• June 29, 2021

Why Xbox indie champion Agostino Simonetta is going to Thunderful Games

Agostino Simonetta is leaving the Microsoft team to assume the position of director of strategy and investments at the Swedish publisher Thunderful.

Simonetta is known to many independent developers through his seven years as director of global partnership management for ID @ Xbox, Microsoft’s program for bringing independent games to its Xbox ecosystem. Before that, he spent five years at PlayStation, also helping smaller studios launch their games on the platform.

It’s the end of 12 years championing independent studios on behalf of major platform holders, but Simonetta tells GamesIndustry.biz that now is the “right time to go.” [back towards] growth.”

“It’s a bittersweet moment for me because I’ve done a lot of amazing things with the Xbox teams, who are having a fantastic time and going from strength to strength,” he says.

Agostino Simonetta, Thunder

“But this is also a time of personal growth for me, a time for new challenges and to take advantage of the experience that I have developed over 20 years in the industry, especially working in the freelance space for the last 17, joining a company like Thunderful. and being able to lead their gaming division. “

In his new role, he will oversee Thunderful Group’s gaming division, one of the group’s two main pillars, along with its distribution business. It begins on July 1 and joins a period of expansion for the publisher. Thunderful not only completed a successful IPO last year, but also made several acquisitions in the past twelve months, including British developer Coatsink, German publisher and developer Headup, Swedish studio Guru Games, and developer Station Interactive.

“I told the Xbox team: ‘I’m not running away from you, I’m running towards something new and exciting,'” he adds when asked about his departure. “And in a way, it’s getting closer to product development again.

“This is the best time in the industry to be a developer, publisher and content creator. Yes, it is a challenge, being the best time does not mean being the easiest, but the acceptance of independent games has never been so great it is now. That’s from a platform point of view, from a media and consumer point of view. There is a great acceptance and love for the medium and towards these types of games, so I just want to get a little closer to that. ” .

Simonetta’s career began in 1999 at Italian developer WaywardXs, where she worked on the football management title Gianluca Vialli European Manager. Looking back, he acknowledges that the company was “the stereotype of an Italian indie.”

“We had metal desks that we built ourselves, we were in the basement of an Italian villa not far from the beach, there were seven of us and we had very little money,” he laughs.

Since then, he has worked at studios such as Intelligent Games and Climax Studios, branching out into posts with seasons on THQ and Sega. It’s a career that has provided you with a “good mix of experiences” and insight into the entire process of bringing a game to market. His time on platform headlines, in particular, has shown him how opportunities for independent developers have changed.

“We went from a world where consoles supporting independent developers were unimaginable to one where it is unthinkable that they wouldn’t.”

“We live in a completely different world today than when I was in a small developer,” he says. “It was very difficult to get in touch with the platforms, there was no desktop publishing. And it is not that the headlines of the platforms were evil; the distribution model at that time did not make it feasible to have this expanding network of developers working on their platform. physical distribution, the cost of production … it was just a different world. “

The digital revolution of the mid-2000s changed things. Tools like game engines became easier to use and cheaper to access, and the platform holders began to slowly unlock their ecosystems, with Simonetta in the forefront on both PlayStation and Xbox.

“It really changed the industry forever,” he says. “You had the opening of PlayStation and Xbox, the arrival of Apple, and that completely transformed the industry. I consider myself lucky enough to have been on this journey from the beginning. I joined the PlayStation Developer Relations group in 2009, and it did. The first thing I worked on was PSP Minis. That was a way to get independent developers, like the ones I knew from the mobile space, on a console platform with a development and distribution model that was friendly to that community.

“Xbox has always been very supportive of indie developers with Indie Arcade and XNA from the Xbox 360 days, and then ID @ Xbox, which I joined shortly after commercial launch. We barely had 20, 30 titles at the time, and We now have over 2000 and over 4000 partners, which is the level of openness and support that developers have been receiving, deservedly.

“We went from a world where consoles supporting independent developers were unimaginable to one where it is unthinkable that they would not.”

This has also opened up the industry to more than just independent publishers. The ability to self-publish games has diversified the market, with tens of thousands of people creating unique content.

“That’s the big challenge, but I think finding the right content and developing the right ideas tends to create a window of opportunity,” says Simonetta.

“Do all the titles that deserve success or visibility get it? That is always a debated question. I think most do, but it is very challenging. It is about adapting the way of talking with the headlines of the platform, the media of communication, consumers and continuing to evolve it so people want to hear from you. It used to be that only journalists mattered, but now you have to talk to streamers and Discord is driving so many conversations.

“I always said I didn’t want to leave the freelance space, I haven’t done anything else for most of my career.”

“What we’ve learned as an industry is business models and the way consumers interact with content continues to evolve over time. I remember the days when digital titles were all independent and retail titles, the big AAA’s, weren’t. were available digitally. But now we can sell retail discs digitally and even do it day and date. And then free-to-play on consoles is growing, game streaming via the cloud – it’s about how to leverage the business model suitable for reaching your target audience. Our industry changes so fast, every six months it looks very different, so you need to keep thinking about your content and strategy on a regular basis. That’s the way to make sure your games have the best chance. “

Joining Thunderful, he says, is a way to take advantage of all that he has learned over the years and “hopefully help grow a great company.”

There are almost too many independent publishers on the market to count today, but Simonetta was particularly drawn to Thunderful for multiple reasons. One is the momentum he’s expanding with, while another is the strong portfolio of titles he has under his belt, from the hit SteamWorld franchise to the upcoming indie fishing RPG Moonglow Bay.

On a more personal note, you will be joining a team of friends that you have known for many years; in fact, the conversation that led him to join came from a regular meeting with CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson, whom he first met when trying to convince Sigurgeirsson (then developer) to bring his mobile game to PSP Minis.

Most importantly, it gives you the responsibility of a large division, but still in a sector of the gaming market that you are especially passionate about.

“The role of overseeing the entire gaming segment is a fantastic challenge for me,” he says. “I always said I didn’t want to leave the freelance space, I haven’t done anything else for most of my career.”

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