Videogame Startups from a CEO Perspective
It’s no secret that starting a videogame studio has never been more accessible than it is today. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, with so many dynamics involved in producing a quality game, many studios shut their doors not long after their birth. Visionary Realms has proudly been operating with its feet on the ground for some years now, but it has taken a great deal of planning and thought to ensure the stability of the company. CEO Chris Rowan answers some questions as to what the ambitious studio has done to ensure it arrives at the finish line with a great product that its growing audience has been intently anticipating.
What are key drivers for Visionary Realms as a successful startup?
An entire book could be written on this subject, but we’re too busy for that, so I’ll pick three.
We’re making an MMO.
There are few projects broader in scope or requiring such a multitude of disciplines working together. It’s a lot to take on, and it’s very hard to do right. To inspire the team, the community, and keep such a large project on course, a clear vision is critical, with a team, talent and community that believes in that vision and is inspired and driven by it.
Next, a constructive, mutually supportive company culture is bedrock. Neither raw talent or herculean efforts are enough on their own. Huge projects require cohesive teams that communicate and work together well, bound together by that vision, embodied in a plan. Bringing together teammates that share the vision, the passion and the goals through hiring decisions is a starting point. And of course company policies help set ground rules, but nothing beats leading a company’s culture by setting examples and infusing that behavior throughout the team. Visionary Realms has a positive, can-do, vibe that infects new team members and brings us together in a way that I haven’t seen in previous companies – I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
Finally, hard nosed, frugal cash management and productivity maximization are critical. As a largely crowdfunded venture, every dollar must produce maximum possible impact. As a result, we are scrappy and resourceful, which is how a startup should be.
What does VR look for when considering prospective partners?
Prospective partners must have a deep understanding of MMOs, the community, the market, the history, and an optimistic view of the future despite some of the stumbles the genre has taken over the last decade.
Next, philosophies and approaches to business, relationships, and how customers are treated must click. We see our customers more as a treasured part of our community than a number.
We also look for complete buy-in into our vision. This has been a stumbling block in the past. “Great idea, but the latest trends show this, so can we just change this, that and the other” doesn’t go over well.
Additionally, a prospective partner must demonstrate commitment to long term relationship building and real staying power due to the longer development cycle, and very long product life cycle of an MMO which is sometimes measured in decades instead of months.
Then of course, we need to be convinced not just of fit, but of real, deep value add. The partner must contribute to Pantheon being bigger, better and more successful. The way games are developed and released has changed radically, so the question of what a partner brings to the table has morphed as well.
How does crowdfunding affect development?
Video games are traditionally developed in complete secrecy. Throwing open the process and doing it publicly has huge implications.
Most obvious is direct involvement of the community. It’s literally impossible to express the value we gain from and appreciation we feel for our supportive community. The community’s voice of thousands validated the original concept; has been one of the main sources of funding; is a valuable sounding board; and is a constant source of inspiration.
But as you can probably imagine, there are serious downsides to open, public development. The community is of course always hungry for updates, so we spend a significant amount of time creating those updates. There are also times when, if we didn’t have to show progress to the community, we might choose different development priorities. Balancing the drive toward completing and releasing the game while keeping the community updated is admittedly challenging.
What have been some key accomplishments which have helped the company in its startup stages?
Our supportive community springing to life was certainly the biggest early accomplishment for Pantheon. After that, receiving our first significant investment went a long way to putting the project on more solid footing and providing a basis for staff expansion. Each additional investment along the way has been critical to moving the project forward.
Chances to expose Pantheon to larger audiences have also figured large. Each convention we’ve attended has drawn more fans to Pantheon, and also gave us wonderful opportunities to meet with community members in person. The advent of game streaming and each CohhCarnage stream has vastly contributed to awareness of Pantheon.
Through the history of the project, talented people have seemed to magically appear wanting to join the team at just the right time, clearing paths that were blocked until they arrived.
But the accomplishments that I treasure most are the day-to-day victories. Vexing problems solved, significant features being released internally, positive reactions to newsletters and streams, or even when someone has an important revelation or takes a significant step in their growth as a team member and game maker.
Publishing partners used to be almost a requirement for game studios. Has that changed, and how so?
Most definitely. Digital distribution, cloud services, influencer marketing, crowdfunding. We’ve built Pantheon and the Visionary Realms team to allow us to self publish, and that remains our default approach, but if among the multiple ongoing discussions a synergistic partnering opportunity presents itself, we’ll certainly consider it.
In regards to alternate funding generation, there has been a lot of buzz in the industry recently around using NFTs in gaming. What is Visionary Realms’ stance on NFTs?
Blockchain is still in its early stages. It’s a promising technology but still a wild west. Sometimes it can be hard to see the value of blockchain technology through all the noise, hype and some of the abuses of it, but I do think it’s promising, if used correctly.
All that being said, blockchain based business models are simply not appropriate for Pantheon. For starters, Pantheon was designed around a player-enabling, player-driven economy without real money transactions or pay-to-win elements. Shifting away from those tenets to any other business model would disrupt the fundamental design of the game which is not only unacceptable, it’s frankly impractical.
So to be clear, Pantheon won’t be converted into a crypto game.
We’ve also been hearing a lot about the metaverse. How does Pantheon relate to the metaverse?
It really depends on how you define “Metaverse.”
We’ve been making online virtual worlds for decades now. I think there will be some real surprises for metaverse developers when hype and grandiose ideas run headfirst into the realities of creating, balancing, operating and maintaining an online world. Welcome to the party!
Ultimately, I believe the first real dividends we’ll see from recent metaverse efforts will be a handful of really cool games with metaverse aspects, made by experienced developers who understand virtual world development, and then an increase in visual 3D computing interfaces for business and professional users, which will then trickle down to more casual, everyday users.
What can you tell the Pantheon community in regard to its current financial health, and future?
Thanks in large part to our supportive community, and to some amazing investors, we are strong, solid, expanding and accelerating. We’ll be addressing this in more detail soon.
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