Former Bungie CEO Launches New Game Studio Development Company

Harold Ryan - Publicity - H 2019

Harold Ryan, founder and CEO of ProbablyMonsters, has already launched two new development studios under the banner and is rapidly building a third: "The industry needs and deserves a place where it can reliably build a AAA game."

After three years of operating in "stealth mode," ProbablyMonsters Inc., a new video game studio-building enterprise formed by prior Bungie (Halo, Destiny franchises) CEO Harold Ryan, has officially pulled back its curtain. 

ProbablyMonsters, officially launched in 2016, already has two studios up and running, which are working on creating new AAA gaming franchises. Cauldron Studios and Firewalk Studios, both based in the Seattle area, are led by groups of "top industry talent" selected by Ryan personally. The two studios are currently developing original games that have already been signed by leading publishers. 

While Ryan remains mum on the specific details of the projects and partners, he does tell The Hollywood Reporter that his studios have signed "AAA deals with major publishers" in the ballpark of $50 million.

"In general, [they're making] whatever game or genre works for the creative leadership married with a responsible, predictable business case," Ryan says. 

Ryan has built a lengthy résumé in the games industry over the past two decades, serving as studio head, president and CEO at Bungie from 2000 to 2016. He previously worked at Microsoft's FASA Studios and Ensemble Studios. 

To help lead the ProbablyMonsters team (which currently employs around 70 full-time staffers), Lonnye Bower, who formerly held the worldwide technical lead position at Microsoft, serves as chief operative officer. Former Oak Harbor Capital chief financial officer Douglas Kikendall is the company's CFO and HR and recruiting is overseen by Shannon Armstrong, who was formerly senior recruiting manager at Amazon.

Heading the companies' two studios are Tony Hsu, previously senior vp and general manager of the Destiny business unit at Activision, who leads Firewalk Studios; and Dave Matthews, with over 20 years experience with leading AAA teams on such franchises as God of War and Myst, heads Cauldron Studios. Former Bungie creative director Ryan Ellis and Destiny DLC story lead CJ Cowan are game directors at Firewalk and Cauldron, respectively.  

"A bunch of our leaders have been in the industry for 15 to 25 years," says Ryan. "We’re uniting creative leads and talented people and helping them bring their vision to life to build sustainable, long-lasting studios. You look at the industry and it’s about evolving and being prepared to evolve."

In July, ProbablyMonsters closed a $18.8 million private round of Series A funding led by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Crescent Real Estate and Goff Capital founder and chairman John Goff. Former Activision exec David Oxford also invested.

"When you look at what the industry needs, when you look at game developers themselves, they need and deserve a place where they can reliably build a AAA game, but also a place where they can feel confident that they have a future," says Ryan. "All of the things that go into making a culture positive, making people feel respected and trusted and having approachable leaders, we do that when we build new studios."

The decision to focus on developing big budget, AAA titles is summed up in one word by Ryan: "Sustainability."

"Having the experience of having built and launched multiple AAA games with AAA studios is a rare thing to find in a leadership team," he says. "That’s something our team has a lot of experience in. Marrying that with the ability to attract really talented people and the right business partners to go to market is the combined strength of what we offer to our publishing partners and our developers."

As to where he came up with the name for his company, Ryan offers a similarly simple answer. "Starting three years ago, we knew our focus was building new AAA studios and that people were going to ask, 'What’s in your games?,'" he says. "Eh, probably monsters."