Ex-XCOM and The Sims devs launch Midsummer Studios to reinvent life sims



Former developers of XCOM and The Sims have launched Midsummer Studios to reinvent the life sim genre. The company has raised $6 million.

The Hunt Valley, Maryland-based company has amassed a team of veteran developers behind legendary games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, XCOM and The Sims.

The founders include CEO and creative director Jake Solomon, game director Will Miller (both formerly of Firaxis Games), and COO/CFO Nelsie Birch (with 25 years in financial and operations management).

“I got this bug in my head of setting a game in modern life because I was thinking about player stories,” said Solomon in an interview with GamesBeat. “It’s just that in most storytelling media, if it’s TV shows or movies or books, the most common setting is real life. In games, that’s one of the least common settings. But there’s just so much you can do with emergent storytelling.”

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Transcend Fund led the round, joined by Tirta Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, 1Up Ventures, F4 Fund, Krafton, and Day Zero Productions. Alongside this studio reveal, the cofounders shared the concept for their unannounced debut project: a next-gen life sim that emphasizes player-driven narratives, allowing communities to share memorable moments that grow out of the creativity of players themselves.

“The best stories in games are written by the players,” said Solomon. “At Midsummer we’re making a life sim focused on the drama of modern life, where our players will write meaningful stories just by playing, and then share those stories with the world.”

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Midsummer Studios has three founders and 11 people making a life sim game.

“Leading the Seed for Midsummer was a natural fit for Transcend. As a producer on The Sims myself nearly twenty years ago, I am well acquainted with the power that meaningful player-driven stories can unlock,” said Shanti Bergel, Founding Partner at Transcend, in a statement. “I also have an abiding respect for how hard it is to deliver the alchemy of community, systems design, gameplay, and user-generated content necessary to do so. The Midsummer founders are industry veterans with the rare experience and design artistry required to deliver against this massive opportunity. I am delighted to join the board and support their journey to redefine the life sim category.”

The burgeoning new studio has already added acclaimed talent to their roster, including Grant Rodiek, following his 18-year career with Maxis Studios as a producer and director on various installments and expansions of The Sims. Solomon launches spent 23 years at Firaxis Games, where he was the designer and director of the XCOM franchise and Marvel’s Midnight Suns.

Big companies are getting pretty conservative about launching new intellectual properties. After Marvel’s Midnight Suns launched, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said it was getting harder for game companies to launch brand-new intellectual properties. Just after Midnight Suns shipped in the fall of 2022, Take-Two decided to cut the team, and Solomon left the company. He noted the game was critically well received, but he noted games are a for-profit business, and on that side, the reception wasn’t as great as they wanted.

Still, Solomon said he left on good terms and felt good about taking a “big swing” with the game.

“I just felt like the time was right for me to try to found my own studio,” he said. “Going out last year to fund a new studio was an interesting time to do it. We were either the most unlucky team to go out there and do it or we could just call ourselves very, very lucky that we were able to get funding last year considering what it looked like.”

Will Miller CTO
Will Miller is CTO of Midsummer Studios.

Cofounder Will Miller joins Midsummer after 16 years at Firaxis as a lead designer of Civilization: Beyond Earth and lead engineer on Marvel’s Midnight Suns. While new to games, Nelsie Birch has had several high-profile jobs over two decades leading the financial and operational performance for cities and counties. This veteran team is also joined by experienced talent behind many beloved Firaxis titles.

After successfully securing initial investment from notable partners, Midsummer Studios is focused on growing their studio sustainably. The founders hope to champion the health and happiness of their team members, offering shared equity in the company and unlimited paid time-off.

The Midsummer Studio team is eager to share more details about their upcoming Life Sim title as development progresses.

The company started in September 2023, and Transcend decided to fund the company as it started.
The company is all working in the office in the Baltimore area.

“We’re making a life sim,” he said. “When I left Firaxis, the thing I liked ost were emergent player stories. For a long time, I’v been thinking about one of my favorite this as a player and designer. I’ve been thinking about doubling down on making games that feature emergent player stories. I see a bright future for that. That means a system-driven game.”

He added, “The player will have a lot of freedom and a meaningful choice in terms of rewards and consequence. I first started working on that type of system in XCOM. And so I really kind of wanted to push the story angle.”

Regarding The Sims 4, he said they are incredibly successful. But given the success of Parallel Lives, he thinks that there is a lot of hunger for these kinds of games.

“There’s so much relatable dramatic content in modern life that I just felt like there was real potential to do what we’ve done before with systems design. You can make them engaging. You can make them addictive. You can have these like great meaningful choices in them. But setting them in a life sim setting, not in a violent game. And now that we’re working on that, I believe it for sure.”

Solomon referred to The Sims as the “800-pound gorilla” in the market. He said he loves the game but feels like there is room within the genre for more games. Rodiek played a key role working on those games and Solomon said he is excited to move the genre forward, as The Sims 4 debuted back in 2015, nine years ago.

Solomon said the team includes the three founders and a team of 11 employees.

Nelsie Birch COO
Nelsie Birch is COO and CFO of Midsummer Studios.

“I have members of my team that I’ve worked with for a long time. We worked really well together making the system side of things. But we also have the expertise about the actual life sim genre and the lessons learned there,” Solomon said.

He added, “We’re focusing on the way we think about it. You know, you can’t play Minecraft without creating something. And so we want to have the same thing where you can’t play our game without writing a story. There are dramas and actual game mechanics in our game. We want to entice players to make dramatic choices. And drama is not necessarily a bad thing. You could create a romantic move for a character that your character likes. It could be the birth of a child.”

Solomon said the team will entice players to make dramatic choices that lead them to an interesting story and then be rewarded for it.

“I think there’s just a lot of meaningful story that we can turn into a really fun game for the player and at the same time, just navigating that game, you end up writing a story that’s at least interesting to you, and hopefully, with other people in the community.”

He said that systems-driven gameplay can help create the fun because it can reward the player or surprise the player. The player can be really busy in such a game, making strategic choices while spinning a bunch of plates.

“You’re always in pursuit of these rewards that lead you down unexpected avenues. And if you pair that with consequence, then that’s how emergent storytelling happens.”

As for AI, Solomon said he was thinking about using it. But he felt both “terrified and half excited” about using AI in a game startup. He doesn’t see the value in using it for art or content generation, as he doesn’t want to do anything that replaces a person’s job. But he is looking at how to use it in the emergent storytelling space.

As for raising money, he noted that fundraising is more difficult than it once was. But he wants to partner with others who can help make the process of making a game more efficient in terms of reaching early access. Solomon said the investors like Bergel were familiar with the space and they saw the business opportunity and offered to help navigate the space.

Overall, Solomon noted making the biggest games is a really tough space now.

“There are really difficult challenges that I’m not smart enough to answer when it comes to triple-A,” he said.



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