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Why Bossa sold its past to pursue a future in co-op PvE

Last year, Bossa Studios sold a catalog of its internally created IP to TinyBuild, including Surgeon Simulator, I am Bread, and I am Fish, saying at the time that it would be focused on co-op PvE games going forward. caught up with Bossa CEO Henrique Olifiers at the Game Developers Conference last month to get a more detailed explanation of how the change in strategy came about.

Olifiers says the studio decided to pivot about two years ago, inspired in part by the way it had been making games previously. To that point, all of Bossa’s titles had arisen from open-ended internal game jams, and while that unfettered creativity allowed for a diverse array of titles, that diversity had some drawbacks.

“When I am producing I am Bread, there’s nothing I can take from Surgeon Simulator in terms of technology, learnings, and so on,” Olifiers says. “When I go from I am Bread to the next game, it’s all new from scratch as well. So we took the decision to find a niche, to find a vertical and focus on that. We’re going to be the best in the world on that as we keep releasing new games, reusing our technology, reusing our learnings, and getting better in that specific area.”

So why choose co-op PvE games as the specific area to go after? Olifiers says it was a combination of the team’s capabilities and strengths, with market considerations also playing a role.

If one looks at the PvP or battle royale markets, Olifiers notes that “production values are super high.”

“Teams are very large. You have a lot of pressure on design in terms of things that PvP bring to the table [such as] balance, exploitation of mechanics, hacking, and things like that.

“If you move into the PvE arena, we see a lot of opportunities to do things creatively that we haven’t seen done yet. And we see a lot of games which are more original with smaller teams succeeding.”

He namechecks Deep Rock Galactic, Maruauders, and Valheim as examples, adding that the PvE market also has spaces that are “wide open from a design and creative perspective.”

Bossa isn’t entirely unfamiliar with the space. Olifiers says that the studio’s Apple Arcade launch title Hogwash established their proficiency in co-op PvE, and many of the studio’s team members have prior experience with multiplayer-focused titles like MMOs and the like.

He says the studio produces roughly 100 playable prototypes for games each year before choosing a new project, and for the past two years, the majority of those prototypes have been in the co-op PvE space.

“For us, it’s about how to make games more social and more meaningful to play with my friends,” Olifiers says of the appeal of the genre. “The depth of cooperation is what matters to us.”

And as much as Olifiers laments the difficulty in taking learnings from previous Bossa titles and bringing them to follow-ups, he said the current PvE project is actually building on some user-generated content elements in Surgeon Simulator 2 that let players build new levels with friends.

“That was already a spark that led us here,” he says. “We saw so much good content created for that game. UGC will never surprise me in any way other than people doing better things in larger numbers than we thought they would. If you look at the market, there’s nothing better and more powerful than UGC.”

Beyond the success of strict UGC plays like Roblox, Olifiers adds that many fantastically popular games – Counter-Strike, DayZ, and Dota 2 among them – have their origins as user-made mods to commercially released games.

The spectre of UGC also brings up the issue of compensation for creators. He points to Roblox as one extreme of a spectrum of UGC efforts that is explicitly commercialized, with Wikipedia as an example on the opposite end where none of the contributors are being compensated.

“I think there is a space for the creators who want their creations to be monetized and rewarded,” Olifiers says. “Sometimes just for kudos, or to make a living out of it. I think that should be enabled for games. How exactly it will come about? It’s too early to say, but that’s certainly the intention.”

That had been the intention on Surgeon Simulator 2 as well, but Olifier said they just didn’t get far enough. He adds the next Bossa title might have a way for creators to monetize from day one, or at least could be headed in that direction.

We ask about whether that means the company is working with blockchain tech, and he assures it won’t use it for its new PvE project.

“If at some point there’s a use case that absolutely justifies it, we’ll look at it,” he says. “But right now we have not found a design that would justify it. In my personal opinion as well, there’s a lot of movement in that blockchain that’s not driven by gameplay; it’s driven by financial incentives and so on. And that’s not what we’re about.”

Getting back to Bossa’s previous projects, we ask about the decision to sell its old IP when so many independent studios would be ecstatic to have built and owned series that are known quantities with audiences of that size.

“These are IPs we love; we made them,” Olifiers says. “And our players love those IPs. To let them wither and die because they are not part of our strategy would be a shame. I love old IPs, games I grew up with, and some of these old IPs are nowhere to be found. I didn’t want that to happen. So for us, the primary concern is, ‘Is there someone out there who has the creative capabilities and the drive to keep these things alive, give them a second breath and take them in new directions?'”

It helps that selling the IP means not having to deal with community management or maintaining games to keep up with the requirements of frequently updating platforms and storefronts. And of course, selling them has another more direct benefit.

“We are doubling down on a new vertical, so it makes sense for us to have a war chest that enables us to weather any kind of delays or large investment we decide to make in this new game we’re making,” Olifiers says.

“We committed to a project. The whole team is excited and day-in and day-out working on that game.”

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