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The Secret Developers of the Video Game Industry



In July 2015, developer Comcept launched a Kickstarter campaign for its game Red Ash. It didn’t go well.

Despite raising over $500,000 in pledges, the campaign missed its target and critics pummeled its approach — pointing to Comcept launching the campaign before seeing through a previous one, announcing a console port without identifying which console and continuing the campaign after finding external funding.

For production studio Hyde, which had teamed with Comcept to develop the game, the campaign presented a new problem.

Hyde has been around since 2002, has worked on over 200 games and has had a hand in some of Japan’s biggest franchises, including Final Fantasy, Persona and Yakuza. It just can’t talk about most of them. The team often works in secret, doing its job but not appearing in the credits or mentioning the work publicly. Speaking with Polygon, Hyde President Kenichi Yanagihara estimates that he will never be able to talk about 70 percent of what the company does. And that worked fine until Hyde asked the public for money.

“There definitely was some, I guess you could say blowback, from the announcement and with Hyde — people not knowing who they are,” says Comcept Assistant Producer Josh Weatherford. He cites a Tumblr post that warned fans to be cautious because, it claimed, Hyde didn’t have experience with action games. Weatherford says because of Hyde’s backseat approach, the team’s hands were tied over how much it could say in response to the complaints.

“I think it’s mostly just the lack of information,” he says. “You can’t talk about the thing so people are just going to assume the worst.”

Hyde is one of many game studios that often works in the shadows. Some call the approach “white label development,” “ghost development” or “secret team.” And it’s been around almost as long as video games have been.

With Kickstarter and social media making developer reputations more important than ever, Polygon recently looked into some of the reasons why it happens and the benefits and problems it can cause. Yanagihara says he enjoys working in secret, and he’s happy to take the good with the bad. For others it can be a source of frustration, a lack of choice or the only way to stay in business.

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