Year over year the number of game companies continues to grow at a fevered pace. Some of these companies will only ever exist as a vehicle for someone to launch their passion project on Kickstarter. Others quickly rise to become household names within the gaming community, creating one notable title after the next and cementing their status as a publisher on the rise.
Today we look at the latter by turning our sights on Renegade Game Studios. Founded in 2014 by industry veteran Scott Gaeta, Renegade rocketed itself out of the gate and hasn’t slowed down since. The company was initially seen by many as a spinoff from Cryptozoic, as Renegade had acquired the rights to most of Cryptozoic’s original (non-licensed) games as part of Scott’s departure, including the unique card drafting and movement game Gravwell and the criminally underappreciated party game Word Whimsy.
Since then, Renegade has risen its profile through ambitious co-publishing partnerships and strategic game choices. They’ve been so busy these last two years, in fact, that getting some exclusive time with Scott has proven quite the challenge. However, when we realized that for the first time we were going to have back-to-back Indie Spotlights being co-published by Renegade, first with April’s Apotheca and then in May with World’s Fair 1893, we redoubled our efforts.
With that, we give you our interview with Scott Gaeta, head Renegade, as he talks about how far the company has come in the last two years, and where he hopes to see it go from here.
CR: Hi Scott. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about Renegade. I figure we can dive right in. So tell us a bit about yourself and the founding of Renegade Games.
Hi Ryan. No problem, thanks for asking!
I got my professional start in gaming back in the mid nineties. I owned a game store in Colorado called, CollectorMania. I’m proud to say it’s still there and the current owners were customers of mine back when I owned it. From there I started contracting for Decipher games and then eventually took a full time position there and relocated to Virginia. After that I spent several years at Upper Deck. Then, in 2010, I was one of 4 partners who founded Cryptozoic.
In 2014 I decided I wanted to do something new. I left Cryptozoic and founded Renegade Game Studios. My focus at Renegade is collaborating with independent designers and studios and bringing those games to market. I really like games that are family friendly and have the potential to bring new people into our hobby.
CR: What prompted you to spin off and form Renegade? That is, what freedoms does Renegade afford to you that you weren’t able to do at Cryptozoic?
I have worked on licensed games almost exclusively my entire career. Licensing is great and can be very fun, but they also dictate the experience to a large degree. I like innovation and trying new things, so working with independent designers was an area I really wanted to shift my focus to. I’m not opposed to licensing, but right now I’m having a lot of fun developing new innovative games and bringing them to market.
CR: What was the initial of founding Renegade like? Were there any indices of feeling more comfortable or more experienced in your position from a publisher standpoint the second time around?
It’s always exciting starting something new. I’ve owned and sold a few others business in the past and have been entrepreneurial my whole life. Most of my professional career has been in games so from that perspective it’s not a big change. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to often be in a role where I was the decision maker when it came to producing, developing, marketing, and selling games. So in some ways starting Renegade was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. In other ways, it’s a challenge doing (mostly) everything yourself. It’s a matter of time management and prioritizing.
That, and working very very long hours…
CR: How many Renegades are there now? And do you refer to yourselves as such? Please say yes.
We haven’t referred to ourselves as Renegades so far but we may need to start! So far we are a small group. Full time it’s just three of us right now. We recently hired Sara Erickson as our director of sales and marketing. Besides that we have some part time people who help with things like conventions, trade shows, and websites. We also have several graphic designers that we keep very busy, not to mention the fantastic artists and game designers we work with on a daily basis.
We use an online tool for team and project management and it’s really become this very creative and collaborative community. Designers for all our games are on there and sometimes help out on projects that aren’t even theirs. For example Kane Klenko, designer of Fuse, recently handled art direction for a new game we have coming up from Jordan and Mandy Goddard. Or graphic designers for one game will help one working on another.
It’s really the creative culture I wanted and I think it’s working.
CR: And then there’s the games themselves. 2015 saw Double Feature, the big hit Lanterns, a re-release of Snow Tails, and the debut of the real-time dice game Fuse. How do you go about selecting which games you want to sign / publish?
I’m constantly looking at and playing games, but I actually don’t get to play as many released games as I would like. There isn’t really one specific thing I’m looking for. To start Renegade we focused on what some people would call “gateway” or “casual” games – games that appeal to a broad audience and not just the most hardcore player. Games that you can set up fairly quickly and play in less than an hour.
I think people want to play games but don’t necessarily want or have time to sit down for 90+ minutes. The video game industry has seen that shift as well and has compensated for it. Tablets and digital media have also shortened our attention span for entertainment. There is so much good entertainment out there and people want to be able to experience more of it.
So fun, innovative, easy to learn, and under an hour has been our sweet spot. Games provide experiences and what the experience the player has as they play is something I’m very conscious of when evaluating a game.
That’s not to say we aren’t looking at publishing some heavier games too. We have Covert coming in August and that’s a bit heavier than what we’ve done so far.
CR: Fair enough. So what else is in store for Renegade in 2016?
Fuse by Kane Klenko, which came out in 2015, is already in its second printing and will be going into its 3rd shortly. We also continue to expand our co-publishing partnerships. With Foxtrot we just released World’s Fair 1893 this month. We also released Apotheca through our partnership with designer Andrew Federspiel and Knapsack in April.
Additionally, we’ve partnered with designer Aza Chen to release three games from him and recently signed on for a fourth. The first one was Kitty Paw. That one released in March but already sold out and is going into its next printing. His next one is Doggy Go, which will release this fall. The next two in the first half of 2017. We really love Aza’s work and believe his games have the potential to bring new audiences to gaming.
We also have an absolutely beautiful game by Jordan and Mandy Goddard, who I’ve dubbed the cutest couple in gaming, called Lotus coming out in September. It’s this really zen experience with a cool placement and area control mechanic. We’ll hopefully have a few early copies to show off at Gen Con.
Then we have Dicey Goblins, a push your luck dice game about goblins stealing dragon eggs, and Slap It!, an adorable kids games for the whole family by Kane Klenko.
And I might as well spill the beans here: we just signed Dan Cassar’s (designer of Arboretum) next game. We’re really excited to have Dan as part of the Renegade family!
There’s more too but I think that gives you a little taste of what we have coming up.
CR: Impressive! We’re sure plenty of those games come with interesting stories behind how they got there. What is your most memorable experience while sourcing games (or a notable memory for Renegade as a whole)?
Probably the most memorable so far was when Wil Wheaton recommended us to Jordan and Mandy for Lotus. It was previously called Bloom when they were pitching it and they got a lot of interest at Gen Con.
The story was that they were playing the prototype one night and Wil walked by and saw it. He liked what he saw and asked if they found a publisher. They said they hadn’t yet but had several interested. He supposedly said, ‘you should try Renegade’. So, in a way, Wil helped us sign that game. Pretty cool. Thanks Wil!
CR: Renegade certainly has come a long way in a short couple years. Are you surprised at its quick rise?
Not really surprised so much as appreciative. I set out with a specific vision in mind, and it’s really nice to see that people have responded to it. I really believe that there is a game for everyone but we as creators of games just need to keep trying new things and making different games to reach as many people as possible.
I also wanted to work with high quality partners and I’m really proud to be associated with all the co-publishers, designers, artists, graphic designers, distributors, and media that we’ve worked with the past couple of years. It’s a team effort for sure.
CR: Starting up your own company definitely takes an inordinate amount of work. What has been your greatest challenge/obstacle so far as part of that process?
Definitely time management. This isn’t my first startup, and I learned early on that you can’t do this half-hearted. You can’t waste time. It’s your most precious resource besides the people you choose to work with.
Initially it was just me doing all the sales, marketing, product development, trade shows, manufacturing, etc., and my wife, Robyn, handling all the finances, AP/AR, sales orders, POs, and such. I’d joke and say after dinner it’s time to work the night shift while she put our youngest to bed.
Hiring Sara Erickson as director of sales and marketing has freed me from the day to day stuff in that role. I’d worked with her before and she’s awesome. But as we’ve grown so quickly my plate – and everyone else’s – is still as full as it ever was. We all help with everything, and it’s a great team.
Our primary graphic designer is Anita Osburn. She’s a rockstar and handles the majority of our game projects. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her contribution. I often tell her I wish I could clone her.
We also have what I call the cast of a million contractors for things like graphic design, art, some marketing help with conventions, and then our passionate fans who are out there demoing our games and spreading the word. We wouldn’t have grown so quickly if it wasn’t for their support and enthusiasm.
In the end I think managing time and getting the most out of it has easily been our greatest challenge.
CR: We can relate to time being the enemy. To wit, let’s say we loan you our time machine to hop into the future a few years from now. What’s something you’d hope to see Renegade doing? Besides making fun games of course.
I really hope we’ve grown and are making lots of people happy. I also hope that we’ve managed that growth and not changed from the original vision of being quick and nimble and only working with the best people. As we grow and branch out into new areas we bring in people who are the best at what they do.
I also hope that when I look back I see that we’ve done things that were good for the entire industry. That we’ve reached new gamers, that new designers got their first big break with us, and that the people we work with continue to love what they do.
My biggest fear isn’t money or if anyone will buy or games; it’s that we don’t stay the course and keep doing what we do best. I like to take risks and push boundaries, so this is a constant challenge for me.
CR: Hopefully that gives you time to play some games too! What’s the most recent non-Renegade game you’ve played that you really enjoyed?
I recently posted on Twitter that if you want to have time to play lots of games, then don’t get into the game-making business! We do play a lot of our own games and especially games we have in development. I enjoy that process. But let’s see…I recently played Onitama with my wife and we really enjoyed it. I just bought Happy Salmon the other day too after getting to play it at Toy Fair, and it’s a blast.
I’ve also been playing a lot of games from designers that aren’t Renegade games, but who knows, some of them might be soon!
Photo Credits: Cryptozoic image by Cryptozoic Entertainment; all other covers and artwork images by Renegade Games Studios and their respective partners; Renegade by USA Network; Time Machine by Getty Images.