TORONTO – The president of struggling small game development studio Untold Entertainment Inc. made an impassioned plea on the steps of the Ontario Legislative Building today. Ryan Henson Creighton, the company’s beleagured founder and occasional mascot, was seen feebly raising his arms toward the towering Queen’s Park structure. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Creighton wailed “Running a business is hard!” Heaving and sobbing himself into a crumpled heap on the steps, his mouth pulled taut across his face in a grotesque grimace, he begged in a stage whisper “Please give me some moneys.”
Untold Entertainment Inc., the Ontario-based start-up, has been creating online Flash games for a year and a half. Prior to starting the company, Creighton worked a cushy job at a large Canadian media conglomorate, creating web games that sold sugar cereals to increasingly obese children. When we interviewed Ryan Henson Creighton a month ago, the cracks were already starting to show.
“I started this business to find myself, you know?” The video game designer tapped his foot nervously against the secondhand Herman Miller Aeron chair that he purchased from a seller on Craigslist. “But, I mean, if you run out of money, what are you supposed to do then? I see banks and car companies lobbying the government for assistance, saying if they don’t get the money, they’ll go out of business. Is that what the government wants? Do they really want me to go out of business?”
Looking around Untold Entertainment’s Yorkville headquarters, it’s easy to see where Creighton went wrong. High overhead costs, coupled with an apparent penchant for shelled pistachio nuts – the carcasses of which littered the floor of the tiny 110 square foot office – have driven the game company’s profit margins into the red. The insistence of Untold’s clientele to use their own internal artists, many of whom were hired directly from art school or enticed from the street with half-eaten bag lunches, strip Untold Entertainment of control over the games they produce. The result is a portfolio comprised of client-led game designs propped up with lacklustre junior-level artwork. Many of the company’s finished projects are notably absent from their portfolio site.
A Focus on Original Content
When the client worked dried up due to the economic downturn in early 2009, Creighton devised a new strategy. “We’re going to develop original content,” he said with an unsettling flash in his eye. The company’s only original content to date has been comprised of a handful of titles built for the free-to-play online model, where the game developer either releases the product freely without receiving compensation, or scrapes ad revenue leftovers from various online monetization schemes like Kongregate and MochiAds.
Creighton’s trademark ambition quickly materialized as he described his upcoming game. “It’s called Kahoots!” he said wildly, his left eye twitching as he pronounced the “K” in the game’s title. “And it’s all made in clay, see?” At this point, Creighton held up a lump of modelling clay that resembled a folding chair – or a dragon – and continuned, “We’re gonna release it for the PC and the iPhone. And the main character is going to be voiced by this African choir, all talking at once, so it sounds all freaky, you know? Then we’re going to film some explosions and put them in the game in spots where you earn extra points. Cause regular games, they use particle systems, right? But we’re gonna use real explosions, ’cause real explosions are better.”
The increasingly enthusiastic developer went on to describe Kahoots for an additional two hours, explaining the symbolism behind the game characters’ moustaches, and his justification for importing all of his modelling clay from Iceland. When we finally left the tiny office, Creighton was still talking, and apparently didn’t notice we were gone.
Request for a Bail-Out
By April 2009, Creighton’s ambition remained strong, but his funding well had run dry. Somewhere between hiring a famous troupe of New York kickline dancers to record foley sound effects for Kahoots, and starting into a full-scale clay model of the city of London, one of his cheques bounced. It was the first tangible sign that Untold Entertainment was in dire straits.
We caught up with Creighton in front of the Ontario Legislative buildings at Queen’s Park in Toronto, where he had asked us to meet him to cover what he called his “bold gesture”. Within minutes, the frail and defeated mass of Creighton’s body laid shivering on the cold stone steps. A protest sign, scrawled with the slogan “Please give me $3047.62”, sat discarded on the lawn.
No one else seemed to take account of, or even notice, Creighton’s break-down. At one point, an officious-looking man in a camel hair coat strode from the front doors of the building and stepped over Creighton’s body without noticing he was there; when interviewed later, he explained that he had been there applying for a photography permit for his daughter’s wedding on Saturday.
A Social Responsibility
Ryan Henson Creighton’s request for government funding – a sum totalling in the thousands – raises the question of whether or not it is the Canadian government’s responsibility to provide assistance to tiny, arguably insignificant companies, even as it faces pressure from the media and automotive sectors. Despite his request falling on deaf ears, Creighton has resolved to bring the dispute as far as Ottawa, where he’s pledged to bring a box of tissues to carry him through his next daring indictment of the flagging Canadian free market economy.