A new indie publisher is on a mission to right the wrongs of developer-publisher relationships, challenging industry standards by forming closer, stronger partnerships with creators to empower them and ultimately transform the experiences that gamers will enjoy.
Firestoke, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, is the brainchild of Paul Farley, who most notably plied his trade with DMA Design and created the first-ever Liberty City map for Grand Theft Auto. Through this new venture, Farley and his design director, Omar Khalil, want to partner with studios that deliver “compact, accessible, and joyful” games for consoles and PC, and plan to make collaborations with these designers just as merry.
The ethos of Firestoke is reflected by its name, which represents Farley’s desire to realize the talent of passionate studios. “For some developers, the flame may be lit, but for various reasons, it isn’t burning bright,” he says. “We want to be the ones to help stoke that fire and enable those studios to reach their full potential.
“Our games will be like a campfire, where family and friends can gather and have fun.”
Firestoke’s focus is on delivering games that have a positive impact on players–those that place the spotlight on rewarding and social experiences, “rather than just guns and violence.” Farley says that during the difficult circumstances presented during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was “humbling” to see how games had helped communities around the world.
“We’ve seen children unable to meet up for playdates in real life find each other in games like Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Roblox,” he says. “These games have become safe spaces; platforms for social connection and friendship, transcending their value as ‘just’ entertainment.”
Farley points to the positivity of Fall Guys, Untitled Goose Game, Human Fall Flat, What the Golf?, Forager, Overcooked, and Among Us, which between them offer “significant positive impact on the mental and social health of players.” Firestoke will actively avoid those genres that can foster toxic communities, so for Farley, “there will be no space for traditional shooters, RPGs, deep strategy, or complex simulation titles.”
In the process of creating Firestoke, Farley and his team spoke with over 100 developers, listening to bad experiences each one had with publishers in the past. Most boiled down to three common root causes: a lack of joint understanding; few shared objectives; and the inflexibility of publishers’ demands.
At the same time, Firestoke also focused on positives. Farley drew a lot of inspiration from publishers he admires for their work in introducing smaller indie games to a huge global audience–namely Devolver Digital (Death’s Door, Serious Sam, Ruiner) and TinyBuild (ClusterTruck, Hello Neighbor, Totally Reliable Delivery Service).
“They’re both good examples of companies starting small, staying true to their roots, and building very successful businesses without becoming too corporate,” he explains. “In the UK, we’ve seen how Team17 and Curve Digital have leveraged breakout hits to create a repeatable process for finding and publishing successful games.”
Though founded and based in the UK, Firestoke has now opened its doors to developers across the world, favoring alignment of values way over simple geography–and the team anticipates an exciting first wave of games in the distant future.