Why I Started Forte
I’ve loved video games ever since my father brought home an IBM XT. The machine had no hard drive and the monitor could only display 16 colors, but that didn’t quell my love for my first games, like Decathlon. My passion for games only grew with the advent of consoles. I was addicted to Street Fighter 2 on Super Nintendo, spent countless hours exploring the open world of Final Fantasy 7 on PlayStation, and fell hard for X-COM and StarCraft on PC. I spent so much time playing games that I’d buy gaming magazines containing editorial reviews and sought out free demos to make sure I was spending money on the “right” games. But, despite my best research efforts, I’d often shell out $60 only to be disappointed by a game that had an amazing sizzle reel but lacked substance.
In 2006, I came across my first “free-to-play” game, Travian, and was amazed that I didn’t need to pay any money to start playing. I didn’t need to bother with reviews or demos, and, while Travian didn’t have the best graphics or fidelity, it had a great online community and didn’t cost me anything to start playing. And I could access the game ‘on the go’ via my Blackberry browser — I was hooked. I began to think that this underlying concept of “free” games could become a much broader movement in games, since by making a game initially free to start playing, one could reach way more players out of the gates.
At about the same time, cloud-based technology was becoming increasingly prevalent. Running games predominantly in the cloud rather than on the client removed the need for a massive and time consuming download, and also enabled a whole new world of online and connected play. By delivering games “as-a-service”, new content and gameplay could be added all the time, as opposed to disc-based games that were by nature static.
Combining the business model of free-to-play with cloud-based technology, I formed Kabam in 2007 with the vision of getting players into games quickly and easily, and then creating ongoing content for the players that stay. We were successful, and now in 2019, the original thesis of free-to-play has grown larger than anyone imagined back in 2007 with global phenomenons such as Fortnite, Pokemon Go, Clash of Clans and now Apex Legends. Even the console and PC game industries have adopted many of these attributes (DLC and games-as-a-service) despite still charging for most games upfront. Downloadable content (DLC) is pretty standard for almost every console game and multiplayer is entirely cloud-based.
But there is a dark side to free-to-play. While offering to get players into the game for free greatly broadens the addressable market, developers found that only a small fraction of players spent real money in these games. Developers realized that running a successful business required them to invest a lot in creating content for this small audience of paying players. So the industry designed for ever increasing “sinks” that eventually led to some players spending on the order of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Over time, it became difficult for developers to balance the “fun” for the free players, moderate spend players, and high spend players. And so “free-to-play” started morphing into “pay-to-win”. We weren’t just creating fun experiences anymore, but instead had to balance both business and creative. Few games did a good job of balancing those two elements and for most developers it became clear that these were opposing tensions.
But what if we realigned the economic interests of players and developers so that they were the same? Blockchain technology and new crypto-economic business models open up these possibilities, and the implications for games are massive. Similar to how cloud technology and free-to-play business models shaped the games industry over the past ten years, so too will crypto-economic business models and blockchain technology shape the next ten.
I envision a future where players can transact with each other directly instead of only with the developer. A future where developers don’t need to figure out the maximum value they can extract from their player base, but instead are creatively and economically motivated to foster new types of peer-to-peer gameplay. I believe this vision is possible all while keeping games free and easy to access for billions of users. Reshaping the relationship between player and game developer will bring about a foundational, positive change to the gaming industry, and it’s a future I’d like to spend the next decade of my life building.
So today, I am excited to announce Forte. I’m passionate about taking everything my team and I have pioneered over the last 10 years in cloud gaming, gaming-as-a-service, and yes, free-to-play. Forte’s mission is to build a more collaborative future in gaming by realigning the economic relationship between players and developers. We are accomplishing this with an ambitious set of products and platform technologies which we will unveil over the coming months — stay tuned!