Favro forGame Development
Most of the games we’re playing in 2021 are, in some way, live games, requiring an online connection, even if it’s primarily for DRM. However, the games that log the most player hours are live service and online multiplayer games. Games like Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, Destiny 2, Hearthstone, Among Us, Animal Crossing, Candy Crush, and Grand Theft Auto Online keep players engaged and playing for years by continuously releasing new content and innovative new ways to play together.
In 2019, Netflix famously stated in a shareholder letter, “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.” In 2020, the game industry surpassed the total revenues of both the global music industry and the global movie box office combined. Now in 2021, Epic Games has received $1B in funding to make their vision of an interconnected entertainment metaverse a reality.
Games are not only culturally significant; they’re rapidly becoming one of the core pillars of our shared culture. Whether you’re playing solo, online with friends, competing against strangers around the world, streaming Twitch channels, or watching professional eSports events, games have evolved to be more than entertainment. From socializing in Among Us to learning in Minecraft, the game industry is affecting the entire world in ever-expanding ways.
Let’s take a look at the people driving this change - the most visionary CEOs in an industry overflowing with visionaries. This list could be very long, so we’ve mainly focused on upcoming CEOs that typically have received recent funding. Their past successes and new ideas have captured the imagination (and dollars) of both established and newly formed game-specific venture capital funds.
Here are the 20 most visionary game industry CEOs to watch in 2021, in no specific order.
With an amazing first round of $35M funding from VCs like Griffin Gaming Partners, BITKRAFT, and NetEase, Theorycraft Games is set up to do big things. Co-Founder and CEO, Joe Tung, has led teams at Riot Games, Bungie, and Microsoft, working on multiple billion-dollar franchises. Joe and Theorycraft Games are just getting started on their mission to make deep, 10,000-hour games that are better when played with friends.
One of the most well-known game developers in the industry, Jade Raymond never ceases to impress with her myriad of accomplishments; from The Sims at Electronic Arts to Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs at Ubisoft, she’s helped create some of the biggest franchises in all of video games. Recently leaving Google Stadia for greener pastures, she is now Founder and CEO of Sony-funded Haven Studios in Montreal, Quebec. Her vision of creating a haven for developers and players alike bodes well for the original new IP they’re making for PlayStation.
Co-Founder, Gamer-in-Chief, and CEO at Bossa Studios and Non-Executive Chairman at tinyBuild Games, Henrique Olifiers, has an impressive background in game development, including leadership roles at Jagex and Playfish, to name a few. Bossa Studios are the creators of Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread. With their successful IPs, recent venture capital backing from Makers Fund, and core values including nimbleness, appreciation, passion, and originality, they stand poised to bring even more brand new, never-before-seen experiences to players. Does it get more original than a slice of bread’s journey to become toast?
J.J. Abrams and Kaite McGrath’s Bad Robot Productions expands its entertainment empire with the newly formed Bad Robot Games, led by Anna Sweet. With prior production and business development roles at Valve, Bonfire Studios, and Oculus, Anna is uniquely positioned to head up a studio with strong ties to the film industry. There’s no public word yet on what Bad Robot Games will bring to the world of interactive entertainment, but one can guess. Who wouldn’t be excited about a game in the Cloverfield universe?
Jesse Houston brings his almost 20 years of experience in the games industry to the helm of Phoenix Labs, where he’s guided the ship as CEO for the past seven years. Phoenix Labs is committed to developing connected experiences like their massive 25 million player Dauntless. Launched in 2019, Dauntless was the first game to support true cross-play and cross-progression across all four major platforms. Now expanded to Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and San Mateo teams, it will be exciting to see what Jesse and the rest of Phoenix Labs come up with next.
Vlad Korolev is the Co-Founder and CEO of the innovative and player-focused Gunzilla Games. Co-founded with former Crytek Kyiv studio leader Alex Zoll, and with impressive funding from GameGroove Capital, Gunzilla Games already has studios in Frankfurt, Kyiv, and Los Angeles. Their first project is still unannounced but promises to “push the boundaries of what’s possible in the industry.”
tinyBuild Games has already seen its share of success with hits including Hello Neighbor and SpeedRunners. Their CEO over the past seven years, Alex Nichiporchik, has a diverse background from game journalism to publishing and production. With Alex’s leadership, tinyBuild has grown with headquarters in the Seattle area and studios around the globe, including Netherlands, Latvia, and Eastern Europe. In March of 2021, tinyBuild was listed on the London Stock Exchange as TBLD.
Mundi Vondi is the CEO & Co-Founder of Klang Games based out of Berlin. Although he started out in graphic design, fine arts, fashion, and film-making, he decided to bring his talents to video games eight years ago. Given his diverse background, it’s no surprise that Seed, Klang’s upcoming Unity powered MMO, intends not only to entertain but also to bring people together, build strong communities, and positively impact the human race as a whole. It doesn’t get much more ambitious than that.
Best known for building some of gaming’s most influential franchises, including Halo, Destiny, and Age of Empires, Harold Ryan started ProbablyMonsters in 2016. He envisions ProbablyMonsters as a new kind of game entertainment company, empowering studios to deliver the next generation of AAA interactive entertainment. These studios already include Firewalk Studios, Cauldron Studios, and an as-of-yet unnamed studio focused on a next-gen co-op RPG. With recent funding and people-first culture, the “Monster Platform” promises to make a significant mark on the industry.
If you’ve played the award-winning Journey, Flower, and his studio’s current success, Sky: Children of the Light, then you have visionary designer Jenova Chen to thank. He’s President and Creative Director at thatgamecompany in Santa Monica, CA. thatgamecompany is known for its artistic and beautifully crafted games. With a diverse and talented team, along with a significant injection of funding from NetEase and others, it’s a sure bet that Jenova will be creating new and widely accessible experiences for years to come.
Manticore Games CEO and Co-Founder, Frederic Descamps, knows the game industry. Starting out with an internship at Electronic Arts in 2002, he quickly moved up through positions at Trion Worlds, A Bit Lucky, and Zynga. He now heads up Manticore Games based in San Mateo, CA, which recently raised significant capital from Epic Games and others to create a new form of multiplayer game. The recently released Core is the manifestation of this vision. Keep your eyes on Frederic Descamps and Manticore Games.
When your name is Thor, and you’re from Iceland, you automatically make the list. Not to mention, Thor Gunnarsson has over two decades of experience in the games industry, ranging from leadership roles at BAFTA award-winning Ideaworks3D to Business Development at CCP. As CEO of Mainframe Industries and with funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Play Ventures, Riot Games, Maki.vc, Sisu Game Ventures, and Crowberry Capital, he and his team are re-imagining MMO gaming set to be playable on any screen.
Tobi Saulnier is CEO at 1st Playable Productions located in Troy, New York. Both Tobi and her studio are industry veterans, with 1st Playable Productions being founded in 2005. Focusing on family and education-friendly games like Cooking Mama Cookstar, Disney Snaps, and Cards Against Calamity, they now bring their talents to bear on more platforms than ever, including Nintendo Switch, mobile, VR, and board games. Also, she is the only one in the industry that knows more about goats than the Swedish team behind Goat Simulator. She got a few real ones!
Along with fellow founders Lisa Newon George and Brian Kaiser, Travis George started Vela Games a little over three years ago in Dublin, Ireland. As CEO, he brings his experiences at Activision and Riot Games to lead a team working on Project-V. Though little is known about Project-V, their MOCO (Multiplayer Online Co-op) has our interests peaked.
Coffee Stain Studios has taken the Nordics by storm. Co-Founder and CEO, Anton Westbergh, has parlayed the studios’ early success of Sanctum and Sanctum 2 into the worldwide phenomenon, Goat Simulator, and now the early-access hit, Satisfactory. A subsidiary of Swedish video game holding company, Embracer Group, it’s almost as if Coffee Stain Studios can do no wrong.
Funded by both Makers Fund and Play Ventures, Redhill Games is a free-to-play game studio headquartered in Helsinki, Finland. Co-Founder and CEO, Matias Myllyrinne along with other seasoned industry veterans, opened the studio in 2018. Their commitment to building games with a global impact developed by an organization that is sustainable and good is admirable, to say the least. Plus, their upcoming debut team-tactics FPS, Nine to Five, is looking incredible!
Who saw Fall Guys coming?! Obviously, Dave Baily, Co-Founder and CEO of Mediatonic Games, did. A new twist on battle royale with weeble-wobble-esque characters controlled by online players worldwide, shoving and pushing through various obstacle courses... now that’s visionary. With the success of Fall Guys plus a massive round of funding led by Frog Capital, the sky’s the limit for Dave Baily and Mediatonic.
Josef Fares is a Swedish-Lebanese film director and game designer. Already a well-known celebrity in the film world and founder of Hazelight Studios, his new game, It Takes Two, is a colossal co-op hit. Josef’s previous successes include Brothers A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, both critically acclaimed for their innovative cooperative mechanics.
Founded and headquartered in São Paulo, Brazil in 2010, Co-Founder and CEO, Victor Lazarte, has grown Wildlife Studios into one of the world’s leading mobile game developers and publishers. With mobile success like Tennis Clash and funding from top-tier VCs Benchmark and Vulcan Capital, there’s no stopping this free-to-play juggernaut.
As casual gaming gets bigger and bigger, AviaGames has received top-tier funding from Makers Fund and Galaxy Digital. Led by Founder and CEO, Vickie Yanjuan Chen, AviaGames is primarily focused on mobile skill-based games. With her strong leadership experience as a driving force, AviaGames’ vision to create a top global game competition platform that’s easy for everyone to play, and win real money, seems destined to succeed.
Thanks to these game industry leaders, as well as thousands of other extraordinary game developers around the world, the future of interactive entertainment promises to do more than simply entertain. The innovations imagined by these visionaries will take players to places they’ve never been before and bring people together in evolutionary ways previously only read about in science fiction books and movies like Snow Crash and Ready Player One. All of this will be brought to reality through leadership’s vision and ability to communicate purpose, shared team passion, and fueled by a new generation of game industry-focused venture capital funds.
The journey won’t be easy, and there are many challenges to overcome both as an industry and from a production standpoint. All of these companies are live productions where development, live-ops, marketing, and other teams need to work in tandem at rapid speed while growing and hiring, which requires everyone to be in sync and planning collaboratively.
It’s no surprise that many of these companies are already using Favro to plan and organize their work. Try it yourself for free at favro.com.