Jason Citron has taken the wraps off his new game development studio Phoenix Guild, announcing today the company has raised $1.1 million in funding from Accel Partners, General Catalyst Partners and former OpenFeint incubator YouWeb.
Citron is a long-time player in the mobile gaming industry, co-founding game studio turned mobile-social network OpenFeint, which he sold to GREE for $104 million last spring. Although Citron originally stayed with GREE as the chief executive of OpenFeint, he stepped down just five months later to “pursue other interests.”
As announced today, those other interests are an ambitious mission to become “the Blizzard of the post-PC era” — creating free-to-play tablet games that will appeal to core gamers.
“There’s still a huge audience of gamers who still play on their PCs and consoles,” explains citron. “I think its because the games that appeal to these players haven’t really been made on mobile devices.”
Although core gamers make up a relatively small portion of the total mobile gaming market, Citron believes they are an underserved demographic, one that’s so far been mostly ignored as other mobile game companies have sought to lock down their market share.
“I look at the market and I see iPhone casual and midcore are having millions and millions of dollars poured into them by GREE, DeNA, TinyCo and all those companies battling it out,” he says. “The reason I’m picking tablets is because I don’t think most people realize yet that they’re a new platform. The way that you interact with an iPad is so fundamentally different than with an iPhone that it just begs for content that’s more long-form.”
According to Citron, the key to building tablet games that will appeal to the notoriously picky core demographic lies in respect. “You first build content that looks very appealing. Second, when they play, it’s got to be fun, deep, engaging and not feel like its exploiting them, like many free-to-play games do,” he explains, pointing out that to target core gamers, you have to look at how free-to-play games that are beloved by core gamers actually monetize.
“I’m actually not a huge fan of Ngmoco or Kixeye, I love Team Fortress 2,” he says. “I think what Valve has done with Team Fortress 2 now that it’s free-to-play is phenomenal. I think what League of Legends does is phenomenal. Those are two online games I think are incredible examples of free-to-play.”
While Citron did not reveal any more information about Phoenix Guild’s first game, it is scheduled to be out by the end of the year on iPad. The new company is based out of San Francisco and is currently hiring for a developer with AAA experience.