On last week’s podcast, I was joined by Jon Radoff, chief executive of Beamable. Founded in 2010, the company aims to eliminate all barriers that exist to building and running a successful game, allowing game-makers to focus on creativity. Before starting Beamable, Jon built one of the first commercial games on the internet, took a web content management company public, grew a games advertising network and launched mobile games played by millions of people, including Game of Thrones Ascent and Star Trek Timelines. As a writer, he is now heavily focused on the metaverse, helping people become better educated in the space, and also tackling some of these more critical issues.
Jon sees himself as having grown up in the metaverse, given his two big loves as a child – computer programming and Dungeons and Dragons, a realm of pure imagination that rises from social connection with other players. Merging these worlds led Jon to a career in game design, which has kept him on the vanguard of metaverse development ever since. To him, the metaverse is about “real-time activities” in the virtual space – “putting people at the center of what you’re doing and letting stuff unfold in real time around you.” He explains how this is nothing new – just as D&D allowed him and his childhood friends to create imaginative worlds, early online games were allowing people to connect remotely over real time in storytelling of their own. In fact, Jon met his future wife in the 90’s whilst playing the online game, Gemstone – so he is the first to acknowledge that the virtual world and real life can very much intersect.
Having always been compelled by group storytelling and the relationships that could be formed between players, Jon wanted to bring these experiences to new, untapped platforms, which brought him to mobile game development. Given the short attention span of mobile gamers, he found that tapping into markets where people already were invested in the characters and narrative. This led him to Game of Thrones and then Star Trek – the latter being their biggest game to date.
It was fascinating to hear how Jon went about landing these games. First, after “stalking” George R.R. Martin for two years, he got a meeting through the author’s agent. There, Jon drew on his intimate knowledge of the Game of Thrones books to pitch an “anti-social game,” knowing that, if being true to the books, the gameplay would incorporate a whole lot of backstabbing to match the spirit of Martin’s narrative. After this game’s success, Jon’s appreciation of nuance and matching gameplay to the works that inspire them also helped him pitch Star Trek. As a fan, Jon knew a Star Trek game would have to involve far more than just fighting and space exploration, given the show’s grounding in big philosophical themes. Embracing this nuance in his design led to the game’s success: it has been ongoing for over five years, with players appreciating how the game is true to the fiction they love.
Through his game designing, Jon learned just how complicated the technology behind games is and how challenging it is to get it right. Simultaneously, he witnessed a number of trends intersecting – the potential for the metaverse to expand beyond gaming, and capital pouring into game development. Beamable emerged from Jon’s desire to meet this growing need and empower people to build their dream games, putting creative vision first, rather than limiting people with the complicated tech game design requires. Like Shopify, which allows people to set up online stores easily without building up shopping platforms from scratch, Beamable allows game makers to get straight to realising their vision, designing their worlds and focusing on user experience with drag-and-drop tools, instead of requiring them to understand deeply technical functionality issues.
Just as “we fight for the game makers” is central to his company’s ethos, Jon believes in fighting for an inclusive metaverse, where all are welcomed in as creators. As author of the Building the Metaverse blog, Jon has shared dozens of thought pieces on this emergent space. Jon dreams of a truly open metaverse where billions are able to participate creatively in the space, opening it up past the gate-keeping of programming. Jon’s dream metaverse would be a place for all creators, not just a few super powerful companies. He encourages us all to “go out there” and claim our sovereign space within the metaverse, so that our creations are something we can do with as we choose, being dictated by no one but ourselves.
From discussing the iterative process of game design and Jon’s idea of “shots on goal,” or how creative leadership can help leverage technology to move faster, it was exciting to learn how the gaming world is paving the way towards our virtual future, and how Jon’s work is setting the stage for us all to get involved. (Even for those like me, who haven’t played a game since our 1980s childhoods!) To hear the rest of our conversation, you can listen to the full episode here.