Let’s tell the audience a little bit about yourself-where you were born, where you went to school, your dream career, etc
I was born in Guatemala, though we moved to the States when I was one so I don’t remember it very well. I had kind of a complicated childhood with lots of moving & travel – Guatemala, then Texas, then Spain, then Texas again, then Spain again, then New Jersey, then the Dominican Republic. I’ve lived mostly in San Francisco since college and it’s by far the longest I’ve lived anyplace, and very much home now.
I majored Russian & Eastern European Studies at Yale – I was an exchange student in Hungary my senior year in high school and became fascinated with the history & culture of that region. I wrote my college thesis on politics & religion in 15th & 16th century Transylvania [no mention of vampires] so nothing remotely useful to any future career.
After I graduated I went into book publishing because I liked books, but quickly discovered I found picking books for other people on subjective bases fairly stressful. I stumbled into catalog marketing which was very analytical and test-driven and found that I really liked that. I almost went to grad school in economics, and doing statistical research on interesting topics is more-or-less my dream career. Luckily I get to do it as part of my job at Kongregate and can therefore safely call it pretty close to my dream career. Well that and Olympic pairs figure skater but that one is safely out the window.
What is your earliest memory of video games? What sparked your interest in video games? What was your favorite game growing up?
Playing games on our Colecovision and going to an arcade near the college campus, I can’t remember which was first. I once got the high score on the Ms Pacman machine when I was about 8, which was a pretty big deal – it was a very busy arcade right next to the University of Texas campus. I got so excited I peed in my pants a bit, mixing total triumph with total humiliation. My favorite game was Lode Runner on our Apple IIE – I can still remember some of the levels very clearly.
What made you decide to enter the video game industry as your career?
My brother/co-founder Jim had the basic idea for Kongregate and asked me for help on the business plan – he was an engineer but had never had to deal with financials, or marketing, or anything like that. I thought it was a good idea and a lot more fun that what I was doing, and that it was good time in my life to take a risk like starting a company.
I figured that my skills would be a complement to Jim’s even if I didn’t know much about the game industry yet, and that since I liked games it would be fun learning.
What skills have been useful to you in your current position at Kongregate?
My analytical skills and background in data mining, statistical analysis and a/b testing have been extremely useful. At the beginning of Kongregate I had no idea how relevant they would turn out to be, games & gaming have gotten much more stats-driven in the last five years. Along with that being able to empathize/understand the motivations of people pretty different than myself has been very useful in product and design as well as in handling the community. Writing well is critically important in any internet business – something like 50% of my day is spent writing emails, forum posts, etc and communicating clearly and effectively is absolutely crucial.
Tell us about the creation of Kongregate. What difficulties did you face and how were they overcome?
It was relatively smooth, really. It helped a lot that Jim & I were older and had a fair amount of experience and connections between us, and had savings to invest in getting things started. Our father also invested and so we were able to get a substantial amount done fairly quickly and had a working product and some traction by the time we needed outside investors.
One big challenge was hiring engineers in the Bay Area, and we got around that by setting up an office in Portland, though multiple locations definitely creates its own headache.
Scaling for our growth was a tremendous problem in our first year. We made several mistakes there, including going with a brand new start-up for cloud hosting and our rapid growth and server instability was exacerbated because they were still figuring out their system. Moving wasn’t as simple as it should have been because we needed external expertise that we didn’t have, were having trouble finding consultants, and our tech director wasn’t working out, and things dragged on very stressfully for almost a year. We were eventually able to hire a server guy, set up our own servers, and promoted a new tech director and once all three were in place our scaling problems were fixed within a month.
What was Kongregate’s initial mission? Has it changed since its creation?
Our mission was to create a platform for developers to distribute and monetize their games while keeping control and a rich, social environment that makes playing the games more fun and more meaningful. That hasn’t changed one bit.
Why do you think Kongregate has appealed to so many users and developers?
We were determined to make putting your game on Kongregate an easy decision for developers: fair, non-restrictive terms, quick upload process, revenue share, developer contests. Players are attracted by the games, of course, but achievements and social features make the site much more sticky than most other places to play games.
What impact do you feel women have had on the industry?
I think that’s a little a hard for me to say – I know the influence they’ve had within Kongregate but that’s a fairly limited environment. Certainly they’ve had a tremendous influence as consumers over the last decade, first in the downloadable market and then in social & mobile, really coming forward as equal consumers of games which has changed everything.
Do you think the growth of women in the industry will continue?
Absolutely. Most people get into the games industry because they love to play them. Growing up in the 80s I only played video games with my brother and his male friends; none of my female friends played them at all. That’s been changing gradually for years and women in the industry will grow naturally from that. The fact that so many companies are targeting women helps as well.
What do you predict for the future of the industry in the next five years?
Total upheaval in the same directions. A slow decline in the importance of consoles, especially if the trend to very few releases continues. Continuing growth in mobile and free-to-play/virtual goods games. Lots of innovation in the indie world and in web distribution, but a trend toward publishing/publishers in mobile as the cost of acquisition becomes sky high and visibility problematic.