When Zynga Boston closed about a year ago, it left a lot of people looking for work in the mobile games industry. One of those people was Seth Sivak, who arrived at work only to be told not only had he been laid off, but he also had to call the rest of his team and tell them they had been laid off too.
Sivak and his teammates and friends–Dan Ogels, Jesse Kurlancheek and Damon Iannuzzelli– had worked at Conduit Labs prior to the company’s acquisition by gaming giant Zynga in 2010.
While Sivak was at a bar sulking post-lay offs, Ogels, Kurlancheek and Iannuzzelli proposed to their former product manager that this might be the perfect opportunity to start their own development shop and build their own games on their own terms, without a publisher looming over them.
“I had this moment where I looked at these other guys and realized that I would never have the chance to start something like this where all these talented people are free at the same time and willing to give it a shot,” said Sivak.
Fast-forward 12 months, and Proletariat has already released one title for iOS and Android, Letter Rush, and will soon go into limited beta with their second game, World Zombination available in Q2 2014 on iOS and Android, with more platforms to come.
Proletariat’s newest game is a top-down, team-based, multiplayer experience that is equal parts tower defense, real time strategy and massively multiplayer online game. Players control a hoard of wonderfully characterized zombies charged with infecting the city. Sivak calls it the ‘Funpocalypse.’
World Zombination sets itself apart from other mobile games with its attempt to bring the feeling of a semi-synchronic MMO to the mobile platform and procedurally generated maps.
Getting maps to properly generate themselves at random has proved difficult, admitted Sivak, but it will ensure the game is never the same twice.
“We always have these moments where we are like ‘I think no one has done this before’ and then we get into it and realize that maybe no one has ever done it because a) it’s not fun or b) it’s really hard,” Sivak said of the maps. But he is sticking to it. “This way, we have replay-ability, flexibility, and we don’t need to have a team of people to churn out new content every few weeks. We want people to play indefinitely.”
But map generation is a problem Sivak prefers to the growing pains he experienced at Proletariat’s beginning. As former project manager of his team at Zynga, he found himself in the role of CEO by default, and felt the pressure of chief executive early on.
“I was frustrated early on because I was working with all of these 10 year veterans of the industry and I’m the asshole with no experience. So I spent a lot of time looking for mentors and former first time CEOs.”
As a result, Sivak formed crucial relationships with Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games, Eiton Glinert of Fire Hose Games and Nabeel Hyatt of Spark Capital. Sivak believes that aggregating all of the aforementioned experts’ advice was the best procedure for finding his, and Proletariat’s way.
“You’re not going to be able to get perfect advice because the place and time of that person’s experience is different from where you are now,” explained Sivak.
This is a really rational way to look at the startup ecosystem. But, who you are working with is just as important as who you aren’t working with. And Sivak loves not having to work for a publisher.
“Everyone is yelling in your ear to launch and you don’t have to. It’s one of the nice things not working with a publisher. We control our own timeline,” Sivak explained, “Publishers want you to do well so you make them money but they don’t want you to do too well so they have to pay the developer more in the future or the developer doesn’t need them anymore.”
Above all, Sivak is determined to provide his audience with an exceptional experience.
“Our community is a product. To me, building an audience is just as important as building the game. With traditional boxed games you build a product and throw it over a wall and hop it lands on a shelf at Walmart. You had no idea who was playing it. Now its your obligation to communicate with your players. There are so few barriers between publisher and customer, now we can embrace our community.”
When I asked Sivak how he will gauge the success of World Zombination, his answer was firm.
“It will be successful if we can make a game people want to play, and if we can keep them playing because it’s fun. I would rather that and barely break even then get a times ten return.”