Myers comes to Reactive Studios with a background in entertainment industries. He was originally a creative writer and playwright, earning a student Academy Award nomination for a short film he co-wrote. One of his early experiences in the games industry was writing for Dejobann Games, a Boston indie company, working on the Valve Potato Sack ARG, which led to the release of Portal 2. He then began adapting story IP to Facebook for various companies. He worked as game writer for Zynga Boston on Indiana Jones Adventure World, which was named a top 5 social game of 2011 by Gamesutra. From there, he went to a narrative designer position with Disruptor Beam, planning the story and leading the writing team on Game of Thrones Ascent. He got into mobile through designing narrative and writing for Jack Lumber by Owlchemy Labs, and his focus remains on mobile today.
Myers particularly appreciates the camaraderie of indie developers and the community of support among writers around the world. Boston holds several monthly meetups where they come together to share knowledge, discuss problems and demonstrate games. He enjoys the same community cooperation at trade meetings such as GDC and Casual Connect.
The games industry entices him with the challenges of creative problem solving both as a writer and a designer. Delivering an entertainment product satisfies his desire to reach others with his creative work. And because it is a booming commercial industry, he can take practical steps to grow both his career and his business.
Innovation and Interaction
Innovation is especially important to Myers. He reached a turning point in his career with the opportunity to explain the innovations in the narrative of Indiana Jones Adventure World when he spoke at the Games Narrative Summit in Austin, TX in 2012. He tells us, “We had worked very hard to do something very different with story for a Facebook game.” With this game, he says, “I felt like a pioneer staking out new territory.” And now, the use of narrative elements has become much more prevalent in the mobile/social space. He insists, “I try to walk that path of innovation in all my projects.”
He tells us interactive entertainment is a category he expects will continue to boom in parallel with more accessible development tools that allow content authors to have creative control. As well, advances in mobile hardware and peripherals will allow for more innovations in audio. The limitations in these areas have been holding mobile games back until recently.
Reactive Studios are working to reach the largest possible audience for interactive stories, using a focus on acoustic storytelling. They are targeting an overlapping audience of audiobook listeners and casual gamers, with game content driven by audience demand. For 2014, they plan to focus on partnerships for new titles, allowing for rapid growth of the company.
“I love software and technology because [of] how fast the marketplace is always changing, which means there are always opportunities for entrepreneurs to play a role.”
Few fantasy franchises have generated the passionate fandom, the critical acclaim, and the awards that A Game of Thrones has. Since George R. R. Martin started the A Song of Ice and Fire series in 1996, when A Game of Thrones was first published, it has commanded a loyal fan base that has only increased in size and passion with the premiere of the HBO show in 2011. The popularity of the book series also proved to be so influential that even before the show premiered, a social media game based on the books began production. Released February 2013, Game of Thrones Ascent was developed and published by the studio Disruptor Beam. As a strategy game designed for Facebook, Game of Thrones Ascent allows players to control the head of a minor house in Westeros – a continent that most of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in – and engage in their own narratives of political intrigue. To learn more about this game, GameSauce was able to talk to Jon Radoff about his career, founding Disruptor Beam, and creating Game of Thrones Ascent.
Radoff’s Background – Before A Game of Thrones
“The fact that I’ve been involved in different aspects of the Internet has helped me see opportunities that others haven’t.”
Jon Radoff was more than just a videogame fan growing up, he was a fan who took the initiative to actually make videogames. During his high school years, for example, he made a bulletin board system strategy game called Space Empire Elite. Radoff’s passion for technology, and him being a Massachusetts native, led to him going to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for college. However, while WPI is a top ranked college that specializes in science and technology, Radoff would leave before graduating. It’s not that Radoff was disappointed with WPI, but, according to him, he left because “I had an idea for a company that I was really excited about, and once I caught that bug, I couldn’t think of anything else.” In addition to wanting to create his own business, Radoff wanted to explore the ever-changing world of the computer industry, stating, “I love software and technology because [of] how fast the marketplace is always changing, which means there are always opportunities for entrepreneurs to play a role.” As such, this combination of his passion for technology and his entrepreneurial spirit would guide Radoff throughout his career.
1991 would see Radoff truly begin his career when he founded his first company, NovaLink Corporation, and created the online text-based game, Legends of Future Past. Though now thought of as an MMORPG, Radoff discussed how the term didn’t exist in the early 90s, saying “we didn’t have the term MMORPG back then. We called it an online interactive fiction game.” Inspired by other interactive fiction games like Zork (1980), Radoff and his colleagues approached these projects “as a form of storytelling through games, and…wanted to bring people together to experience stories together.”
Radoff stayed with NovaLink until 1997, when he left to found Eprise Corporation – a company that dealt with web content management software. He would leave this company in 2001. Years later, in 2006, he would establish gamerDNA, which provides a social media platform for gamers to discover new games. Though the shift from Eprise to gamerDNA seems like a change of focus on Radoff’s part, he does state that “I’m not sure I’ve ever changed focus, because my focus has always been Internet-based companies.” Highlighting his entrepreneurial mindset, Radoff stated that he feels that “at any given time, there have been interesting opportunities in everything from software infrastructure, to ad networks, to games. The fact that I’ve been involved in different aspects of the Internet has helped me see opportunities that others haven’t.” One of these opportunities that Radoff saw and would pursue was social media game development.
Getting into Social Network Gaming – Building Disruptor Beam
“We wanted to make a game that was about story, characters, and interesting strategic decisions—because that’s what Game of Thrones itself is about.”
Though Radoff’s career had centered on Internet-based companies for the majority of his adult life, he has been a gamer since he was a child, and his passion for this medium had never faded. When Radoff, as he says, noticed “a huge hole in the world of social gaming– and thus, a huge opportunity,” he decided to get back to his roots by founding Disruptor Beam.
A key aspect of Disruptor Beam’s approach to game design stems from Radoff’s belief that “all games are social.” As Radoff told GameSauce, “Social media is very powerful, especially when integrated with games, which are at their core social experiences.” Yet, he observed that “the same type of in-depth, story-driven game experiences of console and PC games were missing from the social graph.” For Radoff, this is how Disruptor Beam differs from other companies. He believes Disruptor Beam’s “goal is to disrupt the social game landscape, by providing immersive gameplay based around the worlds that gamers love most.”
Disruptor Beam’s gaming philosophy is best exemplified by the interface for Game of Thrones Ascent. To Radoff, “Most online games are trivial clickfests.” As such, he and his team strived to create a game that had more depth than just repeated clicking, stating “We wanted to make a game that was about story, characters, and interesting strategic decisions—because that’s what Game of Thrones itself is about.”
In addition to its approach to game play, Radoff also felt that locating Disruptor Beam in Boston would allow the studio to better stand out. “In Silicon Valley and video game hubs, like San Francisco and LA, it is more difficult to stand out,” says Radoff. “We felt that we could really shine in Boston.” And as a lifelong resident of the greater Boston area, Radoff feels that it is a great place to live and, more importantly, that it also has a great “game and start-up ecosystem.” Of specific value is that the area is richly populate with people that a gaming studio would need. As Radoff highlights, the Boston area has a “wealth of game development talent with MIT, WPI, Becker and other schools based here – an excellent pool from which we’ve built our team.”
Building Game of Thrones Ascent
“One of the original core design principles for Game of Thrones Ascent was to create a game that actually stood on its own two feet…”
Another unique aspect of Disruptor Beam is that it is populated by fans of George R. R. Martin’s epic series. As such, when Radoff and his staff started thinking of ideas to base a social game on, they quickly began to consider how the world in A Song of Ice and Fire could be adapted into a social media game. Interestingly, Radoff told GameSauce that the “the idea for a social game based around George R.R. Martin’s books was actually one that started long before the HBO series even [premiered].” After developing the preliminary concept for what A Game of Thrones Facebook game could look like, Disruptor Beam reached out to Martin through his agent in 2010. According to Radoff, once Martin heard the pitch for the game, “He loved it!” After getting approval to create the game, now called Game of Thrones Ascent, Disruptor Beam “kicked off a relationship with HBO and…now work in lock-step with them on the development of the game.”
Since Game of Thrones Ascent was originally developed separately from the HBO series, it doesn’t function as a traditional licensed game that is merely an extension of a company’s marketing department. According to Radoff, “One of the original core design principles for Game of Thrones Ascent was to create a game that actually stood on its own two feet.” As such, Disruptor Beam stepped away from the standard licensed-game model. And though there is synergistic relationship between Disruptor Beam and HBO, Game of Thrones Ascent is designed to provide a narrative experience that can be enjoyed without having to have read the books or watched the show.
To create a game that could be enjoyed in isolation from the series’ main story and yet remain an authentic extension of what Martin created, Radoff realized that narrative design would be crucial to the success of Game of Thrones Ascent. As such, the game’s experience is structured around two goals. The first is to create, as Radoff states, “content that mimics the show and books directly” and the second is to produce “original content that allows the storyline to carry beyond the books and show.” Radoff believes that this model has been so well received by players because they “are able to live out the storyline they love from the books and show while also digging even deeper into Westeros with authentic original content.” By creating a game experience centered on the character, the player develops and the results of their strategic decisions, Game of Thrones Ascent is able to replicate the unpredictability that is a pillar of Martin’s epic series.
Disruptor Beam’s Long Term Targets
“Our goal at Disruptor Beam is to transport fans into the world they love through social games…”
With over two decades of experience developing internet content, software, and games, Radoff fully understands the limitations social media platforms present for a gaming experience. As Radoff stated, “We’re still far from having the types of immersive experiences that exist on 3D console games.” However, in Radoff’s eyes, “the technological limitations are actually an advantage for a company like us: rather than spending millions on 3D graphics, we’re spending all our efforts on innovating on new types of gameplay and story.” Additionally, Radoff made it clear that Ascent is not the only game Disruptor Beam will develop. “Our goal at Disruptor Beam is to transport fans into the world they love through social games,” says Radoff, “so Game of Thrones is just the beginning for us! We definitely have plans to expand our model of story-driven social gameplay to other worlds.”
As for Game of Thrones’ fans specifically, with season three of HBO’s Game of Thrones having ended and the sixth novel in the series, The Winds of Winter, with no publication date yet, fans of the franchise should be comforted to know that Disruptor Beam has “new content and features planned for the game that will be rolled out in the coming months, as well as new platforms on which to play the game.” So while A Song of Ice and Fire’s main narrative may be on hiatus, fans can continue to explore the world of Westeros through Game of Thrones Ascent.