Steve Curran of Burn Ghost On The Future of Gaming
You need to make sure people know about your game. That starts with your community, which becomes your inner circle for promotion. We’re fortunate to have a strong community who are excited about the next steps. We’ll also announce some great partnerships soon that will bring world-class IP and fans to Burn Ghost.
As a part of our series about what’s around the corner for the gaming industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Curran.
Steve Curran is a creator, technologist, and entrepreneur in the gaming industry, and he has worked in game design, interactive entertainment, and marketing since the 90s. He had the good fortune to work with top movie studios, television networks, record labels, and consumer brands, creating breakthrough games and branded entertainment campaigns. His career has tracked with the intersection of games, entertainment, and innovation through the evolution of digital media over the last 30 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I started out as a designer in book publishing, working at Random House post-college. In 1990, I had the opportunity to join a startup in the newly reborn game industry after the launch of the 8-bit Nintendo system. After working on games with a palette of only 56 colors, I thought that I had made a grave career mistake as a graphic artist, but it led to a lifelong journey and fascination with the creative possibilities of digital media. My career path then followed the evolution of digital, from consumer games to the web, social media, and mobile, then AR and VR. So blockchain gaming was a natural progression. My partners and I began exploring Web3 gaming and found a gap in the market for casual games. Casual Gaming has always been the largest sector of the gaming industry, but it wasn’t addressed well in Web3. Most blockchain games require a significant investment of time to hone your skills. This creates a barrier to entry for new players who just want a quick escape during a break. Many games are also focused on being able to win in-game assets.
We began toying with the idea of building a casual gaming platform where people could win prizes playing games of skill. The more we began to build out the concept, it was clear how big the opportunity could be in Web3 and beyond. We thought it would be a great way to allow people to compete for prizes, reward their fandom, and give the Web3 community access to coveted NFTs and digital rewards they may have missed at mint, which had now become financially inaccessible. It could level the playing field for access to top communities by everyone. That idea developed into Burn Ghost.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I had a design studio in Miami in the 90s, our studio was doing animation work. We were early in producing motion graphics using only desktop tools vs. high-end production equipment. I was asked by the Miami Ad School to teach a class on Motion Graphics, as students were starting to beg for it. When I researched the topic so I could sound smart, I found that there were zero books on the subject. All books on animation were extremely dated and irrelevant, and all predated digital. I knew there was going to be a groundswell of interest with a generation of designers getting their hands on tools that make design move at a very affordable scale. So I wrote the leading publisher of art and design books and said, “the design world desperately needs a book on Motion Graphics, and I’d like to write it.” And they bought it! And I was terrified because now I had to do something I had never done before. But I managed to pull it off and got paid to have the smartest Motion Graphic designers in the world take my phone call and let me ask them any question I wanted about how they worked. That experience taught me to take action to seize an opportunity when I see it clearly, and to have the audacity to say, “why not me?” even when something feels way out of my comfort zone.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Peter Blacklow, who was the President of Worldwinner / GSN games back when I first met him, and is now a General Partner at Boston Seed Capital, has always been a supportive friend and mentor of mine as a business owner and entrepreneur. He is the connective thread between the three founding partners, as Jason Krupat and Bret Siarkowski worked for him at GSN games, and he was the first person we bounced our ideas off of before talking to anybody else. On a personal level, he has always been supportive of my work as a creative, has pushed me and given me confidence as a business owner, and is always the person I turn to when I know I need the best advice on the most important and pressing issues.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When you’re a kid, you play out of pure joy. As a founder, I try to keep that feeling of joy and wonder at the heart and culture of everything we create. I try to keep that feeling alive for the employees to love what they are doing, which inevitably carries over to providing joy and magic to the player. When I can, I like to mentor younger talent, especially creatives, who can find the world of business tough to navigate at times.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in gaming that you are working on?
Burn Ghost is a casual, play-to-win gaming platform that allows users to win NFTs and other great prizes and use crypto for small entry fees. The games are quick and fun to play. They test your skills, but unlike many other casual games, they’re easy to learn so that even new players can win. We’re launching with Trivia, because there are so many areas to go with that, from community tournaments to learning incentives and rewarding fandom. We think players will love seeing their knowledge graph, a profile that uniquely measures and gives them a nerds-eye view of their interests, smarts, and fandom.
How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?
The status quo in Web3 favors the OGs. If you got in early, you could snap up NFTs and enter communities that today would be unaffordable. In our case, OG stands for “original ghosts.” We want to give our OGs a chance to recapture those missed opportunities, win some NFTs, and enter some cool communities.
You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?
We like to say that Burn Ghost is “Fandom Rewarded.” Our mission is to be the world’s most engaging, innovative, and trustworthy Web3 casual game platform. Through our games, tournaments, and exceptional prizes, we fuel community, competition, and the joy of winning. We believe that our game and platform can bring people together in a fun way and make online communities more social, more engaging, and more successful.
I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage games and gamification to enhance education?
Daniel Pink, in his book DRIVE, talks about how autonomy, mastery, and purpose are significant and underestimated drives that motivate people. Autonomy is the feeling of being autonomous and self-directed. Mastery is the feeling of “I am getting better at things that matter” by getting feedback. Purpose is knowing why I am doing something. Games check all those boxes as ways of motivating behavior. Think about how much focus kids have when gaming, how long they’re willing to sit and pay attention, get better at what they’re doing, and how hard they try to hone their skills to reach the next level. Now imagine if they put the same effort and attention into school. If lessons were reinforced through games, kids might naturally try to discover new information, challenge each other to be their best, and engage more with the content. There are certain gamification elements that we know will make people want to play for longer. Those same techniques can be used for education, giving kids immediate feedback so they can identify their strengths and weaknesses in a subject and work to improve.
How would you define a “successful” game? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?
Relevant to what we are doing, I always admired the game “You Don’t Know Jack” as a trivia game, as they took something very familiar and potentially boring and brought it to life with humor and great production values, mainly in the creative ways that they used graphic design and sound design. They created an audio landscape that made it feel like a live game show broadcast at a time when there were limitations on what you could do with digital video. They used the limitations of the medium to their advantage to create something that leveraged your imagination to fill in the blanks visually and mentally.
What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create a Successful Game” and why.
- First, it’s important to understand the audience for your game. One of the aspects of casual gaming that’s attractive from a business perspective is that it tends to onboard a wider variety of new players and demographics. If you loved playing Trivial Pursuit as a kid, a blockchain trivia game is less of a leap. In our case, the simplicity of Trivia might seem absurdly simple as an approach in Web3, but we remind ourselves that the industry is driven by fandom, IP, games, or NFT artists. Trivia is a great way to measure and reward that fandom. You need to test those assumptions about product market fit early and often with real players.
- Second, really the focus needs to be on great gameplay. The game must be fun to play, and that means strong design, quick and effective controls, and game progression that provides a challenge without seeming to be impossible. You need engagement loops that keep people challenged and a leveling system, so they feel there is always another new hill to climb.
- Third, I would say focus on sound design. Not everyone will play casual games with the sound on, but sound design is many times undervalued in the effect it can have on enhancing the experience and can really make a difference. We put a lot of thought into that with our FTX Game and all our game productions. I tend to drive game developers crazy by being picky about music.
- Fourth, of course, you need to test extensively so the launch is seamless. We’ve put a lot of focus on QA and performance testing and are currently in multiple rounds of beta testing on the Burn Ghost platform and look forward to inviting our Discord community members to the process soon.
- And then, finally, you need to make sure people know about your game. That starts with your community, which becomes your inner circle for promotion. We’re fortunate to have a strong community who are excited about the next steps. We’ll also announce some great partnerships soon that will bring world-class IP and fans to Burn Ghost.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think there is an opportunity to use our platform as a way to onboard generations into Web3, in addition to being a cool place for degens to win that blue chip NFT they’ve had their eye on. Games are a way to connect the dots between Web2 and what Web3 decentralization truly means. They’re a way to bring people together across countries and cultures to socialize, learn new things about each other, and break down barriers that can otherwise lead to divides and hate. Healthy societies depend on healthy communities, and Burn Ghost makes online communities stronger.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many to choose from, but one I particularly like is the one from Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” I have always approached gaming with a design-first perspective, paying attention to the tiniest details that will provide for improved gameplay. Jobs was incredibly passionate about the minute details of an application interface, which clearly paid off in the product. I also have always been fond of, and a believer in the Woody Allen quote that 80% of success is just showing up.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The best place to reach me would be on my LinkedIn @steve_curran. I’m on there regularly and respond to all of my messages, so would love to connect.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.