How to Launch a Gaming Company

Posted by Dave Allen on September 19, 2011

Name: Josh Shabtai
Age: 32
Title: Founder and CEO, Vertigore Games
Degree: Boston University, Mass Communication, 2001

It turns out, running a start-up is a lot like what Luke Skywalker faces in the film Star Wars. Despite being overwhelmed and inexperienced, Skywalker dives in, learns fast, and achieves interplanetary glory.

Skywalker’s transformation from wide-eyed farm boy to savior of the galaxy has been an inspiration for Josh Shabtai, CEO and founder of Vertigore Games. In 2010, when Shabtai starting developing his first title, the iPhone app Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, he was still a novice game designer. He had produced a few small-scale design projects—mostly for his friends’ and his own amusement—but certainly nothing for mass consumption.

Shabtai soon realized his experience in advertising and public relations could be applied to game design. He started to see the marketing campaigns he conducts as real-world games where he’s responsible for getting the attention of consumers, keeping them engaged, and guiding them toward a desired result. By combining marketing know-how with his understanding of what makes gamers tick, Shabtai was able to design a game that users pick up and stay hooked on until finishing the final level.

But simply designing a successful game isn’t enough to get it to market. Shabtai learned that it’s critical to be able to effectively communicate your dreams to those in a position to make them reality. “If you want to make something happen, you’ve got to show people you have more than just an idea,” says Shabtai.

Indeed, Shabtai had a bold idea for Falcon Gunner: he wanted create an “augmented reality” game in which computer graphics are layered upon a camera view of the player’s surroundings. But conveying this vision to THQ, the video game publisher that ultimately approved and licensed Falcon Gunner, required drafting a 40-page design document that outlined the entire structure of the game, the menu screen, plus a one-level demo.

Above all, thorough dedication was imperative to the success of Falcon Gunner. Just to reach the presentation stage, Shabtai pulled frequent all-nighters supervising the design team, on top of his day job as a media strategist. When pursuing a side project, you have to be prepared to make some sacrifices in your personal life, says Shabtai. “If not, you’re going to find so many reasons to give up.”

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