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Pipeworks launches triple-A Timbre Games studio in Vancouver

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Pipeworks Studios has opened a new studio in Vancouver called Timbre Games. It will focus on action-adventure and simulation games for the PC and consoles.

Electronic Arts veteran and former Sims franchise leader Joe Nickolls will lead as studio president. It will be a new division within Eugene, Oregon-based Pipeworks Studios, which was acquired last year by Sumo Group for $100 million. The studio is staying mum about the game it is making right now.

Lindsay Gupton, CEO of Pipeworks Studios, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the Sumo deal gave Pipeworks resources to mount an expansion, and that led to the creation of Timbre Games, where the focus will be creating a new kind of game studio where diversity, transparency, community, and healthy workplace culture will be in its DNA.

“I think from our perspective, Pipeworks has always had ambitions to be a really significant developer in North America,” Gupton said. “We’ve been a part of Sumo for eight months and that has enabled us to reach those ambitions. We want to go and create and help create other studios, mostly by backing great teams to do cool stuff in interesting places. And so with this team, it worked out perfectly. This is kind of our first commitment to a significant expansion and international work, and Vancouver makes a sense of being in the same timezone.”

Timbre Games’ other staff include studio production director Zoë Curnoe (who worked on the Gears of War series) and studio creative director Geoff Coates (Company of Heroes 2).

Core but not hardcore

Above: Timbre will make action/adventure and simulation games.

Nickolls has 22 years of experience in triple-A game development, and he was previous vice president of Maxis at EA. He also held senior roles in within EA Sports, EA Mobile, Capcom, and Microsoft.

“We plan to be a core studio, but hardcore is probably not the term,” Nickolls said. “We’re going to lean into action adventure and simulation,, but we are not going to be doing extremely violent games or anything like that. We really want to make sure that we can provide accessible content for people across the board.”

Nickolls said in an interview that he and Gupton met at the Game Developers Conference a while ago and talked about their shared vision for games. Fast forward a couple of years and they’re starting a studio together.

“One of the things that we bonded over is the idea of making games more fun for more people,” Nickolls said. “We’re doing very high-quality games, but we want millions and millions of people to join because it’s accessible. We really want to make it easy for people to have an awesome experience and be awesome.”

Nickolls said he liked the experimental nature and creativity of Sack Boy as an adventure game that appeals to everybody, as well as games with a weird sense of humor.

Pipeworks DNA

Above: Rival Peak has a dozen characters competing in Survivor fashion.

Based in Eugene, Oregon, Pipeworks has been a quiet global force in gaming for more than 20 years. Its team has worked on more than 75 games with partners including EA Sports, Wizards of the Coast, Activision, Facebook, NASA, MetaTeq, and more. Timbre is Pipeworks’ first new studio in North America and plans to launch additional studios in the near future.

Gupton said Pipeworks was inspired by the team’s vision and confident they will not only create truly fun games but do so in an inclusive environment where voices are heard and employees thrive. Pipeworks most recently worked with Genvid Technologies on the interactive reality show Rival Peak.

Gupton said the Pipeworks team enjoyed working on Rival Peak, which took games into new territory with interaction between game makers and audiences. The game revolved around 12 AI characters on a survival show in the wilderness. Those characters could be controlled in some fashion by the way the audience voted on key decisions that the characters had to make.

“It was a kind of crazy experiment and a new form of entertainment,” Gupton said.

Pipeworks focuses on development and co-development with publishers as its partners. It also does original intellectual property development and publishing.

“You can think of Timbre as being another development studio within the family that will have a similar model. It’s like working on originals as well as working on partner IP,” Gupton said.

Nickolls expects the studio will support remote work with hybrid in-person and remote model. Nickolls said the team is working on a couple of ideas now but can’t talk about them yet.

Cofounders

Above: Timbre Games was started by Joe Nickolls, Zoë Curnoe, and Geoff Coates.

Curnoe was most recently the production director of the story campaign for the Gears of War series at The Coalition. Her role as a producer has taken her to large and small studios worldwide, from Canada’s Rocky Mountains (The Banff Centre for the Arts) to Australia, working for Pandemic/EA and California at Riot Games.

Coates worked on art and creative director for Company of Heroes (Relic), DeadRising 4 (Capcom), and the SSX franchise (EA). Coates has worked on everything from sports titles to strategy games to shooters and racing games. His side hustles include editorial cartoons for a Vancouver paper and relentlessly drawing Nickolls in unprofessional (yet somehow tasteful) workplace attire.

Diversity focus

Timbre is committed to looking harder and further for talent with different backgrounds and will partner with local schools and communities to bring in diverse voices. Timbre has five people now and it is hiring.

“When you build a studio, you’re really given a unique opportunity to try and build things the right way,” Nickolls said. “One of the things that we’re really going to be focusing on is making sure that we have diversity. We are equally as excited about bringing in studio veterans as we are bringing in fresh new talent from different backgrounds and groups to to really help us take advantage of the changing faces of gaming.”

Part of Timbre’s mission is to approach game development with the community in mind right from the beginning, even in creating and growing a new studio. Its goal is to involve players much earlier, focusing on early access and community feedback. Pipeworks has more than 160 employees, mostly in Eugene.

The parent company

Sumo Group’s businesses provide acclaimed development, design and publishing services to the video games and entertainment industries from studios in the United Kingdom, India, Canada, the US, and Poland.

Sumo Digital, as the group’s primary business, is one of the United Kingdom’s largest independent developers of triple-rated video games, with studios in Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leamington Spa, Warrington, and Pune, India.

The business has acquired multiple studios since initial public offering (IPO), which operate under their own names, BAFTA award-winning The Chinese Room in Brighton, Red Kite Games in Leeds, Lab42 in Leamington Spa and PixelAnt Games in Wroclaw, Poland.

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