Wizards of the Coast announced earlier today that the company would be launching a brand new studio in Austin, Texas, that will be headed by industry veteran James Ohlen. Ohlen is famous for a 22-year career at BioWare that saw him garner design and writing credits for Dragon Age: Origins, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Neverwinter Nights, and the Baldur's Gate series.
Ohlen stated when he left BioWare that he wanted to get back to Dungeons & Dragons, a game he loved, launching Arcanum Worlds, a publishing venture he co-founded and one that will release a new adventure book called Odyssey of the Dragonlords. Ohlen has a pedigree in role-playing games, and Wizards of the Coast has made a push to digitize its tabletop offerings, with the recent Magic: Arena online game garnering hundreds of thousands of views on Twitch and generating an esports tournament series that will award $10 million in 2019 alone.
Wizards of the Coast's new studio will have a strong start with Ohlen at the helm, a lead designer who can draw on decades of role-playing game experience to craft whatever venture will be the first project for the Austin-based company. Ohlen himself stated he was a little taken back by returning to gaming so quickly after he'd publicly stated his wishes to depart for a while to pursue other ventures, but in a quote released during the announcement, he also acknowledged it was an opportunity he was intrigued by:
"I didn't think that I would be coming back to the game industry so soon but working with Wizards is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our mutual love of RPGs, world-building, and interactive storytelling is a perfect match."
It's unclear exactly what that match will end up producing, but it will involve something new, as the press release also stated that the studio will focus on creating an "original IP outside of the Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons' brand." It's a curious decision given the resurgent popularity of both those franchises, but clearly Wizards of the Coast is looking to expand its offerings beyond its already successful IPs. Chris Cocks, the president of Wizards of the Coast, gave a vague clue as to the direction of the studio:
"James [Ohlen] brings experience in creative direction and studio leadership that will prove important as we look to develop compelling new experiences that engage gamers all over the world."
Whatever the compelling new experience that the Austin-based Wizards of the Coast studio will offer, it's going to be helmed by someone who is very capable in delivering premium RPG content to gamers. While the new IP will definitively not be based on an existing Wizards of the Coast property, there's still a chance we'll see a few crossovers, and with a company like Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast behind it, Ohlen's new studio has immediately established itself as one to watch as time passes. Given that Ohlen wanted to leave the game industry for longer than he's been away, there must have been something very tempting on offer with the new studio, which should excite fans just as much as it's seemed to excite Ohlen's creative side.