Why this studio is choosing Chicago over California to shake up the mobile gaming industry

James Risley

Mobile gaming has hit its stride. Easy controls, quick gameplay and simple graphics dominate many of the mobile world’s most popular games. Sure, there are some games with more detail, story and action, but they often require time and energy that gamers don’t want to invest in mobile.

But Gunslinger Studios is a new developer bringing classical video game elements to one-minute, one-handed multiplayer gameplay. The company’s first title, Exiles of Embermark, is in development now to upend the mobile gaming market. And they just raised a $1.4 million seed round to bring it to life.

“What we're going after, there's a whole generation of gamers that grew up on things like World of Warcraft and Pokemon and these longer-form RPGs," said Gunslinger Studio CEO Tim Harris. "And every one of them has a smartphone, but there's not necessarily something that scratches that kind of an itch that you can do on your phone in under a minute.”

The battle-based RPG lets gamers jump into multiplayer gameplay quickly, going up against friends to improve your character and earn some loot. But users can quickly enter battle while standing on the L platform, waiting for their coffee to brew or on a commercial break. Since sessions are so short, Harris hopes to win some mind share from users checking Twitter or Snapchat during that downtime.

“The games that we're creating are fiercely focused on the mobile form factor, but also the mobile use session, and that's what I think has been missed a lot in mobile games recently that were trying to appeal to a gamer's gamer,” he said.

But Exiles is just the first in a series of games Gunslinger hopes to build with this idea in mind. And the company has eyes on the burgeoning eSports industry as well. As Harris notes, the one-minute gameplay fits well into the current trend of fast-paced entertainment, and a full bracket of competitors could wrap up a tournament in under 15 minutes.

Gunslinger is currently based in California, but this funding round is bringing the team to Chicago. Harris and many people on his team have roots in Chicago’s game development scene.

“Ever since the first studio, I both believe in and want to be a part of the growing gaming community in Chicago,” Harris said. “Chicago ... has a ton of gaming companies and momentum that it doesn't really get the credit for the way a San Francisco or an Austin does.”

Gunslinger’s funding is also coming from some big Chicago names, including Chicago Ventures and MATH Venture Partners. In fact, Chicago Ventures’ Ezra Galston and Harris connected over the eSports appeal of Exiles fresh gameplay techniques.

After its first game is out, Harris said the company is going to work on either raising another round or partnering with a publisher to bring its next game online. The team of eight is currently finalizing its migration to Chicago and plans to expand its headcount after launching Exiles of Embermark.

Image via Gunslinger Studios

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