About a year ago, when Neal Nellans was looking for a new location for his video game studio, he was considering San Francisco or Austin.
But San Francisco, he said, was dominated by venture capital firms — while Austin had a much more robust independent gaming scene.
“I decided that Austin was more interesting because as far as independent (development), it seemed like there was more stuff going on to support (developers) — while San Francisco was more geared toward big venture capital firms.”
Specifically, Nellans pointed to an abundance of local meetups and conferences targeted toward helping developers like him.
And so he moved his company, Tiny Utopia, to town. It’s the kind of story those in the Austin video game scene would like to see more of — small employers like Nellans who create a web of independent studios to provide a buffer when large studios downsize.
As its name suggests, Tiny Utopia is a small developer that has released a handful of mobile games – most recently the all-ages game “Soda Star.”
The development team fluctuates, Nellans said, from six contractors at most, to just him doing programming solo.
Nellans has a 14-year career of making games, including stints for Dreamworks and Electronic Arts working on the “Medal of Honor” franchise.
Tiny Utopia’s goal, Nellans said, is to create “epic big screen arcade experiences” in the mobile games market.
And “Soda Star” has been welcomed by parents looking for more child-friendly fare. Nealls recalled showing off the game at a gaming event and hearing from grateful parents.
“A lot of the parents that came up to us were asking us, ‘Where’s the kids section?’” he said. “That’s when I realized that there was a huge need for more kid-centric based entertainment for video games.”
Reception has been positive for the game that requires players to handle soda bottles on a conveyor belt.
“All you have to do is ensure that the (bottles) end up in right box,” wrote reviewer Dinker Charak on the gaming site Gungroo. “With that simple premise but wonderful graphics and control switches, the game turns into an addictive experience”
Nellans’ goal is to release five or six games this year and continue scaling up the company as its games find traction in the marketplace. The studio is working on two more games currently, a racing and a golf title.
And a little more than a year into his Austin stay, Nellans said he plans on staying.
“I didn’t really want to be part of a company that already existed,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of something new and try to build a team in Austin of guys that were local here.”