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How TV network AMC is seeking to support overlooked indies

When thinking about AMC’s involvement in the industry, you’d be forgiven for immediately picturing how it has licensed its star franchise, The Walking Dead, to several game studios over the years.

But that’s not its only foray into games. The company actually also runs an indie publisher, headed by (and composed entirely of) AMC Networks director of games Simon Ferrari.

“I started at AMC seven years ago as a freelancer, working mostly on The Walking Dead mobile games,” he tells “But a little-known thing about AMC is that their approach to the new media landscape is to become an aggregate of boutiques instead of a big, monolithic service.”

Ferrari mentions that AMC does “a lot of indie stuff” on the film and TV side, from operating American TV channel IFC (dedicated to independent films) and the IFC Film Center in New York, to co-organising the Sundance Film Festival, or running horror movie distribution service IFC Midnight.

“For basically anything smaller than Disney, Warner Brothers, and now Netflix, making games at a TV network means licensing, because most people at the company don’t know how to build a games studio. When much bigger companies than AMC have tried, it’s been disastrous. We were a sleepy little licensing department, just myself and one other person. But because AMC does operate all of these indie film production companies and distribution companies, I thought it would make sense if we worked on indie games.

“And so, four years ago, we did our first game, which was kind of local people I knew in the New York indie game development scene. That was called Airplane Mode, which is just a game where you sit on an airplane for six hours. And then, our first international collaboration was The Magnificent Trufflepigs, which came out two years ago now.”

Since then, the label also released two projects that Ferrari says “took a lot longer to make” because of the pandemic: It’s a Wrap, which came out at the end of August, and The Fabulous Fear Machine, released in October.

“So that’s AMC Games; we’re a very small department at a TV network. The indie games that we work on are not based on IPs, so it’s my chance to work on new properties. At the start, because we’re a TV network, we thought maybe narrative-focused games were the way to go, but I think unless you’re big enough to be like Fellow Traveller, it’s pretty hard to hyperfocus on a genre. So, now we’re basically signing games that we think are fun and interesting, and aren’t getting enough attention.”

Ferrari’s passion for the indie scene is immediately obvious and, we admit, this isn’t totally what we pictured when we booked a meeting with the publishing arm of a company worth billions – but it’s a very pleasant surprise. Ferrari is very candid about the fact that it is because he is part of a big firm that he has the freedom to fund and sign games he believes in.

That’s also what sets AMC Games apart from other indie publishers popping up on a regular basis, he says.

“Most indie game publishers, when they start out, they do something smart, which is that they sign projects that are basically already done, and then they come on as marketing partners. I didn’t do that but, especially if you have stakeholders, that’s the economic or financially responsible way to start an indie publishing group, because you need to sign a bunch of projects, spread out your risk, and then you get your hits, and you can dive deeper further on.

“We didn’t really do that. We give full development funding for all of the games that we’ve made so far. I say full but European games get tons of matching funds from their regional and national governments, which is awesome, so that helps a lot. But yes, we fund games that are very early, much earlier than most publishers would consider.

“So we’re willing to take risks that other publishers wouldn’t. And that’s a privilege that I have because we make The Walking Dead games. So ‘mommy Walking Dead is funding baby indie games’ is essentially what’s happening,” he smiles.

“And so there’s not that kind of competitive pressure to sign things, but definitely, in the four years since I started work on Airplane Mode, the amount of competition has [increased].”

He continues: “But I would say I don’t feel pressure, because of the weird privilege I have of having The Walking Dead, but the landscape changes [fast], within three-month cycles.”

While AMC Games isn’t necessarily looking for a specific type of games anymore, there’s a certain cartoony feel to most of its projects so far. We ask Ferrari whether that’s intentional.

“Lucky Tower Ultimate and It’s a Wrap are both hand-drawn, cartoony, 2D games, and so I think it’s a totally reasonable conclusion to come to. I would say probably the reason that I signed two games like that is that, while it’s an art style that deeply appeals to some people, it is not as mass marketable as [your] regular roguelike game.

“And so I would assume that those games got overlooked by some bigger publishers who are like, ‘This doesn’t look like what the common consumer expects.’ It was happenstance that I signed two cartoon games. But yes, even though we moved away from saying we’re doing first-person narrative experiences, all of the games that I work on are more narrative than other games in their genre.”

Lucky Tower Ultimate is due to release next year and, as the name suggests, is a revival of the beloved Flash game from 2010. The fully voiced title is being made by Studio Seufz, the developer behind one of the most bizarre and unique indie titles ever made, The Longing (for those unfamiliar with the point-and-click: it is played across 400 real-life days).

“This will be the first game that I’ve worked on that is a sequel or inside of a franchise, and I actually can’t think of a premium PC indie game I’ve played that was based on a Flash game,” Ferrari says. “Obviously, there are a lot of foundational indie game developers who worked in Flash – Finji, Vlambeer. If you think about those super influential indies who give keynotes at every single festival, they all started in Flash.

“One of the special things about Studio Seufz is that when Adam Atomic [Adam Saltsman, Finji co-founder] and Vlambeer [founded by Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman] were in their mid-20s, Anselm [Pyta] and Benedikt [Hummel, both co-founders of Studio Seufz] were 14. And so, this is this weird wave of kids, literal kids, who are making Flash games kind of at the end of Flash’s life cycle, and so they bring a weird new energy to indie game development. And you see that in The Longing.”

With Netflix slowly becoming a bigger player in the games ecosystem, we ask Ferrari whether AMC is imagining similar directions for its games branch, where the TV services are more linked to the interactive media it distributes.

“Since I’m the only person who works full-time on [indie titles] at AMC [Games], I can’t tell you what ambitions the tech higher-ups might have, just because I wouldn’t know. For me, I think you need to do everything appropriate to the scale of your operations. I mean, Netflix has hired, what? 700 or 800 games professionals now, to build what they want? Amazon hired thousands of people to do the MMO thing…

“So, I think the vision of being able to stream video games on your TV is something that would appeal to me as a consumer. As the professional that I am right now, I just want to support games that are good that I think I can help.”

Being on his own has meant moving around a lot in terms of where AMC Games sits within the wider company because “nobody knows what to do with a single person department,” Ferrari says. He started as part of the digital media content team and then got moved to the commercial revenue team.

“Which basically means ad sales,” he says. “And weirdly, the ad sales team has been more supportive probably than the tech evangelism team was, just in that they understand that we’re trying to operate a responsible business in a specific way.”

He continues: “The support from AMC is nice. We have really robust legal support that I think most indie games of the size that we work on [can benefit from]. A lot of our games, because they’re cartoony, have parody elements in them, so it’s nice to have TV lawyers who can call South Park’s lawyer, and be like, ‘Hey, can you advise us on parody and how to do it properly?’ And we have a risk management team. That’s kind of boring, but making sure everybody has insurance is important!”

That also means benefitting from things like AMC’s DEI team, he continues, which came in handy when working on the Fabulous Fear Machine, which is a game about urban legends and scary stories, with many urban legends initially relying on sexist or racist tropes.

“A lot of them are about chasing women down and that kind of stuff, or a woman opens the door and a bad guy gets her,” Ferrari points out. “So, we actually went to the same DEI team who advises on the TV shows, and we showed them all of the art and all of the stories we were telling in that game, and we were like, ‘Hey, could you tell us what we could do to either soften some of those problematic aspects, or how could we twist them to bring them more into a more contemporary discussion or zeitgeist?'”

Looking ahead, Ferrari is looking forward to being able to provide more and more support to the indies he signs, with things such as localisation, QA, and community management.

“So, essentially, every single project that I do, I build out a new competency and do a new thing,” he says. “My personal dream is just, for Lucky Tower, being able to find the important new aspect of marketing games that they need help with, and then being able to provide it for them. The only console that I’ve ever worked on is the Switch, so it’d be really cool to have a game on PlayStation or Xbox, or maybe Netflix someday. That would be a dream for me.

“There are these stand-out hits that kind of dominate the indie landscape [any given] year, because people can only play two to ten games a year, if you’re a normal person who doesn’t work in games all day. And so, I do wish it were easier for people who have super interesting games to get attention on big game platforms. They win awards and stuff at these smaller, regional events, and then they come out, and nobody ever hears about the game. And so, yes, my dream for indie games is that those games sell well enough for their developers to make another game afterward. I want more people to be successful because people make really cool stuff, and they should be successful.”

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