Has the video game genre finally been recognized as a medium for education, without the content having to look like a school book? A Spanish development team creating DogFight Elite believes the time has come for a military adventure game that actually teaches.
This interview was conducted for our Featured Startup Section and contains links for the team's Kickstarter campaign. Please go visit it.
Many of you reading this probably played video games when you were younger, and if you were anything like many of the teenagers who huddled around the new release shelves, you probably were first to grab some of the bloody and gory games that came out of the big shops. You probably also listened to many of the pundits on the news talk about how violence in video games and violence in reality are linked. And you sat through the debates, or you participated in them at school. And at the end, nobody really knew if any of that was true. But you knew one thing, you liked those video games.
Now, the founders of Echoboom are launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of a whole new video game. Using their background building Windows 8 (Orcs Must Survive) and the same game for Windows Phone 8 this team from Spain wants to develop Dogfight Elite, an historic video game unlike any that the military genre has seen. Joaquin Grech, founder of Echoboom, wants to make a military flight game that does for young audiences "what books and films did for me." What's intersteing about this campaign, and Grech's view on video games, is the legitimacy he gives to the video game genre itself as a medium for education and instruction, not just entertainment.
From their Kickstarter page:
In a game industry saturated with blood and gore, we want to make game that stands apart from and, literally, above the crowd. If this Kickstarter campaign succeeds, young players and old will discover one of the most fascinating periods in modern history; the origin of combat in the air and the birth of the chivalrous knights of the sky, the Aces of WW1 and WW2.
I want Dogfight Elite to do for young players what books and films did for me. We have the opportunity here to create something that involves and engages you in an unfolding ‘story’ in which you can actually participate. There is nothing passive about this game. It’s immersive, in terms of the rich historical content, the thrilling massive multiplayer real-time gaming action, and the personal interaction with fellow fans and players from around the world…with all the realism and sense of “being there” only a quality game can provide.” You can make all this possible with your pledge to Dogfight Elite.
Joaquin Grech, Founder, Echoboom
BizSpark: Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
Joaquin Grech: It depends on how the idea comes to our minds. For instance, I developed out first game, Dogfight just to satisfy a curiosity, it was a challenge for my programming skills and I wanted to learn more about game physics. I was mostly thinking how to scale the game when it began growing, but I wasn’t until it hit 1 million downloads that I started thinking about revenue. When you get to a certain point costs go up especially with servers, and we had to start doing adjustments in our revenue strategy to balance.
We are now looking on kickstarter for funding for the next version, Dogfight Elite http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/echoboomapps/dogfight-elite Dogfight Elite will be an educational and historical multiplayer airplane combat simulator. If we achieve our funding goal, it will be released on multiple platforms, including Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. It will also make heavy use of Azure cloud system and we expect dozens of instances to be running. With the experience gained from the previous version of the game, we were able to better estimate costs before posting the project on kickstarter. Obviously now that we understand the costs better, we focus on revenue first since we know that scalability will only be possible once we have the budget covered. By making this adjustment in mentality, we will be providing pilots with a greater experience while flying, chatting (and acquiring points) at the same time the Azure servers expand and scale without hiccups.
BizSpark: Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
Joaquin Grech: With Dogfight Elite we have reasoned about possibilities for revenues, but with other game apps we tested them on the fly, trying different revenue models to optimize for revenue while not alienating our community. New trends are emerging everyday about how to make money out of apps and we keep our eyes open to see whether they fit our business culture and image. Also, our community tells us what they prefer, either in the forums or in the way they behave and purchase. We have learned a lot from them.
BizSpark: What questions do you think a startup non-technical founder needs to answer when considering a cloud architecture for his or her startup, and I am thinking specifically here during the business model generation period?
Joaquin Grech: Non-technical founders as any other kind of entrepreneur should strive to differentiate their core business from things that they may depend on but they shouldn’t focus on. For instance, does their service needs to have high availability like an e-commerce site? What impact would it have if their site or database was down for certain amount of time? Do they have spikes on their services, like in thanksgiving or sprint break? As you can see, these are business questions but their answer is tightly tied to technology. If a service disruption could damage your company image or provoke a considerable loss of revenue, you would need to analyze utilizing a stable cloud architecture like Microsoft Azure. In addition, if you don’t have the time or resources to focus on server maintenance, you can delegate most of the job to Azure and save time and money for your core business.
BizSpark: What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
Joaquin Grech: For us it has been the marketing and commercial side. As technical entrepreneurs we needed help structuring our marketing efforts and it has been a relief to start counting on an expert that handles most of the things, at least on a daily basis; and on partners that give us a hand when we need it.
BizSpark: How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
Joaquin Grech: Good question, our company name is Echoboom. Echoboomer is another name for Generation-Y or Millennial Generation. We chose the name because Echoboomers are a generation that place monetary reward second after personal fulfillment and making a difference in the world. I’ve always believed that contributing to a bigger cause is not only inspiring but also fulfilling. I started Dogfight as a technical challenge for myself, to learn and create new things for mobile. But we started meeting amazing people that have inspired the whole Echoboom Apps team to launch the Dogfight Elite project. The people in the community are just amazing, they ask for new stuff, give ideas, look for stories to feed the game plot, etc. It’s impossible to stop doing things for them. It gives a sense of greater meaning to the project when you have veterans and non-profit organizations asking to include different stories from World War I and World War II heroes. Dogfight Elite is a tribute to them and to aircraft lovers that we found along the way. In this sense, Dogfight Elite will contribute to a shared a passion for historical planes among grandparents, parents and their children. We have visited museums for documentation and become ourselves aficionados of early century´s aircraft. At the end we have created something we are passionate about and that motivates millions of people around the world. What else could we ask?
BizSpark: When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
Joaquin Grech: I don’t think I ever decided it, it was more of a realization. When I was only 15, I starter a non-for-profit social network for Spanish speakers. Thousands of people met in that network, made friends and even got married! Years later when I was working for companies I realized that having an impact gave me a sense of purpose. I founded 2 more companies before Echoboom, while I was studying or working as an employee. I worked for others because I needed additional income, but what really made me tick was the after-work, meaning, my own company. I realized that I needed to express my inner passions in some way, and that was through my own enterprise.
BizSpark: What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
Joaquin Grech: We want to make mobile technology accessible to everyone. The creation of apps that are fun, user friendly and useful is a need for current and future generations. We hope to deliver apps that everyone can keep using for years and that they share with friends around the globe.
BizSpark: What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
Joaquin Grech: When you like your job so much, you don’t think about it, but people around us have noticed weekends and holidays have disappeared in order to cope with all the work that a startup requires. On the other hand, we have made new friends within the entrepreneurial ecosystem that have become our support and partners in the journey, our movie Friday squad.
BizSpark: What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
Joaquin Grech: Discipline: weekends are working days, our office opens 24/7 on mobile.
BizSpark: Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Joaquin Grech: When you begin a company your most common problem is funding. You don’t have the resources to either hire, cover licenses costs or doing marketing. That’s where Microsoft Bizspark came in. The Bizspark program provides us with access to all software licenses that not only trimmed costs but also allowed us to have a jump start in the business. Our main business is development of applications on cutting edge technologies. Microsoft provided us with early access to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, allowing us to develop for the platforms before they were officially out. The same day that the platform became available, we not only had apps to show but also had already acquired the required knowledge to be ahead of the curve. In addition, for large projects like Dogfight Elite, we have access to Microsoft Azure, which provides for a high-availability platform for the game. If this wasn’t enough, our contacts at Microsoft call us from time to time to ask us how we are doing and if they can assist us with anything. We do really feel pampered.
BizSpark: Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
Joaquin Grech: Because you rock? J In all seriousness, I sound like a Microsoft fan boy when I talk about the Bizspark program, but it is just true. Microsoft has the most cutting-edge development platform and tools that I see all players in the market trying to imitate. Visual Studio is THE tool for developers. Most see it as only software, but it is a full platform. With Microsoft’s tools you can build the apps, make it distributable and scalable, save countless hours of programming and maintenance and all this translates to the bottom line. As a start-up, this is priceless.
BizSpark: Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Joaquin Grech: Dogfight Elite is a detailed, historical flight simulation and air combat game…and much more.
In a game industry saturated with blood and gore, we want to make game that stands apart from and, literally, above the crowd. Young players and old will discover one of the most fascinating periods in modern history; the origin of combat in the air and the birth of the chivalrous knights of the sky, the Aces of WW1 and WW2.
I want Dogfight Elite to do for young players what books and films did for me. We have the opportunity here to create something that involves and engages you in an unfolding ‘story’ in which you can actually participate. There is nothing passive about this game. It’s immersive, in terms of the rich historical content, the thrilling massive multiplayer real-time gaming action, and the personal interaction with fellow fans and players from around the world…with all the realism and sense of “being there” only a quality game can provide.”
BizSpark: How did you get excited about Azure?
Joaquin Grech: We needed a stable and affordable solution. Microsoft Bizspark provides us with a cloud system that did just this at perfection. We jumped right in!
BizSpark: What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Joaquin Grech: It utilizes Windows OS, which for us is very important since it is our main development platform. It is familiar and easy to use. We can make changes and adapt quickly to the requests of players without having to dig into complex issues that forces us to RTFM.
BizSpark: What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Joaquin Grech: If you delay more, you’ll be late to the party!