Matt Rodgers (center), CEO of HeadRight Games with his team, Andrew Richter (left) and Brian Babyak
Have you always known you wanted to start your own company?
Pretty much. My family has always been really into games–we even invented our own board game–so I fell in love with them at an an early age. Since I was about 12, my goal in life was to own my own video game company. Of course, I knew I had to gain experience in the industry before I would be able to do that.
How did you go about gaining that experience?
After earning a Computer Science degree from the University of Maryland, I moved out to Seattle to attend DigiPen, Nintendo’s sponsored school for Game Development.
After I graduated, I immediately started working in the industry. First at Nintendo QAing titles like Mario Pinball Land and then at Microsoft Games where I worked on Conker: Live and Reloaded, Halo 1, and Halo 2.
From there I went to Wild Tangent, a casual game publisher where I concentrated on the e-commerce side of things like digital rights management (DRM), credit card processing, and in-game advertising.
Finally I ended up at Real Networks where I was a game producer and designer. I produced 7 titles in just over 2 years working on licensed content like Scrabble Plus and Clue Classic as well as original concepts like Real Detectives: Murder in Miami and Dr. Wise – Medical Mysteries. Real Networks was also where I found out about this business model of outsourcing.
Talk a little more about that. Which parts of your games do you outsource and why?
Well, the idea behind HeadRight Games is to make casual games faster and cheaper. We can do that by reusing the game engine we’ve developed as the framework for all of our games. Then we outsource elements that vary from game to game like art and music because it’s most cost effective without a degrade in quality.
Tell me more about your first game, Amusement World.
I like to describe it as Willy Wonka meets Disney World. It’s a hidden object puzzle adventure game or what people in the industry call a HOPA. In the game you get to explore different themed lands that each have a unique time of day, color palette, and theme.
You start out in noon at the Whimsy Wonders which has a princess/medieval carnival theme; at 3pm you reach Titanopolis, a superhero-themed metropolis; at 6pm, Plunder Island, the pirate-themed land; and at night you reach the Haunted Grove.
Sounds pretty cool. Any chance you need beta testers?
Yes, actually. On Wednesday, April 25th HeadRight Games will be hosting an open BUG BASH at AlphaLab. Stop by the space (2325 East Carson Street) from 7-9pm for some free pizza, soda, and a chance to break our new game. Follow us on twitter to find out the specifics.
Sneak preview of the four different worlds in Adventure Land
After being in AlphaLab for almost 14 weeks, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
How to talk to prospective investors.
When I got here, I was used to describing my company to developers and publishers in the gaming industry. But I quickly realized I have to be able to explain my company and the industry in short, digestible nuggets of non-jargon filled descriptions. Which is not an easy thing for me sometimes.
I know you’re originally from Pittsburgh, but you’ve spent most of your adult life in Seattle. Being back here, do you think Pittsburgh is a good place to have a startup company?
Definitely. I mean, on top of the fact that all my family is here, I think there is an amazing talent pool coming out of local schools like Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and the Art Institute. For game development specifically, I believe it rivals any city on the East Coast.
The low cost of living is also helpful, especially in a startup company. I don’t think I could afford to do something like this in Seattle.
Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs just starting out?
Just be aware that everything is going to cost a lot more than you think and take a lot more time than you think.
How can people learn more about HeadRight Games?