New Mexico firm's gaming universe inspires thousands

·5 min read

Jan. 22—Thousands of gamers could be battling hostile aliens on the fantasy planet "Wolf Prime" by year-end 2022, when New Mexico-based Ganymede Games plans to open its new "Xenotheria" science fiction universe to early access by players.

Xenotheria is still under development. But more than 600 enthusiastic gamers slammed down a collective $29,000 to pre-purchase Xenotheria during a monthlong Kickstarter campaign that ended in late December. Another 8,000 also signed up for notification to buy the game once it becomes available.

That's got Ganymede Games hyped about the potential market for Xenotheria — a single-player role-playing game, or RPG, that offers an entirely new universe for gamers beyond the traditional science fiction worlds of Star Wars or Star Trek. It's the first new game built by the independent studio, which a group of veteran developers launched in Las Cruces in 2019.

Through the Kickstarter campaign, Ganymede was able to gauge audience interest in its forthcoming game, said company co-founder Rob Thompson.

"We wanted to make sure that we're engaging with our target audience each step of the way for people to give feedback," Thompson told the Journal. "About 8,000 people have gone to our website to sign up in tandem with Kickstarter. It validates that we're on the right track."

The company will begin beta testing Xenotheria this spring. Then, in late 2022, it will become initially available to customers through "Steam Early Access" — a part of the Steamworks' PC platform — which allows game studios to begin offering a new product while it's still under development.

Xenotheria's full release on Steam is scheduled for late 2023. But engagement now through Kickstarter and website sign-ups helps reduce risk and uncertainty to maximize potential product success, said company CEO Jerry Prochazka.

Engagement began last year, when Ganymede surveyed 7,500 gamers about their playing preferences to help guide development.

"With 8,000 sign-ups, we're pretty confident now that people want the game, otherwise we'd be headed back to the drawing board," Prochazka told the Journal. "More than 600 people forked out nearly $30,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter. We're happy with where we are."

So are company investors, who have pumped $850,000 into Ganymede since 2019. That includes the New Mexico Angels and the Arrowhead Innovation Fund at New Mexico State University.

"Ganymede has done a fantastic job of fostering community support," said NM Angels President Drew Tulchin. "They didn't start with the premise of 'we know what customers want.' They've gone directly out to talk with thousands of them, and they now have a lot of people vested who want to buy the game."

That has directly connected Ganymede with its target market, said Arrowhead Innovation Fund Managing Director Beto Pallares.

"Ganymede continues to grow its fan and revenue base even before releasing its first game," Pallares told the Journal.

With Kickstarter under its belt, Ganymede now plans to raise another $2 million in private investment, starting next month.

"That will provide enough money to finish our game, get it out there, and start research and development on our next game as well," Prochazka said. "It's an exciting time for us."

The company founders launched Ganymede to develop single-player RPGs that provide aging gamers with the same hardcore experiences that attracted them at younger ages, but with content and formats that accommodate their current, busy lifestyles.

Unlike today's online multiplayer games that take place in real time, RPGs allow gamers to play at their own pace, individually exploring and interacting with fantasy worlds. That offers deep engagement that grows as players build skills and knowledge to confront challenges embedded throughout the game.

To enhance the experience, Ganymede's Xenotheria includes digital "cards" that yield different sets of capabilities that players control through characters in the games. Players accumulate cards as they progress through the sci-fi world, building up a stack, or "deck," of capabilities to choose from each time they play, Thompson said.

That might include fire-, ice- or water-based combat capabilities.

In Xenotheria, players build the card decks as they transverse Wolf Prime, a desert world that serves as a galactic trading port where an apocalyptic event has forced orbiting spacecraft to come crashing down across the planet. Players embark on an epic journey across Wolf Prime, exploring the terrain, fighting marooned extraterrestrials and salvaging fallen ships for gear.

"It's not real-time action, so at any point in the game players can walk away," Thompson said. "We built it that way to fit inside busy lifestyles."

Although Xenotheria will be rolled out first on PC through Steam, over time it will be adapted for consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, and for mobile devices.

"It will eventually be available on multiple platforms so gamers can play wherever they go, say at an airport or in a car," Thompson said.

In contrast, today's real-time, online multiplayer games require time commitments, plus manual dexterity and reflexes with rapid mouse and eye movements that may appeal less to aging gamers who grew up with RPGs, Thompson said.

Ganymede believes that market segment has been overlooked in today's gaming industry.

"With so many new online multiplayer games, this group is just getting nostalgic upgrades to old RPGs," Thompson said. "We want to give them something fresh and new."

In fact, that group of gamers constitutes a huge sub market.

Newzoom — a leading market research and analytics firm for games and esports — estimates global gaming revenue reached $177.8 billion in 2020, up 23% from 2019. The RPG-related sub market accounted for $45 billion in 2020, or about one-fourth of global revenue that year.

Kevin Robinson-Avila covers technology, energy, venture capital and utilities for the Journal. He can be reached at krobinson-avila@abqjournal.com.

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