Another new AAA studio has joined the gaming scene, this one founded by Jerry Hook, one of the architects of the original Xbox who most recently worked on Halo Infinite.
The new studio’s mission is to “create a new generation of narrative-driven action games” with “immersive worlds.” Its founding members include Paul Crocker, who served as lead narrative director on the Batman: Arkham trilogy; Greg Stone, who produced DOOM (2016), and Steve Dyck, who worked on SSX, NBA Street, and the Halo series. Hook’s new venture follows his departure from 343 Industries, where he served head of design on Halo Infinite. Hook also helped launch Xbox Live and worked on Halo 4, Halo 5, and Destiny in various capacities.
Speaking with IGN in an interview ahead of the announcement, Hook says that the collective decision to leave 343 Industries was part of the natural cycle of departures that follows the release of a major project.
“I took a step back and really wanted to take a look at what is the impact I wanted to have moving forward; what is the impact I wanted to have not just with games or the next big idea, but really taking a look at teams and how could I build a home for creators and content creators who could really flourish and specifically help them grow so that they can put their entire passion against a project,” Hook says. “And so on top of creative ideas and new game ideas and all the innovation that goes into games, I realized that probably my biggest challenge was we haven’t really, in the game development space, spent a lot of time trying to innovate with teams and studios and studio structures.”
Jar of Sparks is currently in the early stages of forming its core team, which the studio hopes will provide ideas for its first project. Hook estimates that the studio’s first game is three to four years away.
One thing that’s for certain is that it won’t be a live service game. Even with Hook’s experience working on projects like Xbox Live and Destiny, he deems live service to be too much of a risk for a fledgling studio like Jar of Sparks.
“[O]ne of the main challenges we all seem to struggle with is there’s only so much risk you can take on within a new studio. You’re forming a complete team with people who don’t know each other, have never worked with each other or brand new IP. Live service adds more complexity on top of that and I really think from my own experience for service driven games, the amount of work you need to do to make a live service work is pretty tremendous. And I think the first game that Jar Sparks is going to go do isn’t going to have that component to allow the team to flourish first and be able to put their creative energy first without having to worry about the continual pressure of server driven models,” Hook explains.
And despite the studio’s status as a “AAA developer,” Hook isn’t thinking in terms of massive budgets and even bigger sales.
“One of the challenges I think the industry has gotten itself into, where if everyone is always shooting for the 300 million mark or 10 million mark, I’m just like, okay, how about you build a team with the right budget that allows you to be successful with just a couple million or just a million? And you can be successful that way,” Hook says, citing smaller-scale successes like V Rising and Valheim. “So my goal or at least our goal that we’ve talked about with the founder is — we don’t want to go after God of War, we want to create our own space. It has a good dedicated following and it is a great title that people want to sink their teeth into, that’s it.”
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As for NetEase, Hook sees the Chinese publishing giant as a backstop against the difficulties that can arrise from the volatile games industry.
“If you go and innovate and you need to slip something, your publisher of those people financing, you have to be clear that you can slip,” Hook says. “And that was one of the key conversations I had with NetEase, which is, you need to prepare for slipping if we’re going to go and innovate; if you’re onboard with us innovating, you know the risks, and they were very clear with me.”
Jar of Sparks joins a host of other studios that have formed amid the glut of financing in the games industry, among them Nightingale developer Inflexion Games, Callisto Protocol developer Striking Distance Studios, and Stormgate developer Frost Giant Studios. The surge of of studios helmed by experienced industry veterans is only now beginning to see results.
NetEase, for its part, calls Jar of Sparks a “new first party studio that will enjoy full creative freedom.” Its other holdings including Grasshopper Manufacture and the new studio formed by Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.