Zakazane is a new Polish game studio full of game veterans, and it has raised a $1 million pre-seed investment.
The founders for Warsaw, Poland-based Zakazane came from bigger Eastern European game companies including CD Projekt Red (maker of Cyberpunk 2077), 11bit Studios (This War of Mine), and GOG.com.
The funding is enough to kickstart the development of the debut game, an immersive single-player Old West role-playing game that delves into the complexities of justice. The Games Fund led the investment in the startup.
The company actually started in 2022. Jan Bartkowicz, known for his work as a writer and creative director on acclaimed titles such as The Witcher 2, Shadow Warrior, and Cyberpunk 2077 Edgerunners, joined forces with Piotr Chomiak, a seasoned game animator with 23 years of experience. He had worked at studios including CD Projekt Red, Flying Wild Hog, and 11 bit Studios.
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Radosław Gwarek, former technical designer at 11 bit Studios, known for his contributions to This War of Mine and Frostpunk, completed the core founding team of Zakazane. The company was able to come up with a demo relatively quickly and it showed up at Gamescom 2022 with the demo. That helped it both with recruiting and fundraising, Bartkowicz said.
Since securing the initial pre-seed investment, Zakazane has expanded its team to 16 members, said Bartkowicz, in an interview with GamesBeat. Notable additions include Adam Kozłowski, the studio’s art director, who brings 20 years of experience working on projects such as The Witcher, Beat Cop, and Shadow Warrior 2. Marta Adamska, formerly head of business development at GOG.COM, has joined as the director of business development.
“This is what I really like about us becoming independent and running a small company, which is that we have the power to solve the problems,” Adamski said. “So this is definitely exciting. We also get to influence who we are how we treat our people how our employees feel. It’s so different because it’s so much more intimate. In corporate structures where you have 200 other people, you have no idea who just got in the elevator with you.”
Triple I games
The team members came from a variety of studios, and most are senior people. They’re people are obsessed with doing content within larger studios. The founders weren’t so interested in the politics at the higher levels of the big companies. Most of the team is coming into the office to work in Warsaw.
“We weren’t really sure about wanting to pursue careers in big companies anymore, just for the reason that, at a certain level, you just have to deal with a lot of other stuff other than making the game,” said Bartkowicz. “We want to make a company that’s driven by the fact that we’re making a game and strips away what I would call political stuff. We are people who are really content driven.”
The team wants to make that are deep and have mature themes, with a lot of focus on morality. Adamski said in an interview with GamesBeat that she thinks of them as having “triple i” quality, where “i” refers to independent. That is, it’s a small indie studio with a lot of focus on getting the quality right. It’s not likely to be a full-price $60 game.
“We want to create projects with a distinct, unapologetic identity,” Bartkowicz said. “Games for mature audiences who want to be left with a sense of wonder.”
Zakazane is currently focused on developing a single-player adventure RPG set in their unique interpretation of the Old West. Players will assume the role of a sheriff in a mountain town, tasked with uncovering a mystery that threatens to divide the local community. The game aims to empower players by allowing them to shape the future of the town and influence the storylines of its citizens, while also presenting them with morally ambiguous choices.
“I’m a real big fan of like story driven games,” Bartkowicz said. “I definitely have a soft spot for older BioWare games. That influences me a lot. They’re more like system-driven games. It has a strong narrative but it’s not like an interactive movie or anything like that. It’s a proper game with combat and exploration and all these systems.”
The successful development of a compelling concept and a minimum viable product (MVP) enabled Zakazane to secure the pre-seed investment from The Games Fund.
“One of the interesting aspects in this transition is that you keep your ambition high because you’re used to it,” Bartkowicz said.
At the same time, the individual employees can be effective at doing their jobs as they have the power to accomplish what they think needs to be done.
This funding round will facilitate the creation of a playable vertical slice, showcasing the game’s core mechanics, visual style, and pacing, and initiate full-scale production fundraising.
“We invest in the most talented game developers, and Zakazane is an outstanding company led by a visionary founding team driven by a passion for video games and storytelling,” said Ilya Eremeev, managing partner of The Games Fund, in a statement. “We believe in full creative freedom and independence for our partners and are committed to supporting the company and helping them realize their vision for this exceptional game and beyond.”
The company is working on a vertical slice that could be done by the end of the year, Bartkowicz said.
They might grow the team to about 40 people. But that will likely require a new round of funding. The goal is to launch a PC release first in the second half of 2026, Adamski said. It’s a top-down isometric RPG, like a good Western movie but with about 30 to 40 hours of gameplay, she said. It will take a mix of veterans and young people to pull that off.
“We believe that’s going to be healthy to have experienced people working side by side with people who just are junior and have a passion for excellence,” Bartkowicz said.
They want people who are assertive and are committed to working on that they fully understand.
The company doesn’t necessarily have a clear idea how the latest AI developments are going to affect the company. AI has been useful for conceptual work for artists, but it’s less clear how AI affects storytelling. But there are plenty of veterans who are familiar with AI tech inside the company.
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