Boston game entrepreneurs talk about growing studios, challenges (Audio)

Jon Radoff of Disruptor Beam, Marco Mereu of Gameblyr, and Jamie Gotch of Subatomic Studios at the recent MassDigi Game Challenge.
Jon Radoff of Disruptor Beam, Marco Mereu of Gameblyr, and Jamie Gotch of Subatomic Studios at the recent MassDigi Game Challenge.

Sharing some audio from a “fireside chat” I moderated earlier this month at the MassDigi Game Challenge in Cambridge. The two speakers were Jon Radoff of Disruptor Beam, which developed “Game of Thrones Ascent,” and Jamie Gotch of Subatomic Studios, which makes the mobile game “Fieldrunners.”

jonradoffI started by asking Radoff, right, to tell the story of how he dropped out of college to start his first company, NovaLink, a game publisher that created “Legends of Future Past.” Gotch talked about starting to develop iPhone games while he was working at 38 Studios, the high-profile startup founded by Curt Schilling.

“I learn more from failures than I do from successes,” Gotch said. “I love how Curt approached building his team and building his company. It was his first attempt in the game industry, and he definitely did it at a much larger scale than most people do.” Gotch said that in contrast to the big-budget  approach at 38, Fieldrunners began as a side project, without much of a budget at all.

Radoff talked about the expectations tied to taking venture capital money; his firm is backed by Google Ventures, CommonAngels, and Romulus Capital. “Any venture capital investor isn’t looking for you to merge with someone else, or 2X return, or 10X return. All top tier VCs right now…if they invest $5 million in your company, they have to believe that $5 million will be worth $200 million” eventually. “The bar is quite high for venture capital.”

We also talked about the most recent game that has blown their minds (XCOM, Dungeon Keeper, and Disco Zoo all got mentions); getting players of free-to-play games to come back every day; and what makes them optimistic and pessimistic about the games industry in Boston right now.

Radoff said, “You have a better chance to create a company with relatively limited resources that can potentially scale up and get very, very large. The ability to do that now is greater than it has ever been in the history of the software business. You can see that with a company like Supercell, a billion dollar company with 86 people. You can see that with Minecraft. …You can do that with small teams.” Plus, Boston is rich in software development talent.

“On the pessimistic side,” he continued, “It is just a fact that Boston, in general, has never really figured out consumer technology companies, particularly on the financing side. So in the game business, there are only two or three venture capital funds in the entire state that really will  fund game companies in any significant way. There are no publishers at all here. The access to capital is very challenging. Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, because if companies can hit home runs in Helsinki, Finland, they certainly can do it in Boston, Massachusetts.”

Gotch said he’s pessimistic about senior talent leaving Boston as the result of recent layoffs and studio closures. But he said the indie game developer scene in town is very vibrant, including Boston Indies.

The audio runs about 45 minutes. As usual, there are a few audience questions that aren’t well-miked… But there are some very good ones, like whether game entrepreneurs should work with publishers, or publish games on their own.

(The Globe’s Michael Farrell wrote a bit about Subatomic as one of the startups that have risen from the ashes of 38 Studios, back in 2012.)

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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