The game creation team at Tulsa-based Tornado Studios, representing some of the best talent in the industry, has put away its virtual weaponry and armed itself with makeup and fashion design tools as it prepares to launch it newest volley in the video game industry.
Tornado Studios, a new development company spun off from Tulsa-based 2015 Inc., best known for its award-winning title “Medal of Honor: Allied Assault,” announced Feb. 24 its first title to the international video game industry.
“World of Fashion,” the first in a series of mass market games, is set for a fall 2009 release. The project is entirely self-funded and will debut on the Nintendo Wii, said Tom Kudirka, president of Tornado Studios.
He said the firm is in talks with publishing partners for worldwide distribution.
A New Direction in Gaming
Operating in 5,400 SF on the fifth floor of the Executive Center II, 7134 S. Yale Ave., Ste. 520, Tornado Studios represents the rebirth of 2015 Inc. as a video game development company.
Founded in 1997, 2015’s products generated more than $100 million in gross revenues.
Its PC game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, created by Steven Spielberg, sold 3 million units and was named 2002 PC Action Game of the Year. The company’s last release, “Men of Valor,” was a Vietnam War-based first-person shooter.
At its peak, 2015 employed 44 employees in a 13,000-SF office at 8282 S. Memorial Drive. The transition from the previous generation of gaming hardware prompted Kudirka to temporarily mothball the company.
Tornado Studios represents a new direction for the development company. Tornado will focus on family-based games while 2015 will keep its sights on first-person shooters, Kudirka said.
With its first title, Tornado is targeting one of the fastest growing markets of gamers – teenage girls, he said.
World of Fashion will infuse a level of quality generally reserved for higher budget AAA games, and will be “the highest quality, most customizable, graphically stunning fashion game available on any platform,” he said.
“Tornado Studios was formed to tap directly into the mass market crowd and to provide a level of quality you just don’t get with other titles,” said Kudirka. “World of Fashion has already raised the bar well above the competition.”
The Team and the Talent
Tornado Studios has moved quickly in re-entering the video game market.
Starting the build-out on the firm’s office space Oct. 1, 2008, Kudirka had the 15-member staff hired by Dec. 1 and has already reached the half-way point in development of World of Fashion, with an expected release date of Sept. 1 this year.
That translates to a 10-month development cycle.
“We really did ramp up very quickly,” Kudirka said. “We have about half the game done in an amazing amount of time.”
He credits the speed at which the company was up and producing to the talent of his team, his experience, the business model he has adopted and a Tulsa Business Journal story that drew attention to the level of video game technology available in Tulsa.
“It is amazing the amount of talent that I have convinced to move to Tulsa from (video game hotspots) Orlando, Houston, Austin, San Francisco,” he said, noting that several worked here with 2015. “Half of the guys have been waiting to move back to Tulsa.”
“These guys are extremely talented,” he said. “It’s amazing that we have that type of talent, that type of high-tech business that can absolutely grow.”
Kudirka said a story that appeared in the TBJ in May 2008 about his interest in re-entering the video gaming industry kick-started his plans when it caught the eye of several investors.
“One contacted me and said, ‘Wow, this type of high-tech stuff – I had no idea Medal of Honor and Allied Assault were made here in Tulsa. If you are coming back, I am interested in investing,’” he said.
He said his business model is also appealing to local investors.
“The business model I have is very similar to the movie industry, and it is something that investors really like,” he said.
Traditionally, in the video game industry, development was financed by publishers like Activision, Electronic Arts and THQ and they would retain 95 percent of the earnings, he said.
“If I am going to fund a project on our own, like we are doing right now, then we are able to present our game in a final form to a publisher and say, ‘We have a finished game, why don’t you distribute this and market it, and we will give you a 30 percent cut or whatever we work out,’” he said. “Now we are at about a 50-60 percent profit margin.”
“When you are talking about tens of millions of dollars – and I mean tens of millions of dollars –that are created in the video game industry, it can be very profitable,” he said.
Modeled for the Local Investor
Kudirka said he adopted the business model because he was “trying to figure out what to do because people really don’t want to invest, especially in Tulsa, where they really don’t understand the technology.”
“It is difficult here in Tulsa to talk with people who are mostly in the oil and gas business to understand video gaming,” he said.
He said the video game industry is shifting to the movie model where investors invest in the actual project and take a cut of the profits.
“Instead of waiting four to five years, or whatever, eight years to be profitable, for an exit strategy, when an investor invest in a company. when a game comes out, we just split the profits – they immediately get a return on their investment,” he said. “They can get back their investment in a year to 18 months, and they love it.”
He said the recession will likely provide a boon for the business.
“The video game industry actually does better in bad economic times than not because there are more people at home who need stress relief – maybe they got laid off –and they play a video game,” he said.
“It is great to have that type of high tech business, especially in these economic times, where we can actually help the economy and grow our business here in Tulsa,” he said.
The Wii World of Fashion
While World of Fashion will initially be released only on the Wii platform, with additional investment funds, Kudirka expects to port the game to the Xbox and PC platforms to take advantage of their superior graphics.
“We have pushed the graphics for this platform to its fullest,” he said. “It will be an extraordinarily high-quality Wii title.”
World of Fashion allows players to design and create their own fashion lines using the Wii’s motion-sensor controllers. Once players have created their clothing and outfitted their models, they unveil the new line in a fast-paced, rhythm-based catwalk mini-game. Over the course of the game, players visit some of the world’s hottest fashion cities, opening access to new fashion styles.
With game designers used to developing hard-core first-person shooters, introducing the concept of the game presented its own learning curve for the team.
“The hardest part of putting this game together was trying to explain to the guys what we are actually doing – we are doing a fashion designer game,” Kudirka said. “At first some of the guys were asking, ‘What weapons will they be carrying?’”