The video game industry is seriously big business. If you have any lingering doubts about that, Amazon.com's $1 billion purchase of Twitch — a video game streaming website that's one of the Web's most-visited pages — should put that argument to rest.
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But even in a multibillion-dollar industry that has already eclipsed music and movies as the top-grossing entertainment medium, there's still plenty of room for the little guys. With the advent of crowdfunding and online video game distribution services like Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, even a sole entrepreneur has a chance to break into the gaming industry — at least, if they can make a great product. Here are six up-and-coming video game startups to watch out for.
Who says a team of two can't produce some of the most anticipated and visually striking indie games of the year? Alien Trap was originally founded in 2002 by Lee Vermeulen, but didn't really get off the ground until 2009 with the release of "Capsized," a 2D sci-fi shooting game with lush, hand-drawn graphics. Now the studio is prepping "Apotheon," an action-platforming game set in Ancient Greece that's also notable for its art style, which is inspired by the painting style of ancient Greek pottery. Vermeulen and artist Jesse McGibney, who met in college, are getting ready to launch Apotheon later this year.
Sean "Day" Plott
Here's a gamer who turned his passion for competing into a thriving business. Plott, known on the Internet by his gaming handle Day, got his start as a professional gamer playing a sci-fi strategy game called "StarCraft" on his PC, raking in cash prizes for winning big matches. He later turned his focus to commentary, providing in-depth analysis for the game's biggest tournaments and becoming one of the most-recognized voices in competitive gaming. Later he launched his own channel on Twitch.com, where thousands of players pay for subscription access to "Starcraft" strategy video. And last year, Plott announced that he had joined a small game company called Arillery, where he's helping develop a browser-based strategy game. With someone of Plott's expertise at the helm, the new game — titled "Project Atlas" — is one to watch.
Pillow Castle's mind-bending new puzzle game is one of the most unique video games of the year. The tiny development studio created "Museum of Simulation Technology," a game that's all about forced perspective. If you're not familiar with the term, it refers to the way that objects look bigger when you're close to them, and smaller when you're farther away. The game challenges you to solve puzzles by manipulating camera angles to create optical illusions, which you can use to reach previously inaccessible areas. "Museum of Simulation Technology," created by five students from Carnegie Mellon University, raked in a slew of awards in the past year when it appeared as a demo at big game shows around the world. The Pillow Castle crew is currently developing another first-person puzzle game called "Muse," but not much is known about it yet.
What if playing games could give you a workout? They can if you're playing with the Virtuix Omni, a special gaming apparatus that lets you actually walk or run to control your character in a video game. Virtuix founder Jan Goetgeluk launched a Kickstarter for the project last year and raked in more than $1 million to create a mass market version of the device. To use the device, gamers strap themselves into a special harness, then walk, run and turn while their game character mirrors their movement. But it's not a treadmill — players wear slick-soled shoes and essentially slide about on a fixed ramp. With plenty of upcoming games to support the device, and native integration with Oculus Rift, the Virtuix Omni is one device to watch.
This small team of seven developers and artists is preparing to launch "Firewatch," an eerie first-person mystery with a strong narrative hook. The player takes control of Henry, a man working as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness who wanders into the woods one day. He must rely on help from one person on the other end of a radio to guide him to safety in the new game, which puts the focus on exploration and story instead of action or combat. The small Campo Santo development team, based in Portland, Oregon, is composed of developers with a strong track record in the industry, having worked on popular games like "The Walking Dead" and "Mark of the Ninja." Now that they've set out on their own, they're producing what looks to be one of the most promising and hotly anticipated indie games of the year.
OK — Oculus VR isn't exactly the scrappy startup it once was, after the company was acquired by Facebook last March for $2 billion. But founder Palmer Luckey might be the poster child for how a good gaming idea can pave the way to serious success in a very short period of time. Luckey founded Oculus VR in 2012 to develop a head-mounted display for immersive "virtual reality" gaming. The headset, dubbed Oculus Rift, racked up nearly $2.5 million in a 30-day Kickstarter campaign for the project, allowing for the development of the first device that could display PC games in full HD right in front of your eyes, and react dynamically to your head movements. Now that Facebook owns Oculus VR, the company has nearly limitless resources to push the tech in new directions.
Originally published on Business News Daily.