing partners.

Popular on Variety

Ryan also wouldn’t say which platforms ProbablyMonsters is targeting for its games. But the upstart’s titles will likely leverage next-generations consoles from Sony — the PlayStation 5 — and Microsoft’s Xbox (code-named Scarlett), which are both due out in late 2020 and promise more advanced features and powerful capabilities. Meanwhile, there’s a new wave of streaming game services and app-subscription bundles from the likes of Google and Apple.

ProbablyMonsters, based in Issaquah, Wash., currently has around 70 full-time employees; roughly 50 of those work at Firewalk and Cauldron.

In July 2019, ProbablyMonsters closed a private $18.8 million Series A round of funding led by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and John Goff, founder and chairman of Crescent Real Estate and Goff Capital. Other investors include Luther King Capital Management affiliates, individual game-industry execs and venture capitalist David Oxford. Ryan, who retains majority ownership of ProbablyMonsters, said he’s not looking for additional investors at this point.

Ryan’s thesis is that the structure of ProbablyMonsters will provide better stability for game studios. For many game creators in the industry, “it doesn’t feel stable for people. It doesn’t feel like a safe place to work,” he said. “The goal for ProbablyMonsters is to be predictable.”

Over the past two years, multiple indie game studios have shut their doors — in some cases, without warning. Telltale Games, the company behind a popular “Walking Dead” game, laid off virtually its entire staff last year; it has since been resurrected by two game industry veterans looking to tap into its intellectual property.

ProbablyMonsters is forming the subsidiary studios as independent LLCs, with the parent company providing centralized services like legal, finance and HR. The ProbablyMonsters team includes: COO Lonnye Bower, former senior engineer at Bungie and worldwide technical lead at Microsoft; CFO Douglas Kikendall, formerly CFO at TheTVDB.com and Oak Harbor Capital; and chief people officer Shannon Armstrong, who oversees HR and recruiting and was formerly a senior recruiting manager at Amazon.

“A lot of times people end up running a game studio because they’re good at developing a game,” said Ryan. “My role and the role of ProbablyMonsters is to be mentors and leaders for them to build a strong culture and manage teams responsibly.”

Key personnel at Firewalk, in addition to Hsu (who has experience with the launches of “Destiny” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops”), are game director Ryan Ellis, formerly creative director at Bungie and lead artist at Oddworld Inhabitants.

Cauldron Studios’ game director is CJ Cowan, who was previously the story lead for “Destiny’s House of Wolves” and “Taken King” and Bungie’s director of cinematics for the bulk of the “Halo” titles.

Ryan said after he exited Bungie in 2016 as chairman, president and CEO, he wanted to create a new kind of triple-A game company — industry jargon that refers to big-budget projects — informed by his 20-plus years of experience in the biz. He negotiated Bungie’s divestiture from Microsoft in 2007, secured over $1 billion dollars in funding, and landed strategic partnerships with Activision, Sony and Microsoft for the studio. Prior to running Bungie, he held positions at Microsoft, Ensemble Studios and FASA Studios.

As for ProbablyMonsters’ name, Ryan explained, that arose when the team realized people were going to ask what kinds of games they were going to produce. “We said, Well, there’s probably going to be monsters in our games,” he said. “We ended up liking the name.”

More Digital

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' Nabs 17.1 Million U.S. Viewers on Netflix in First Five Days, per Nielsen

    Martin Scorsese’s mafia saga “The Irishman” was watched by 17.1 million unique Netflix viewers in the U.S. in the first five days of its streaming release, according to Nielsen estimates. By comparison, Sandra Bullock-starrer “Bird Box” scored nearly 26 million U.S. viewers in its first seven days of availability (Dec. 21-27, 2018) on Netflix, according [...]

  • Amazon, HBO Max, Netflix Dish on

    Amazon, HBO Max, Netflix Dish on Their International Plans

    It’s different strokes for different streaming folks as Amazon, HBO Max and Netflix lifted the lid on their international plans in London this week. Amazon said it’s not in the volume game and talked up a select number of hyper-local shows, while Netflix dished on plans to rev up non-English-language originals. The message from HBO [...]

  • NOBODY’S LOOKING

    Daniel Rezende on Netflix Brazilian Series ‘Nobody’s Looking’

    Having premiered on Netflix Nov. 22, “Nobody’s Looking” marks the first collaboration between Gullane and Netflix – their second, “Boca a Boca” is in development- and comes from a long list of new projects that the streaming giant has announced with it’s $87 Million investment in Brazilian content. The series embodies the streaming platform’s push [...]

  • Sunil Doshi

    ATF: Sunil Doshi Launches Content Development Platform All Things Small (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sunil Doshi, whose company Alliance Media & Entertainment produced 2017 Tokyo film festival title “Bioscopewala” and distributed Jafar Panahi’s 2018 film “3 Faces” in India, has launched a new content development platform at the ongoing Asian TV Forum & Market in Singapore. The Mumbai-based All Things Small (ATS) is founded by Doshi, journalists Sidin Vadukut, [...]

  • YouTube-Rewind-2019

    YouTube Rewind 2019 Scraps Old Format After Last Year's Torrent of Dislikes

    YouTube has taken a brand-new approach with this year’s YouTube Rewind mashup video — dropping its tradition of highly produced original videos segments. Instead, the 2019 version is a montage of what the platform says were the biggest moments and milestones from around the world on YouTube. The move came after the 2018 YouTube Rewind [...]

  • PewDiePie

    PewDiePie Is the Most-Watched YouTube Creator of 2019 With 4 Billion Views

    PewDiePie’s Bro Army remains stronger than ever: The top YouTuber is the most-viewed creator of 2019 on the platform year-to-date, with more than 4 billion views this year, according to YouTube. The comedian, game vlogger and meme aficionado, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, is also the most-subscribed individual YouTube creator, currently with 102 million [...]

  • Variety Summit Examines Streaming Options and

    Variety Summit Examines Streaming Options and Innovation

    Analytics, monetization and the expanding landscape of entertainment will be the focus of Variety’s Innovate Summit: Discovery & Data Science in Media on Dec. 5 in West Hollywood. The event is presented by PwC. The summit will feature 32 speakers, each considered industry leaders in the emerging world of streaming. Each panel will speak to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content