Throughout much of last year, I was working on developing my own video game. In order to help teach myself about making games and remove the need for fancy graphics, I settled on a puzzle game called Octets that was based on the laws of covalent bonding in chemistry. Now, I know that sounds like the most fun experience you can think of, and I’m sure you’re wondering where you can sign up to play it. Unfortunately, after starting my new job and building 20 levels of medium-paced chemical action, I put aside the game to return to it at a later date, but increasingly it seemed like that day would never come. The truth is that while it was a great learning experience, the actual game wasn’t all that fun, nor was it what I’d actually want to build.
Recently, I’ve been wanting to start up development on another game more true to my tastes, so I decided to seek out inspiration in the supremely charming and addictive business sim, Game Dev Story, that was ported over to the Switch last year. Along the 8 or so hours and 30+ in game years that transpired, I not only created a lot of wonderful video game puns, but I also wrestled with my beliefs about capitalism and worker’s rights all in a nice sprite filled setting. Now presenting, for the first time ever, the story of Pwned and Operated Studios.
Founding and Early Years
Pwned and Operated studios had humble beginnings. We really bootstrapped ourselves up after starting with a mere $500k nest egg that began to rapidly deplete thanks to hiring 4 developers to kick us off. Due to lacking the necessary funds to purchase a console license, our first few games were PC exclusives beginning with the critically panned robot adventure flop that was aptly titled Robo Venture.
This initial criticism would not deter us as we saw our sales figures jump by over 50% to 65k units for our second game, Zoo Won’t Believe It. Still, we were extremely fortunate that employee salaries were covered by a generous first year tax incentive, or the studio may have gone belly up quite early on. Over the next several years, we leaned heavily on animal, robot, and ninja themes with such cult classics as Zooped Up, Robo Protocol Alpha, Shadows of Fear, Speedbot 66, and the accidentally titled Game #4 that saw our sales begin to rise into the 200k unit range.
Our gamble to move into the mobile market by developing on the Game Kid proved to be a success as we leveled up into a larger office, hired 2 additional engineers, and finally had the capital to enter the console world with some titles for the Neongeon. Everything was coming up Pwned and Operated as our sales began to occasionally cross the 500K mark, and such classics as the mystery game Whoof Arted and the fantasy RPG Final Dream were our first entries to receive recognition at the Global Game Awards for Best Music and Best Design, respectively.
The Tumultuous End to the First Decade
Greed and the utter intoxication of early start-up success, though, would quickly rear their ugly heads as we pushed into year 8. The chase for greater sales and critical success meant we were spending frivolously on hiring outside talent to boost review scores and plopping down more cash on advertising than it was returning. If there was little pixelated cocaine, my ambitious CEO was definitely snorting it. Then, we made the most common start-up mistake there is; we expanded too quickly and moved into a new 8 dev office that we could barely afford. When you compound this with the surprise discontinuation of the Neongeon system, we suddenly found ourselves with barely enough reserves to produce another game.
Our hubris even saw a slip in quality as the movie mystery game Lights, Camera, Death received the Worst Game Award and a $300k penalty that should have all but crippled our dreams. I’m sure the workers were growing restless with my poor direction and budgeting, and unfortunately for them, there is no mechanism in the game to unionize. Instead, they were forced to work long hours while downing Dead Bulls to keep going as we clung to the cheapness of PCs and the surprising longevity of the Game Kid to get us back on our feet, eventually leading to the purchase of a license to develop on the Virtual Kid.
Thanks to the minor success of our samurai epic Virtual Seppuku and the robot fighter Virtual Kaiju Smash we were able to overcome yet another boneheaded move by my chief executive self, as the Virtual Kid was quickly pulled from the market. It was then that we would have our greatest moment of inspiration that would set the studio on its course as a powerhouse for the future.
Rise to Prominence
Seeing no point in returning to the low market share PC or Game Kid, we focused all of our efforts on the hot new PlayStatus console and created our first million seller, World of Pwncraft, which was also critically adored, receiving recognition for Best Music. From there, the hits kept flowing with the fantasy RPG Rains of the Sun, the monster action game Monster Fisher World, and the golf simulation Hole in Fun all crossing the million unit mark.
Do you know what’s cooler than a million units? Five million units! Thanks to directing our ever-growing revenue toward a sexy new PlayStatus 2 license, we swiftly found ourselves among the gaming world elite with such company defining hits as Final Funtasy, Galf Story, and Final Funtasy Legacy. We had all the commercial success we could have ever dreamed of, but it was time to chase something bigger. It was time to make a Hall-of-Fame game.
Building a Critical Darling
By this point, we had accumulated quite a bit of knowledge on what sells and what devs were the best for building what sort of games. If we slightly tweaked the formula from our first ever game to be a robot action game (instead of the ill-conceived robot adventure one), we believed that we just might birth a masterpiece.
In many respects, Metal Vengeance was the quintessential Pwned and Operated game. Critics “Had a lot of fun with it!” and thought it was “A little rough, but good.” just like the studio that it emerged from. At long last, 20 years into the company’s lifetime, we had our first Hall-of-Fame entry and the Runner-up for Game of the Year.
Maybe this success got to our heads as our next game, the baseball sim Big League Chew sold fewer than half as many units as Metal Vengeance, but I like to think this minor set-back helped re-center ourselves as a company, as 4 of our next 5 games all earned entry into the Hall-of-Fame. These generational achievements were the 10 million unit selling open world RPG The Older Books, the baseball sim Pitch the Game (in my game universe that show was a massive hit that lasted for 10 seasons), the monster shooter Despair, and our first ever sequel Metal Vengeance 2.
Suddenly, we found ourselves on the podium accepting the Runner-up for Game of the Year every single awards season. The Hall-of-Fame was now filled with the fruits of our hard work including the golf sim Lion Forest and further sequels to Pitch the Game and Metal Vengeance. At this point, it almost seemed like a cruel joke every year when we’d hear our names called for runner-up only to lose to Super Smash Sisters or Towervania yet again.
The Final Years
Having accrued over $100 million in capital, we hitched our Game of the Year hopes on the Nipon Play Popo X console. Metal Vengeance 5 crossed the rarified 15 million unit threshold, yet still went home without the most coveted trophy in gaming. The hits and awards kept coming including an exciting new property in the fantasy RPG, The Hexer, that was our top-selling game ever with just south of 19 million copies sold. Additionally, all reviews were now receiving an average rating of 9/10. but our goal eluded us still.
Using the 31 years of business acumen I had developed, I knew the only way to finally cross the GOTY off of my bucket list. If I was going to succeed this time, I was going to have to fire my hardworking staff and replace them with higher priced talent that could produce a 10/10 all-timer. This would be easy enough. With over $200 million in the bank now, I could attract even the costliest geniuses, but in my heart, I knew I didn’t want that. This scrappy group of devs had stuck with me for 31 years. They were what made Pwned and Operated Studios what it was. All of our accomplishments were because of them, and I was not going to abandon these poor pixelated souls who hadn’t gotten a raise in over 15 years since they all hit their level caps. Instead, we would band together for one last ride. We would remake Robo Venture using purely in-house talent. Maybe we’d make the hall-of-fame again or add a little more to our pockets before turning the lights off, but most importantly, we’d do it together.
One last time, Mrs. S. Presso, who was the creative mind behind the original, stepped to the plate to deliver a proposal. On graphics, we had our intrepid UX superstar Ann Deroid turning polygons into gold. And then, without warning, a blackout hit, and I restarted from my save because we were not going out like that!
Once I spit out one quick game to take the brunt of the pre-ordained blackout, it was back to work on our Robo Venture Remake. Eventually our newest hire (a mere 20 years at the company) Abraham Malcolm came in to shore up the sound, and after a lengthy period of bug squashing our final (Robo) venture was shipped.
The reviews came in at a slightly underwhelming 30 points, just 2 off of the Hall-of-Fame benchmark, and sales were hurt by the adjacent release of a similarly themed game. I spared no expense to promote our final opus as I even wrote on the moon several times for publicity, but it was too late to worry about reaching new heights before shutting it all down.
We hit the market with just under 1 million units in our first week and closed at a fairly underwhelming by our standards 3.8 million total sold. Now there was nothing left to do but wait and see if we’d receive any accolades. In the end, our blood, sweat, and pixels were rewarded with one final Best Music award, and we shuttered the company for good.
73 games and 16 Hall-of-Famers later it was time to call it a career. Pwned and Operated Studios may not have ever won its GOTY, but it stayed true to itself and its mission without falling prey to the harsher aspects of our capitalist society. What we started together, we finished together, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the accolades in the world.