Robotoki Adds Video Division, Aims to Build Community
There’s more going on at Robotoki, the development studio founded in 2012 by former Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling, than just work on the studio’s first game.
The studio has added an “entertainment division,” which will create videos of various sorts, including original short films and shows that will help build community between Robotoki, players and other developers. This fledgling division within this fledgling studio does not exist to make trailers and other regular marketing or PR materials, Bowling told Game Front.
Instead, the entertainment division will focus on creating content they themselves find interesting, and which allows the viewers to interact with Robotoki in a way that’s not only predicated on buying a new game.
“I think the problem with developers that are just focused on the games that they’re making all the time is the only time you talk to your community is when you need something,” he said. “Just as in real life, that’s a terrible way to build a relationship. I think relationships with your community are very important.”
The morning after Robotoki suffered a break-in attempt that Bowling himself thwarted earlier this month, Game Front paid the office a visit to speak with studio boss. Bowling explained the idea behind the entertainment division and gave a quick studio tour. The Sherman Oaks, Calif., office is an odd space, with the lobby on the ground floor and the staff work areas above it. A room the size of a cozy studio apartment on the third floor is where this “entertainment” magic will happen.
The room itself was mostly empty when Bowling took us up to it — the biggest intruder into that emptiness being a PC set up for video editing against the side wall. Also taking up space were scanners for capturing 3D character models — for example, staff members done up like zombies and then inserted into Human Element — and more standard camera equipment.
Bowling mentioned his time at Infinity Ward as an example of how to form strong relationships with a studio’s player base. For many years, he served as the face of Call of Duty, and in that role he said he and other members of the team at IW made sure to answer questions and just talk and be open with the community. There are certainly some folks out there on both sides of the relationship who aren’t happy taking that approach, but Bowling said he thinks it works.
Robotoki’s entertainment division idea is an outgrowth of that community involvement: It’ll produce content that allows the viewers to get to know the Robotoki folks a little bit better. But, Bowling said, not in a boring way.
“The entertainment division is just creating content that celebrates our industry. I think there’s a lot of cynicism and normalization that has happened about game development. It is very accessible now, so people sort of get it. It’s not exciting,” Bowling said. “This is a chance to celebrate developers who are doing amazing stuff, developers who are breaking the mold, individuals within the industry that we respect, inside of Robotoki and especially outside of Robotoki.
“It doesn’t have to be about marketing and promotion and sales. It’s much more about the process, like ‘How did you do this? What were the hurdles?’ Because that’s interesting.”
Part of what makes that interesting, Believes believes, is the rise of the micro- and no-budget indies. While acknowledging that having a studio with a bunch of people is not the same as huddling up at somebody’s house to work, he said the driving sentiments are similar across that divide. He said Robotoki’s entertainment efforts are about that common motivation.
“I think the problem with developers that are just focused on the games that they’re making all the time is the only time you talk to your community is when you need something.”
“Nowadays there are a lot more people making games in their rooms, who are making games in their basements, who are leaving big studios and teaming up with three guys and making really compelling stuff. I think sharing that knowledge is more valuable than keeping it,” Bowling said. But he said the similarities are more than just in the mind; Some Robotoki employees work on their own sorts of side projects after they finish up work on Robotoki’s open-world zombie dystopia Human Element each day. Making these videos will be another creative outlet for them in addition, perhaps, to being about them.
“We have a lot of artists here, who right now they’re focused on making photorealistic 3D stuff for Human Element, that is all set within the universe of Human Element. No matter how passionate you are about that universe, no matter how excited you are to work on it, if you do it day in and day out, you get burned out,” Bowling said. “That’s why these guys go home and they do 3D modeling and they do texturing and they make characters that are completely outside the universe. Because they need an outlet creatively. Here, it (the entertainment division) allows them to do that.”
Bowling said he’d already been receiving pitches from Robotoki staff, including a proposal for a series of animated shorts — indicating the scope of the new division may be wider than Bowling has made it seem.
There will be a guiding hand in the Robotoki entertainment shingle other than Bowling. The studio has brought in Beau Ryan, formerly of Machinima and current owner of RadNerd, which runs the popular Skylanders BOOMcast for Activision, to take charge of entertainment production. And while they are taking this seriously, Bowling said they are not trying to get rich off these videos.
“We don’t care about view count,” he said, though he later qualified that these videos should pay for themselves. “Our goal is not ‘this is a profit generator.’ It’s ‘this is a sustainer’. The revenue should sustain the content. It does not have to sustain the studio.”
photo credit: robotoki.com
Deputy Editor Phil Hornshaw contributed to this report.
Follow Phil Owen on Twitter: @philrowen.
Correction: This article previously stated that the same equipment is used for scanning 3D models and shooting video. The text has been altered to reflect that Robotoki uses unique equipment for each of these actions.