Ex-‘World of Warcraft ‘developers unveil games in agreement with Asmongold, Mizkif

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In the summer of 2005, 21-year-old Chris Kaleiki started a “World of Warcraft” guild called Notorious. While sharing feedback from players about the game online, he drew the attention of Blizzard developers, who hired him to work on “WoW”. Sixteen years later, after leaving Blizzard in 2020 and still acting guildmaster for Notorious in 2021, Kaleiki hired some of his former colleagues and guildmates to a studio of the same name that he co-founded with former Blizzard game engineer Doug Frazer.

Kaleiki, 37, and Notorious Studios announced Wednesday that they are creating a fantasy role-playing game, codenamed Project Honor, inspired by JRR Tolkien and “Warcraft,” which will feature Mages and Warriors. Popular Twitch streamers, including Asmongold, Esfand and Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, will get to try the game in its early form as part of an investment deal. There is no set release date.

“It’s a cool side note, like ‘Oh, these guys actually like each other,'” Esfand, who has over a million Twitch followers, said of how Notorious was formed by “WoW” guild members. Esfand flew to California in May for to test an early version of the game.

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Notorious talks about its game early on in hopes of attracting more job seekers and building a fanbase-in-waiting.

“It’s unique to talk about a game at this stage of development,” Kaleiki said. “Traditionally it can be seen as high risk, as other studios can also copy your idea. You set all these expectations that the player will have. If you change them, they will be upset. We are definitely trying something new here , but it’s driven by the fact that we want to have this connection with the player early. “

Kaleiki’s studio is anything but traditional. The venture capital-backed gaming studio has investors like Galaxy Interactive, Riot Games and One True King (OTK), a Texas-based influencer company. OTK has an undisclosed minority investment in Notorious, except for the $ 5 million the studio raised back in October.

When Notorious debuted in October, it was also investigated for having hired no women. Kotaku, the video game news site, mocked the studio for having more dogs than women on the site’s staff page. Kaleiki envisions that the current team of 13 men will grow to 40 to 50 employees as it develops Project Honor, and said he hopes to correct.

“The studio has not hired any women yet, and that’s perfectly fine, and it’s true. Even today we have not hired a woman for the team yet,” said Kaleiki. “It’s something we’re working on.

“We have experienced an insanely competitive market for new employees. One thing I am happy about is precisely that talent from under-represented backgrounds is in great demand, and the industry recognizes the value in that. “

As part of OTK’s partnership, streamers such as Asmongold and Esfand, who have made careers by playing and criticizing “WoW”, will try the game and give feedback. Asmongold and Esfand are both owners of OTK and asked to be identified by their stream names due to privacy concerns.

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“As a developer, I have my own perspective on the product, but what I do not have is more than 40 hours a week to just play games,” said John Liberto, chief designer at Notorious. “[Streamers are] sensitive to some things that we as developers may not take into account, and they are able to single out often very specific things about gameplay and articulate them in ways that can often be difficult to find elsewhere.

“Having that perspective so directly accessible is a powerful resource for creativity,” Liberto added.

All owners of OTK have had a chance to preview the game’s concept art, although not all members have had a chance to play the prototype yet. Those who have played it gave advice to the developers, and suggested, for example, how to hone abilities to improve the feeling of combining several skills together. (OTK and Notorious declined to share details about the game.)

Although OTK will not be involved in the day-to-day development, the group plans to provide quality assurance testing for the game, provide feedback on whether it is entertaining and then promote the game to fans, according to Tips Out, OTK’s chief operating officer, who declined to share his real name. due to privacy concerns.

“The reason we invest in them is because we look at them as also people who have their finger on the pulse of what people want in games and what they think is the best decision in design,” said Asmongold. “Ultimately, we are streamers, they are game designers, that’s what they do. We give our insight and they take from it what they want.”

“Me and [Asmongold] definitely have an eye to be able to watch a game and understand if there is going to be good content, not only for the chat, but also entertainment for the streamer, ”said Mizkif. “I play games for 5-year-olds. When it comes to gaming and what’s good about Twitch and streaming, it’s simply what the chat likes. Simplicity is the key. The simpler the game, the wider the audience you will be able to meet. “Mario Kart” is an example of pretty much the perfect stream game. “

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Infamous developers described Project Honor as an action-based fighting PC game focused on classes that can be played in an immersive world with a splash of danger. They were careful to say that the game is not a massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, despite having many of the same features – player-to-player and player-to-environment experiences, combat systems and adventures – as a small indie studio would have trouble supporting a large MMO.

“We want orcs and we want elves and we want big, powerful barbaric warriors. We want magic to be this powerful force in the world,” Liberto said. “We want it to permeate the world. We want the world to feel as if the people in it have lived in this reality, that it is not new to them. A magician who bounces off a magic missile will not surprise anyone. “

As for things the streamers hope Project Honor will provide, Asmongold said: “I want the fight to feel good. Every time you break a barrel, the pieces fly everywhere.”

For some content creators, the direct line to game producers was a welcome change of pace. Rich Campbell, an OTK owner and Twitch streamer with over 500,000 followers, remembered streaming “WoW” and talked about it on podcasts with other creators. Campbell studied game design at school and used to host official “WoW” sports tournaments, until he announced in 2020 that the relationship was over.

“You have the leg weights when you do not have the direct line to the developer,” Campbell said, comparing talking about “WoW” with testing and feedback on Project Honor. “If you pull the veil back, it’s much easier to make sure you’re not just screaming into the void, and that you’re actually making an effort and focusing on things that can really change. Working from scratch is an experience that is new to almost all of us. “

Notorious is one of several game studios, including Second Dinner and Moonshot, founded by former Blizzard employees. Workers at these studios – and across the gaming industry – have counted on their former employer, Activision Blizzard, facing a flood of harassment lawsuits and government investigations.

“One of the things we do differently at Notorious is just that we do not have a typical hierarchy management style. We encourage self-management, ”Kaleiki said of how he would prevent cultural and harassment problems from occurring at Notorious. “It’s a way we try to defend ourselves against potential problems that our former employer may have had. The other is to make sure our values ​​are met every day.”

Laine Nooney, an assistant professor and game historian at New York University, said “nothing with a flat hierarchy hinders male collaboration or a masculine work environment.”

“It’s noble that a gaming company wants to avoid the kind of harassment and exploitation that is endemic to Activision Blizzard,” said Nooney. “Only time will tell how sincere these ambitions really are.”