Marcus and Malcolm Howard love video games. It all started with Super Mario Bros. 3 when they were six years old (yes, they’re twins) and continued in high school on an XBox modded to play old-school games such as “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” and “NBA Jam.” And every time they found a cool, obscure game, they wanted to show it to the world, but there weren’t any easy ways to share in-game video and audio with fellow gamers.
Facebook launched while Marcus and Malcolm were students at Georgia Southern, but it didn’t really solve their gaming problem. They wanted a social network dedicated to indie games, made up of game developers and their fans. It didn’t exist so they decided to build one. And that’s how ProjectMQ, winner of the 2017 Innovate SAV Pitch Competition, was born.
When you go about building a social network, you have a chicken or egg problem: Do you build the software part first, or do you build the people part first? Most startups start with the software, which is probably the wrong answer since most startups fail.
Marcus and Malcolm started with the people, using existing social media channels to slowly build a rabid international following that now includes almost 30,000 indie gamers and more than 300 indie game studios. They fund new games on Kickstarter, they connect gamers to games on Twitter and they’re slowly rolling out their own platform, ProjectMQ, through an invitation only sneak preview.
Malcolm told me, or maybe it was Marcus (did I mention they were twins?), that the average indie game developer in 2014 made $500 in sales. The problem wasn’t the games. 2014 was a banner year for indie games, seeing launches like Monument Valley, Transistor and the timeless Goat Simulator. No, the problem was discoverability. When developers finished games, they had remarkably few channels through which to connect with potential players.
Reginia Tanyadjaja of Semisoft Studio, makers of the hand-drawn Legrand Legacy, puts it this way: “When we finally emerge from the cocoon of our workspace, we realize that practically no one has heard of our game because we have neglected our social media and have very little budget left for marketing efforts.”
This is where ProjectMQ steps in. The social media platform leverages its existing network of players to promote new games and generate sales. It gives these games a voice. And a megaphone. And turns it up to 11. You can view ProjectMQ’s pre-alpha launch trailer at www.projectmq.com.
Rick Braun of New York’s Whiplash Studios, makers of The Attuned confirms that it works. “ProjectMQ more than doubled our audience. Our company has gone from a side hobby to a full-time business.” ProjectMQ is already fulfilling its mission, even though the full product is early in its rollout.
The Innovate SAV win includes $5,000 in prize money from the Savannah Economic Development Authority. It’s the culmination of Savannah’s ATDC Startup Bootcamp, an intensive 12 week program designed to turn local entrepreneurial ideas into battle-ready startups.
Other graduates of this year’s bootcamp include GeothinQ, Codebase and Teach The Future. GeothinQ is a web-based land analysis platform from Thomas & Hutton, Codebase is launching an App Development Bootcamp in Savannah, and Teach The Future is bringing innovation into classrooms around our community to solve challenges faced by our educators.
As for Marcus and Malcolm, they’re still playing games, and now they’re sharing them with gamers in over 50 countries around the globe. And in case you were wondering, Marcus is currently playing “Eagle Island” from Nick Gregory (@pixelnicks), and Malcolm is playing “Dead Cells” from Motion Twin (@motiontwin). I’m going to check them both out this weekend.
I’m also going to the next Game Makers Meetup on Thursday May 18 at 6 p.m. at Bull Street Labs located at 2222 Bull Street. It’s an all ages group of digital and board game fans who like talking game mechanics, software tools and breaking down the art and business of video games. As big “triple A” games become more and more expensive to produce, indie games are projected to really come into their own. Small, distributed teams keep costs down, and the availability of low-cost game engines allows anyone with an idea to give it a shot without a lot of overhead.
And when you finish your masterpiece, reach out to ProjectMQ. They’ll show it to the world.
Blake Ellis is a board member with The Creative Coast, a non-profit organization supporting local innovators which is made possible by the City of Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority. Blake and has been involved in dozens of Savannah-based start-ups including Color Maria, CommerceV3, Rails Machine and RappidApp. Blake can be found online via Twitter at @blakeellisjr or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blakeellis.
CHECK IT OUT:
Legrand Legacy (https://legrandlegacy.com)
The Attuned (http://www.whiplashdigital.com/attuned-page)
Teach The Future (http://teachthefuture.co)
Game Makers Meetup (https://www.meetup.com/techSAV)
Bull Street Labs (http://bullstreetlabs.com)