The CEO of Manchester-based Skymap Games discusses the development of his business as well as the development of the gaming industry in the Granite State
Neal Laurenza, CEO of Manchester-based Skymap Games, discussed the development of his business as well as the development of the gaming industry in the Granite State.
Q. How did you get started making games?
A. My mom is an entrepreneur and a gamer, so I have memories of being a very small kid and dropping into the living room at 2 a.m., and she was in front of the Sega playing. I’ve wanted to make video games in one form or another for a very, very long time.
I got into video game modding in high school, which is modifying existing video games to make them do what I want them to do. Then for college, I went to Southern New Hampshire University, where I did video game development and graduated, worked for a software company doing marketing for probably about a year, then I took what I had done there and started Skymap Games, my video game company.
Q. What are some of the games you’ve created?
A. While I was in school, the kinds of games we did were really for educational purposes. They were just for us to figure out how to make successful games, because the process of doing that is really difficult. Games are art: programming, music, business project management, engineering — there are a million components to make a video game.
It was a lot of fun to work on it, but we also realized very quickly how expensive it was to make video games. Some projects can cost millions of dollars. Even big triple-A games can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, which means the biggest titles in the industry. So we set out to figure out how to make money-making video games.
The development of contracts was one of the ways to achieve this. We would go online, search forums for all kinds of different game development groups, and say, “Hey, we’re able to work.” First it was like $15 an hour, then it was like, OK, well now we have some projects going on, we just kept going up and up. We’ve worked on games like MarioKart Home Circuit, Don’t Starve, games like Myst, Sam & Max – a whole bunch of different video game properties that are for one reason or another quite famous, which I feel really, really excited to share this.
Q. How is the video game landscape changing?
A. We have several original titles in development for VR (virtual reality). I think there are many different platforms out there that can create completely unique experiences for players, but the way I tend to focus on deciding which platform we’re rebuilding a game on, is this platform, like virtual reality, provide an experience that people have never seen before or that is unique in the industry? I think there’s a lot of attention around buzzwords like Metaverse, VR, XR, and even, in some cases, blockchain and NFT stuff creeping into video games. But I don’t think everyone necessarily understands what that means and what the implications are.
What my group is trying to focus on is an experiment or something that can’t be done, is there a technology that can fit this, or has it already been invented? So VR offers some really cool opportunities to make people feel like they’re there and using their bodies in ways that video games haven’t always been able to do.
Q. How do you see the gaming industry shaping up here in New Hampshire?
A. It’s quite small. Right now, Skymap, as far as I know, is the biggest employer. We are about 50 employees and we anticipate that we will probably double in size in 18 to 24 months. Which is exciting and terrifying, but also very exciting.
Q. Who are you recruiting? When you say you’re going to grow in 18-24 months, who are you hiring?
A. We anticipate that the majority of our hires will be in the engineering field. We will also be adding additional design resources, quality assurance resources, production project managers, and probably only one to three back-office employees just to continue to help support growth.
Flo Nicolas is a technologist, lawyer, speaker, mentor, writer, founder/CEO of tech startup Cheap-Cheep, and director and creator of Get Tech Smart, produced by Hudson Community Television. This article is shared by the partners of the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.
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