Shenandoah's rearmament: How Slitherine saved the strategy studio

Shenandoah's rearmament: How Slitherine saved the strategy studio
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

September 16th 2015 at 12:44PM

Studio manager Ionut Georgescu tells Develop how a new parent gave the developer a new lease of life

In 2014, strategy games developer Slitherine acquired a company on the verge of destruction.

Shenandoah Studio, another strategy specialist, had been dissolved with only a handful of key staff members left at the firm. After the acquisition, a new studio was opened under the same name in Romania and games development resumed.

It’s been a year since the acquisition, and the revived Shenandoah is building up to its first release as a Slitherine studio: Battle of the Bulge, an updated version of the team's debut game. It’s been a challenging time for the developer, but one that has made the firm stronger.

The effect of an acquisition on a development team can rarely be predicted. We caught up with studio manager Ionut Georgescu to find out what changed when Slitherine took charge.

“When Shenandoah released the first version of Battle of the Bulge, the world was a totally different place,” he recalls. “A good iOS release could make or break the future of a company. Now we are looking at a different market, very crowded in the iOS platform, where quality is not the only element to take into account when releasing a game, even when addressing a very specific audience like ours.

“Slitherine’s management brings a lot of business-orientated practices and procedures that makes project validations and management much more entangled with the actual financial and business outcomes.”

“But our creativity wasn’t killed at all. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. We are effectively working on three projects simultaneously, with two more scheduled. Two of these are heritage of the old Shenandoah; in fact these were saved and refinanced so that players could be given what was promised to them.

“Of course porting the technology is taking a long time, as is assessing gameplay and integrating all new systems, but we are now at a stage where we can say that Shenandoah is now breathing a new life.”

We are effectively working on three projects simultaneously, with two more scheduled. In fact some were saved and refinanced so that players could be given what was promised to them.

NEW DOG, OLD TRICKS

The entire team in Romania is composed of experienced developers, 80 per cent of which Georgescu says are new to Shenandoah. The studio boss observes that the old Shenandoah staff has been “extremely helpful in taking the company to where it is now, even though in completely different conditions”.

“We are very thankful to all these great professionals who have spent their time trying to make the Shenandoah spirit survive and we are proud to see they have succeeded in that endeavour,” he says.

The priority for the past year has been improving Shenandoah’s engine and technology in a way that will let Slitherine bring its games to more platforms. In fact, Georgescu says the team has “effectively rebuilt” the studio’s Crisis in Command engine for Battle of the Bulge. Once the new game is released, the firm will be able to focus on re-releases of its other titles, such as Drive on Moscow and Desert Fox.

Slitherine’s acquisition has also enabled Shenandoah to fulfil a long-running promise. Three years ago, the original team crowdfunded a new iPad title, Gettysburg: The Tide Turns. Designer Eric Lee Smith, one of the retained established staff, is now working on that game using the enhanced tech.

“We are pretty close to completion now and we will soon start a round of beta test to assess how much is left before we can release this gem of a title,” says Georgescu.

“We are also working on a bigger, more ambitious battle game, using the same approach of some of the other Shenandoah titles in terms of gameplay, but with a completely different flavour. Take a Battle of Bulge, make it fifteen times bigger add a storyline, a campaign and one of the biggest board game brands in the world and you only have a fraction of what Stratego Battles will be.”

We are very thankful to all these great professionals who have spent their time trying to make the Shenandoah spirit survive and we are proud to see they have succeeded in that endeavour

CALLING IN THE CALVARY

Shenandoah hasn’t been expected to go it alone. New parent Slitherine has been on hand to lend its own experience and tech to the team, enabling the revived studio to dramatically improve the quality of its games.

“Slitherine brings a lot to the table,” says Georgescu. “They have a very solid multiplayer system for turn-based games, which continuously evolves. It’s now spanning all platforms, includes rankings and an all-new tournament system. It’s great to have this ready and off-the-shelf to be implemented in the game.

“They also have a great platform for testing and assessing quality before release. Their marketing and PR machine serves tens of thousands of strategy games and war games fans. What they do is really try to bring this ‘publisher 2.0’ approach, where they work with us side by side to help us focus on developing the games and forgetting about everything else.

“Being part of the Slitherine group of companies allows us to plan our future in a completely different way. The backing of a publisher allowed us to work in a secure environment, hire people and grow a studio up to today. With the release of Bulge and the new titles to come, it is now our turn to show off what we can do and make the studio profitable and successful.”

Image Credit: Photo of Ionut Georgescu courtesy of Boggit@Grogheads.com