Sometimes a fun hobby becomes a passionate business venture. That is the case with CU alum Mark Liberto (’12, ’14G) and his two business partners, Chris Baracani and Nick Jones, who together have created DevHour Games.
Their slogan "We make games we want to play" is the underlying philosophy of their business.
All agreed they grew up playing games and it wasn't just a phase.
"Games have been an art-form and form of play synonymous with life since I've existed. My earliest memories are of watching my father play 'Super Mario' and the 'Legend of Zelda' in our living room as a kid. Pursuing DevHour was, in a way, pursuing a dream and hobby I've had for a long time," Liberto said.
However, before DevHour could exist, everyone had to meet.
Liberto and Jones each met Baracani separately. Baracani and Liberto each worked for the same chemical company for a time and Jones lived next door to Baracani in Texas.
Their shared love of games became apparent and last fall Baracani, a software designer, and Jones, a programmer, began to create Depixtion, a colorful puzzle game using the picross formula in which cells in a grid must be colored or left blank according to numbers at the side of the grid.
"Depixtion is essentially a logic puzzle game similar to Sodoku," Baracani said.
However, unlike Sodoku, gamers are trying to fill in colors rather than numbers to create art pieces.
They tried other ways of making their game work, but found that the picross formula
worked the best.
In the meantime, Baracani picked up a side job at the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas, and met its founders, John Hardie, Sean Kelly and Joe Santulli.
Through conversations, the founders of the National Videogame Museum invited DevHour to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3. At this point, it was one month until the expo. Even with the short timeframe, the team knew it couldn't miss the opportunity to showcase their game to other serious gamers and rub elbows with top players in the industry.
"It really put a little bit of a crunch on us for our timetable," Jones said.
It was time for the team to level up.
"Of course we want to go to E3. There's no way we should miss this," Baracani said.
They made it and as expected it was a who's who among industry giants including names like:
- Tim Schaffer and the DoubleFine Studios Team. (The Microsoft family of Game Studios recently acquired Doublefine.)
- Mark Cerny, the chief architect responsible for Playstation 4 and the soon-to-come Playstation 5.
- Wallace Poulter, another industry vet who worked with George Lucas and team at LucasArts studios during the heyday of PC gaming.
Jones said he was "getting kind of star struck," but the team all agreed the atmosphere was welcoming.
"It had a lot more comradery than you'd think," Baracani said.
The good news is that gamers are always hungry for something new.
"They always want to play more games," Baracani added.
Being at E3 also solidified their decision to start this business venture, which they have fully funded themselves.
"It just kind of felt right," Liberto said.
Liberto works for the team as the project manager and marketing expert and the conference gave DevHour the opportunity to demonstrate their game about 100 times.
The conference was key in getting people to want their game. They also have their game for sale on Steam, a popular video game digital distribution platform.
"We've been learning a lot about Steam," Liberto said. "A PC gamer is a different beast than a gamer with a system."
The biggest thing the team has discovered is not undervaluing their game when it comes to pricing, because people are likely to put Depixtion on a wishlist and buy it when it comes on sale.
"Gamers are really sensitive to the price," Baracani said.
"You don't want to discount too soon either," Liberto added.
The hope is for their games to make it to other platforms and handheld devices.
"It's just a matter of time and exposure," Liberto said.
They also have plans to release Halloween and holiday versions of Depixtion.
The good thing about Depixtion is that puzzle games stand the test of time and don't really age.
While their first game is in the realm of mental puzzles, they believe their next game will be a simulation game.
Jones said he got the idea for their next game from a stint he had as a scale master at a rock plant. He weighed trucks on a scale before trucks were loaded with rocks and other materials and then would weigh them again after they were loaded.
In addition to weighing materials, a rock plant also contains hauling trucks, rock crushers and other heavy equipment that constantly breaks down. Jones thought the idea of maintaining a rock business would be a fun game that would teach people about business in general especially how one thing affects another.
The idea also is a tribute to his wife's family since it was their business where he got his scale master experience.
"My main goal was making a game my father-in-law can play," Jones said.
Jones said transitioning into another type of game presents "a greater challenge" for the team.
Ultimately, they just want to "make games they want to play."