Sometimes online games can be a stage for unique shared experiences. Maybe it’s a special bonding moment you have with another player who helps you through a difficult situation, or a chance encounter in a virtual world that was particularly memorable. In these online spaces, where we can interact with others, we feel like we are part of something bigger. That we are in a community. With Gardens, the newly created studio led by veteran developers co-founders Chris Bell, Stephen Bell and Lexie Dostal, creating online games that provide players with a space to experience meaningful moments is the team’s primary focus.
“We’re really interested in creating online spaces that grow and evolve with their community. This can bring players together to form lasting friendships and new, fresh, and interesting shared experiences,” says Chris. “I would love for the game we’re working on now to encourage or inspire players to be considerate of strangers, other people they cross paths with, and the virtual world they find themselves in, which they shape and transform together. If we can develop that awareness, I think it leads to a really positive and interesting community of players who collectively feel like they’re part of something together.”
Create your own stories
With a focus on creating shared experiences, Gardens is hard at work on its debut game. While currently untitled, it is expected to draw from the team’s vast repertoire of previous work, as well as memories team personnel in online gaming. The studio may be new, but you’ll recognize the games its developers have contributed to over the years. Chris Bell has worked on Journey, Sky: Light of the Children and Way; Stephen Bell has credits on What Remains of Edith Finch and Blaseball; and Lexie Dostal is the co-creator of Dustforce. Gardens is brimming with talent from across the AAA and indie spectrum, with other staff on its roster gaining experience on everything from Ashen to Spider-Man: Miles Morales to The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim.
While the studio’s first project is still in its early stages, artist ma-ko’s beautiful concept visuals show off the kind of look and feel the team is looking for. With a verdant and vibrant fantasy style, the virtual world it creates is designed to grow and evolve alongside a community. As Stephen puts it, Gardens wants to create an online space where players can “nurture their own myths and legends” and truly feel like an active part of a world.
“When you look at the team that we have, there’s a really high pedigree, and we’ve had to work on a lot of amazing titles. So there’s a lot of care that’s put into what we build and the spaces that build us up,” Stephen explains, “while simultaneously trying to make sure that we hold space for the community so that it’s not just like a tightly closed and dead thing. So that it has room to the surprises and for the life that is injected by the real players.”
“If you think back to Sky and Journey, and even Chris’ first game, Way, which I always say, I think our next project shares a lot of DNA with,” Stephen continues, “the real miracle of those games is the random strangers you encounter, this uncontrollable, surprising, sometimes chaotic force that is now in front of you, with which you have to deal, it is the magic and the mystery of another person, and it is what interests us. finding the fun of online games, so our next flagship title builds on many of the ideas that have evolved over our previous games.
“We’re especially inspired by the moments we’ve shared online in other games. Especially the moments we’ve shared with strangers,” says Chris. “As an example, one of Lexie’s favorite memories comes from playing World of Warcraft. He got himself into trouble, he involved too many monsters and was basically on the verge of death, and then a passing stranger who had no real reason or material benefit to help sweep him away and save him. And in that moment, they bonded and they would adventure together for hours.
Chris also recalls a personal experience playing Final Fantasy 11 Online. After venturing into a desolate part of the world where few people would go, Chris encountered another player who was there for the same reason: to watch the virtual rain. “So even something as small and simple as that is something that sticks with us and guides us,” Chris adds, teasing the impact those shared experiences had on Gardens’ early teamwork. . “How do we cultivate experiences like this for players? How do we generate those stories for players and create the context in which those stories will emerge?”
A place to grow
Develop a studio
“We all share and understand different issues [and] have seen different issues in the workplace,” says Chris. “Whether it was crisis, toxicity or abuse, we wanted to come together to build a studio that did things differently and cared for its employees and team members. “
With a desire to create seamless experiences in dynamic worlds that can grow and flourish alongside a community, it’s easy to see how the studio’s name “Gardens” is partially inspired by the style of games that the team wants to create. But the name also lends itself to the philosophy of the growing studio. After being in the industry for several years, Stephen explains that many of the team have felt the effects of burnout and crisis “up close” at other studios in the past – co- founders want to create a different environment.
“Gardens, like people, need care, space, resources and daylight to thrive. And so, that really shapes and informs our policies, our practices and how we fairly compensate the team. “, adds Chris. “We believe that developers shouldn’t be glued to their jobs, and that they do their best when they’re rested and restored, and they’re able to live their lives and be fulfilled, and come back working with new ideas and new energy to contribute and give.”
Chris says studio management has spent a lot of time thinking about how this ideal might manifest in reality, and has put in place a number of initiatives designed to help realign work-life balance in favor of life. “When designing the studio, we thought of everything, ensuring that people have the opportunity to live and work where they want, are well supported with a competitive salary and have healthy working hours – 35 hours of work a week is something we practice.”
While it’s still early days for Gardens’ first draft, the idea behind it certainly looks as magical as the concept art. “We’re creating what we think is a fairly innovative and ongoing shared fantasy adventure,” says Stephen. “We think we’re developing a pretty new, exciting, and innovative art style, but we’re also creating multiplayer features, and just over-the-world features, that we personally haven’t seen before. And that’s what’s really exciting for us.”