In an effort to return to the forefront of the video gaming industry, Spokane-based game developer Cyan Inc. has launched this week a version of its newest game, Obduction, that can be played on a virtual-reality platform.
Rand Miller, cofounder and CEO of the company known for creating the popular Myst and Riven games about 20 years ago, says the virtual-reality version of Obduction can be played on an Oculus Rift headset. Oculus Rift is one of a few large virtual-reality platforms.
The virtual-reality release of Obduction comes a couple of months after Cyan released a version of the game that can be played on the Microsoft Corp. operating system and a little over a month ahead of the game’s release on Apple devices, Miller says. He says the company is looking to offer it on additional virtual-reality platforms after the Apple version is released.
Speaking specifically about the company’s first foray into virtual-reality gaming, Miller says, “Frankly, it’s something that has reinvigorated us.”
Cyan raised about $2.5 million to launch the new game, its first original game since 2003. The company generated just over $1.3 million through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that it launched in November of 2013. The remaining $1.2 million came from local investors and out-of-pocket investments from Cyan executives, Miller says.
Developing a game of Obduction’s depth on a $2.5 million budget is an accomplishment in its own right, Miller asserts.
“We pulled off an amazing amount of project for $2.5 million,” he says. “We did a substantial amount for a fourth of what the industry would have done this for.”
He contends it’s too early to gauge sales performance, and the company doesn’t plan to market the game heavily until it’s available on more platforms. However, he says that so far, “We’ve gotten great reviews.”
The website Metacritic.com rates Obduction as receiving generally favorable reviews from both critics and fans. From critics, the site says, the game has received 19 positive, five mixed, and two negative reviews. Gamers appear to have embraced it more warmly, with 32 positive, three mixed, and three negative reviews.
While Obduction is Cyan’s first new release in 12 years, Miller says that the company has continued its development of the Myst-Riven franchise through the years, re-enabling those games to be played on new platforms. Miller now operates those games under a separate corporation, Cyan Worlds Inc.
The company has sold 15 million copies of Myst and Riven in its lifetime. In 2000, Myst was regarded as the top-selling computer-based game of all time, though Miller says it since has been surpassed by The Sims and potentially others.
In total, the Cyan companies employ 25 people currently, Miller says. Through the years, he says, employment has swung wildly, from a low of seven people to a peak of about 80.
The company remains at its longtime headquarters, occupying about 7,000 square feet in the two-building, 22,000-square-foot complex it once filled at 14617 N. Newport Highway, in Mead.
Miller describes Cyan as an indie studio that fills a niche within the gaming industry.
“We’ve made a name for ourselves with nonviolent but narrative-based games,” he says.
In Obduction, a player starts out in a real world-like wilderness setting, inspired by Priest Lake and its surroundings, Miller says. That player then is abducted and taken to a strange, science fiction-inspired land. The object of the game, he says, is revealed as play progresses.
Cyan says in its marketing materials that the game is characterized by “stunning landscapes, deep storyline, engaging characters, dramatic soundscapes, and challenging yet intuitive puzzles” where the goal is to “understand your environment rather than test your reflexes.”
Obduction is similar in concept, Miller says, to Myst and Riven, and he contends that the Kickstarter campaign largely was due to fans’ fondness for the older games.
“The Kickstarter was a call back to that feeling that Myst gave,” he says.
Cyan sought $1.1 million through the campaign and soared past that, securing more than $1.3 million from nearly 22,200 backers.
Obduction took a year longer to develop than initially stated when Cyan started its Kickstarter campaign. Consequently, the company began fulfilling its commitments to Kickstarter donors this fall, rather than in the fall of 2015 when initially indicated.
“In Kickstarter terms, that’s practically on time,” Miller says, laughing.
The company is gaining momentum again after a setback in the early to mid-2000s. It had ramped up to launch a large, intricate online game, called Uru, buying a North Carolina-based company and hiring more people. The company had secured a publisher for Uru and beta tested it, but shortly before its launch, the publisher pulled out of the project.
“It failed, but we learned a lot,” Miller says, adding, “The ego part of me wants to say we were ahead of our time.”
Cyan ultimately did release Uru on a smaller scale and maintains it for a group of avid players, but it doesn’t allow new sign-ups for that game currently.
Because the company self-funded Obduction, it’s not working with a publisher. Miller says that could improve profitability per sale, because the publisher would receive 85 percent to 90 percent of the revenue from sales under its previous agreements.
“We’re on our own,” Miller says. “We like it, but we have to be careful because the marketing and everything else is all on us.”
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