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Wilson in 2017
Wilson in 2017

Michael S. Wilson[1] (born 1970), is an American business executive, video game producer, and film-maker. Beginning his career at DWANGO as Vice President of Development before being hired to lead marketing and publishing at id Software in 1995, Wilson has subsequently co-founded multiple independent video game publishers, including Gathering of Developers, Gamecock Media Group, Devolver Digital, and Good Shepherd Entertainment.

Wilson has been a featured speaker at South by Southwest,[2] Reboot Red,[3] Reboot Blue, E3, the International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness (TIGS),[4] Game Developers Conference (GDC),[5] and many more, and is a vocal advocate for mental health in games, and self-care and unionization in the world of independent game development. In 2019, he called on the industry to start grappling with the reality of video game addiction and begin taking active measures to curb its effects through "being more intentional about the content we create."[6]

Wilson has served as a partner and frontman for Devolver Digital since co-founding the company in 2009 and concurrently served as Chief Creative Officer for Good Shepherd from 2012 through 2020.[7] He also currently sits on the advisory board of Take This, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues for video game professionals within the industry.[8]

In 2019, Wilson co-founded Transcend Victoria, a Victoria, British Columbia-based entertainment company dedicated creating "immediate, interactive art" designed to bring people offline and together in shared physical spaces.[9]

Career

DWANGO

Wilson began his career in his early 20s as Vice President of Development for DWANGO, an early online gaming service based in the United States, which pioneered the use of a nationwide network of dial-up servers to host multiplayer sessions of Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow, and Heretic, and other popular video game titles.[10]

Following the platform’s explosion in popularity, Wilson left DWANGO in 1995 to join Doom developer id Software to bolster the company’s first forays into game publishing.[11]

id Software

Joining id Software in 1995 to help lead marketing for the company's gaming catalog, and subsequently oversaw the launches of several prominent games in id's line-up, including new installments of the Doom and Heretic/Hexen franchises. Wilson also led the launch the retail shareware version of Quake through use of encrypted CD-ROMs (and later DVDs), making the titles readily available to all major retailers and, for the first time, 7-Eleven stores nationwide.

Ion Storm

Wilson left id Software at the end of 1996 to join John Romero and Tom Hall for the launch of the game development company, Ion Storm. Wilson served as CEO from December 1996 to the end of 1997, overseeing the company's growth from 8 to 88 employees in under a year. Wilson and other executives exited Ion Storm following a public conflict[1] with another partner in the company, Todd Porter, who became CEO after Wilson's departure. Before departing to found Gathering of Developers, Wilson was instrumental in recruiting Warren Spector onto the Ion team, subsequently leading to the creation of the Deus Ex franchise in the company's Austin development studio..

Gathering of Developers

In January 1998, Wilson – in partnership with Harry Miller, the CEO of Ritual Entertainment, and several other independent development studios including 3D Realms, Epic Games, Terminal Reality, and PopTop Software – founded Gathering of Developers. Gathering was founded as an artist-friendly, developer-driven publishing operation which would brand its developers above the publishing label and permit them to own their intellectual property, thereby earning the highest royalty rates in the industry at that time. Funded through distribution and co-publishing deals by Take-Two Interactive, Gathering published several PC games including Railroad Tycoon 2, Stronghold, Serious Sam, Tropico, Darkstone, Mafia, and, finally, Max Payne following the company's acquisition by Take-Two in May 2000.

Following the sudden death of Gathering co-founder Doug Myres in the summer of 2001,[12] Wilson and Miller, along with the majority of Texas-based talent at Gathering, departed Take-Two to form SubstanceTV.

SubstanceTV

After leaving Take-Two in 2001, Wilson took the majority of Gathering's employees with him to a new start-up video-magazine on DVD called SubstanceTV.[13] SubstanceTV's focus was aimed at alternative, non-mainstream content such as music videos, short films, original short documentaries, and other content not available elsewhere. Unable to make the venture work commercially, Wilson winded it down in August 2002 after publishing seven issues.

Take-Two Interactive

In 2002, Wilson returned to Take-Two as Executive Vice President of A&R.[7] Wilson spent the next several years holding dual roles in the worlds of gaming and film, jointly shepherding projects for Take-Two and his own Gone Off Deep Productions film imprint, which released the documentary Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock in 2005.[14]  Wilson has continued to produce multiple feature-length and short-form film projects via Gone Off Deep in recent years, including 2011’s Austin High [15] and 2016's Stand Up Empire.[16]

Gamecock Media Group

On February 12, 2007, Mike Wilson and his partners Harry Miller and Rick Stults announced the formation of Gamecock Media Group, a new video game publisher that "they hope will act as the equivalent of an independent film company for small game developers."[17] Gamecock was acquired by SouthPeak Games in October 2008, after releasing several titles including Mushroom Men for Wii and Nintendo DS, Dementium: The Ward for Nintendo DS, Hail to the Chimp for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Legendary for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Stronghold: Crusader Extreme for PC, Insecticide for PC and Nintendo DS, and Fury for PC. Southpeak dissolved the brand and released later Gamecock titles, such as Velvet Assassin and Section 8 under their own label.

Devolver Digital

In spring 2008, Mike Wilson rejoined Harry Miller, Rick Stults, and several other former partners to found Devolver Digital, a producer/publisher hybrid initially working with Croteam – creators of the Serious Sam franchise that Wilson and Miller helped establish while with Gathering of Developers. WIlson has served as a founding partner and spokesperson of Devolver Digital since its inception.

Devolver's first release, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, came out in November 2009 on PC and January 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade. Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter was released in May 2010 on PC and September 22 on XBLA. After the release of Serious Sam 3 in 2011, Devolver decided to shift its focus from larger development cycles to the emerging indie gaming scene.[18] Using the Serious Sam series as a test bed for indie development and relations, Devolver worked with developer Vlambeer to release Serious Sam: The Random Encounter in October 2011. Since then, Devolver has gone on to release Hotline Miami with developer Dennaton Games, selling over two million copies on Steam alone as of October, 2016.[19]

Since 2017, Devolver has released more than 50 new game titles, including Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Gris, Reigns, My Friend Pedro, and multiple installments of the acclaimed Enter the Gungeon and Shadow Warrior franchises. In 2020, the company, in concert with UK-based developer Mediatonic, released its biggest hit to date with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, which sold more than two million copies on Steam within a week of its release. Heralded as “the perfect game for the coronavirus age” by USA Today,[20] the game’s near-instantaneous success has been attributed to its non-violent, joyfully communal gameplay, which has been called “a salve to social isolation and an escape from the constant barrage of bad news”[21] during the 2020 global pandemic.

In 2020, Devolver announced its first television project with an adaptation of My Friend Pedro, to be written and executive produced by John Wick creator Derek Kolstad. Envisioned as an “R-rated, half-hour dramedy,” Wilson will serve as an executive producer on the series, alongside Legendary Entertainment, DJ2 Entertainment, and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch.[22]

Devolver Digital Films

At SXSW 2013, Devolver announced that they would be extending the brand to digital film distribution.[23] Wilson sperheaded Devolver's film distribution arm, bringing in partner Andie Grace as the company's VP of Acquisitions – a move prompted by Steam’s then-new move into the distribution of films and videos.  In 2019, both Steam and Devolver ceased its acquisition of independent films, due to Steam refocusing its efforts on VR.[24] Devolver had released more than 75 films on Steam and other various digital platforms before shuttering the division.

Good Shepherd Entertainment

In 2012, Wilson co-founded Good Shepherd Entertainment (formerly known as Gambitious Digital Entertainment) alongside Harry Miller, Paul Hanraets, and Andy Payne, where he served as Chief Creative Officer[25] until 2020. The company was founded to further Devolver’s core philosophies of fairness and equitably for game creators, but operate at a smaller scale with a focus on games budgeted at under $1 million, a stated emphasis on quality, and the ability to allow independent investors to invest alongside the label for each title.[26]

Since 2014, Good Shepherd has released more than 25 games with an average 30 percent profit on each title.[27]  Their catalog includes the Transport Fever series, Semblance, Phantom Doctrine, and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which features voiceover work by Grammy Award-winning musician Sting.[28]  

In 2019, Good Shepherd released John Wick Hex – its first game to be based on a major entertainment property – which was developed to fit canonically within the universe of Lionsgate’s John Wick film franchise and featured actors Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprising their roles from John Wick: Chapter 2.

Take This

In March 2018, Wilson was appointed to the board of Take This, a Washington-based non-profit organization founded in 2013 by video game journalists Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt and clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Kline.  The organization is dedicated to providing resources and channels for mental health discussions for professionals in the video game industry.[29] It also regularly publishes white papers addressing the industry’s controversial working conditions, such as “crunch time,”  and provides AFK (“away from keyboard”) rooms for relaxation purposes at busy gaming industry conventions,[30] including PAX, in addition to other programs in person and online.

Games

Year Title Credit
1993 Doom Marketing
1995 Hexen Marketing
1996 Final Doom Marketing
1996 Quake Marketing
1997 Doom 64 Business Liaison
1998 Railroad Tycoon 2 Co-Executive Producer
1999 Hidden & Dangerous Co-Executive Producer
2000 Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 Co-Executive Producer
2000 Rune Co-Executive Producer
2001 Oni Co-Executive Producer
2001 Serious Sam: The First Encounter Co-Executive Producer
2001 Tropico Co-Executive Producer
2001 Max Payne Co-Executive Producer
2001 Stronghold Co-Executive Producer
2002 Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Co-Executive Producer
2002 Lost Kingdoms Co-Executive Producer
2002 Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven Co-Executive Producer
2005 Serious Sam 2 Co-Executive Producer
2009 Legendary Co-Executive Producer
2009 Velvet Assassin Co-Executive Producer
2011 Serious Sam 3: BFE Co-Executive Producer
2012 Hotline Miami Co-Executive Producer
2013 Despicable Me: Minion Rush Co-Executive Producer
2013 Shadow Warrior Co-Executive Producer
2014 Luftrausers Co-Executive Producer
2014 Broforce Co-Executive Producer
2014 The Talos Principle Co-Executive Producer
2015 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Co-Executive Producer
2015 Not a Hero Co-Executive Producer
2015 Dropsy Co-Executive Producer
2015 Downwell Co-Executive Producer
2016 Enter the Gungeon Co-Executive Producer
2016 Shadow Warrior 2 Co-Executive Producer
2016 Mother Russia Bleeds Co-Executive Producer
2017 Absolver Co-Executive Producer
2017 Ruiner Co-Executive Producer
2018 Genital Jousting Co-Executive Producer
2018 Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Co-Executive Producer
2019 Katana Zero Co-Executive Producer
2019 Observation Co-Executive Producer
2019 My Friend Pedro Co-Executive Producer
2019 John Wick Hex Co-Executive Producer
2020 Carrion Co-Executive Producer
2020 Fall Guys Co-Executive Producer

Filmography

Year Title Producer Writer
2005 Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock Yes No
2005 Preacher with an Unknown God Yes No
2006 The Temple Builder Yes No
2007 God's Work No Story
2010 Gillespie Yes No
2011 Austin High Yes Story
2012 Training for the Apocalypse Co-Executive Producer No
2013 Blood Sun Town Associate Producer No
2015 Steam Dream Executive Producer No
2015 The Hotline Miami Story Co-Executive Producer No
2016 Stand Up Empire Executive Producer Creator

References

  1. ^ a b Christine Biederman (January 14, 1999). "Stormy Weather". Dallas Observer.
  2. ^ "Deal Better Drugs: Gaming Addiction and Nutrition". SXSW 2021 Schedule. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  3. ^ "Speakers". Reboot Develop Red 2020. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  4. ^ "Successful game industry pros talk about their struggles with depression". VentureBeat. 2020-10-07. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  5. ^ "Publisher Opens Its GDC Space to Developers Stranded by Trump's Travel Ban". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  6. ^ Editor, PCGamesInsider Contributing. "Devolver's Wilson says it's time to take more responsibility about video game addiction". pcgamesinsider.biz. Retrieved 2021-06-07. |first= missing |last= (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b "Michael (Mike) Wilson".
  8. ^ "It's time to talk about mental illness in indie development". Engadget. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  9. ^ ""If we're going to be drug dealers, let's not literally mine for addicts"". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  10. ^ "DWANGO and DOOM - History of Gaming". Fully Gaming. 2018-04-05. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  11. ^ "The Strange History Of Gamecock's Mike Wilson". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  12. ^ http://fresh.goneoffdeep.com
  13. ^ http://www.substancetv.com
  14. ^ "Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock (2005) - IMDb". www.imdb.com. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  15. ^ Whittaker, Richard; Fri.; April 20; 2012. "What's the Buzz?". www.austinchronicle.com. Retrieved 2021-06-07.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Stand Up Empire (Comedy), Kerry Awn, Christopher Cubas, Lisa DeLarios, Rob Gagnon, Brently Artists and Media, Devolver Digital Films, Heard Entertainment, 2016-06-05, retrieved 2021-06-07CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ Upstart Video Game Publisher to Focus on Small Developers - New York Times
  18. ^ Ben Kuchera. "How five men are changing the business, and size, of game publishing". Penny Arcade Report. Retrieved 2013-03-04.
  19. ^ Daniel Krupa. "Hotline Miami Coming to PS3 and PS Vita". IGN. Retrieved 2013-02-19.
  20. ^ "Why Fall Guys is the perfect game for the coronavirus age". South China Morning Post. 2020-08-14. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  21. ^ Molina, Mike Snider and Brett. "Coronavirus-curbed video gamers are falling for 'Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout' and other diversions". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  22. ^ Beresford, Trilby (2020-07-02). "Action Video Game 'My Friend Pedro' Getting TV Adaptation". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  23. ^ "SXSW: Videogame Developer/Publisher Devolver Digital Adds a Film Distribution Arm!". Aintitcoolnews.com. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
  24. ^ "Steam stepping back from selling films". Rock Paper Shotgun. 2019-02-21. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  25. ^ Kerr, Chris. "Gambitious rebrands as Good Shepherd and expands team". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  26. ^ "Isolation, depression "running rampant" among indies - Devolver co-founder". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  27. ^ "Good games make good investments at Good Shepherd". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  28. ^ "How publishing label Good Shepherd hopes to make an impact with kindness". MCV/DEVELOP. 2018-08-17. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  29. ^ "Games and Mental Health: 'It doesn't have to be tragic to be an artist'". GameDaily.biz. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  30. ^ This, Take. "AFK Rooms". Take This. Retrieved 2021-06-07.