New Studio From Former Doom Devs Wants to Make AAA Games With “Smaller, Focused Teams”

As the gaming industry braces for another rough year, emptyvessel may have the solution.

Collage of futuristic game scenes featuring a cybernetic figure, dystopian cityscapes, and character...

Developers who have worked on The Last of Us, Doom, and Call of Duty, are banding together to launch a new Austin, Texas-based studio called emptyvessel, which bills itself as a developer-founded studio “rooted in creative independence.” Emptyvessel wants to make AAA-quality games with “smaller, focused teams,” according to an official press release.

What’s interesting is the approach the studio wants to take to development.

“Our industry is at a crossroads between business and talent. At emptyvessel, we take a Developer-First approach to our direction and execution,” co-founder Garrett Young says, “We understand every innovation in this industry has been led by a developer taking a risk — every new IP, every billion-dollar franchise. Gaming’s next massive hit can come from anywhere.”

In many ways, emptyvessel’s mission statement feels like a direct response to the problems plaguing AAA game development. Budgets have ballooned to massive amounts in recent years, with the Insomniac Games leak in 2023 revealing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 cost an eye-watering $300 million. This means Spider-Man 2 needed to sell at least seven million copies to simply break even. Big AAA video games have become more expensive to make than ever, and the industry has struggled to adapt.

Of course, on the flip side is the thousands upon thousands of layoffs that have rocked the industry over the last few years. Two months into 2024, over 8,000 jobs have been lost across the industry, not to mention the 10,000 before that in 2023. These conditions have seemingly pushed more developers to go independent. Crash Bandicoot developer, Toys For Bob, recently announced plans to split off from Activision. In recent years we’ve seen this with other studios, including Hitman developer IO Interactive and Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s Owlcat Games. There’s also been a handful of brand new studios, like former Witcher and Cyberpunk devs forming Blank.

Emptyvessel joins a growing list of independent studios, and its founders are hoping to take a different, more sustainable approach to AAA development. The new studio is headed by Young and Emanuel Palalic, who worked as a senior character artist at id Software on titles like Doom and Doom: Eternal. Meanwhile, Young has over 25 years of experience, working as an Executive Producer at Microsoft and Activision, Director of Production at Disney, and General Manager at id Software.

“Our industry is going through a difficult time, which is heartbreaking since there are so many negatively affected, not just by layoffs but by how they’re being treated,” Palalic tells Inverse, “It’s time for change. Forming emptyvessel is our step towards redefining the business of how games are made, elevating creative voices into empowered and leadership roles with direct influence and a genuine impact on shaping our future.”

In addition to Palalic and Young, emptyvessel comprises developers who have worked on franchises like Call of Duty, The Last of Us, Borderlands, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and The Callisto Protocol. The team clearly has a wealth of shooter experience, and their first project is an unannounced immersive shooter built on Unreal Engine 5. The title is inspired by films, graphic novels, and games set in dystopian sci-fi worlds. The studio also supports entirely remote work, with developers from around the globe.

More and more studios have been striking out as independent developers, like Toys For Bob, known for the recent Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games.

Toys For Bob

“By prioritizing and aligning with our strengths, we’re confident it’s possible to create AAA-quality games with smaller, focused teams,” Palalic says, “The industry has often overlooked the people who pour their hearts and souls into crafting these worlds. With emptyvessel, we’re determined to change that narrative and make that dream a reality for as many developers as we can.”

It’s a volatile time to start a new studio, but emptyvessel has secured initial seed funding from Sisu Game Ventures, as well as individuals like Bill Munk (co-owner of Tripwire Interactive) and Dan Bunting (former co-studio head of Treyarch). Additionally, the developer has partnered with composer Mick Gordon (Doom, Borderlands 3, Prey) to create soundscapes for both the studio and its first project.

Emtpyvessel hopes its approach will help empower a small and “nimble” group of AAA-talent that can create high-quality properties with a realistic scope.

“We are big believers in managing scope while also building out pipelines and frameworks that can scale with our projects, starting with our first game, which is a new IP,” Palalic tells Inverse “More so, our success will be driven by our people as we understand each person’s strengths, and work collectively as an inspired team to ensure everyone feels valued and integral to what we are building. For us, it’s quite simple: great games are made by happy devs.”

There’s currently no word on a release window or platforms for emptyvessel’s immersive shooter.

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