Join gaming leaders, alongside GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming, for their 2nd Annual GamesBeat & Facebook Gaming Summit | GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2 this upcoming January 25-27, 2022. Learn more about the event.
Theorycraft Games isn’t revealing that much about its game yet, but the studio wants us to know that it’s been hiring some of the best people in the industry.
And Theorycraft is disclosing this much about what its team of former Riot Games and other studio veterans is working on: “a grim, yet whimsical, pop-apocalyptic fantasy world set in the sky.” The game’s code name is Loki, and, no, that doesn’t tell you what it’s about.
On top of that, the company has hired Jessica Nam, who was formerly vice president and executive producer of all of League of Legends at Riot Games. Nam brings over a decade of leadership experience to Theorycraft Games, and she is joining as executive producer on the debut title.
“I’ve become an even bigger believer in the saying that talent is destiny,” said Tung in an interview with GamesBeat. “I’m so excited to have Jess join us as she’s one of the best leaders I’ve worked with in my career. We worked closely together for seven years at Riot and she’s the person that I chose to replace me when I left. So I view it as a huge honor for us that she’s chosen to chart the next phase of her insane career at Theorycraft.”
The 2nd Annual GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming Summit and GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2
January 25 – 27, 2022
Theorycraft raised some eyebrows about the nature of the gaming investment boom when it announced in March that it had raised $37.5 million from NetEase, Bitkraft Ventures, Griffin Gaming Ventures, Sisu Game Ventures, and others. That was a huge amount of money for a team that at the time had six founders based in Los Angeles and Seattle. Now the company has 26 people. Not bad for its first year.
“It’s really crazy how much has happened in a year,” said Tung. “It’s true what they say that startup time moves at a very different speed than big company time. I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last year. We founded the company, we raised an amazing round with incredible partners, we built a world-class development team, we’ve laid the foundations for what we hope will be the next great game intellectual property. And we’ve made a huge amount of progress on our game prototype, which is called Loki.”
The game setting is a big clue for the company’s direction, as is the art it is sharing. Previously, the company only said it is on a mission to create deep games that give everyone the chance to connect, to compete, and to be infinitely delighted by stories that place players directly in the center. The company is operating remotely, but its roots are in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Irvine, California.
A triple-A team
The leaders once worked at Riot Games, Bungie, Blizzard, and Valve Software. They helped make games such as League of Legends, Halo, Destiny, Overwatch, Valorant, and Team Fortress 2.
Joe Tung, the CEO and Founder of Theorycraft Games, led multiple genre-defining, billion-dollar franchises as the former executive vice president of League of Legends, and he also served as executive producer on Destiny and Halo.
The rest of the leaders include Michael Evans (a former tech lead for Valorant, Overwatch, and Halo) as chief technology officer; former creative director at Bungie, Mike Tipul, as chief creative officer; Moby Francke (a former art director on Valorant, League of Legends, Dota 2, and Team Fortress 2) as art director; and former global revenue and finance lead for League of Legends franchise, Areeb Pirani, as chief operating officer. Other hires include Valorant art leaders Moby Francke and Josh Smith; and the former character art team of Overwatch: Renaud Galand, Dylan Jones, and Matt Taylor.
Tung left Bungie in 2013 and went to work on League of Legends with a small team that moved fast. When he left, he helped train Nam to be his replacement. At the time he started Theorycraft, Tung felt that he needed to “scratch that itch” of starting a game company and that this was the best time to start. So he left Riot Games in October and started forming the company with a “huge amount of incredible talent who are willing to take a bet on themselves.”
If you’re not sure what they’re working on, join the party.
Regarding the game, Tung said, “If you like MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena games like League of Legends), going on adventures with friends, and team-based competitive player-versus-player, we’re building something fresh for you.”
The company plans to go from alpha game design to preproduction early next year.
Prior to joining Theorycraft Games, Nam spent a decade at Riot Games, defining the vision, strategy, and org structure for all of League of Legends’ core game loop. Nam then went on to become the vice president and executive producer of all of League, leading the 60-plus person development team and setting the strategy for the holistic experience. Just last month, Nam led the League team in an ambitious, multi-game event to launch League of Legends’ critically acclaimed Netflix show, Arcane, which is getting good reviews.
“Jess is one of the best leaders I’ve worked with and it’s an honor for us that she’s chosen to chart the next phase of her already-incredible career at Theorycraft,” Tung said. “We continue to be humbled by the amazing talent joining us on this adventure – it has only strengthened our belief that Theorycraft can be a home for the best talent in the industry.”
Tung said the company wants to make a social game that players will engage with for 10,000 hours or more. The company has been playtesting its builds with a small community of playtesters who are helping to define the game.
“We’ve gone from leading teams of hundreds of developers to operating at much smaller scale, from communicating to audiences of tens of millions of players to a really small, dedicated crew,” Tung said. “Building from scratch is so personal. In some ways, releasing a build to our small playtest crew is scarier to me than releasing a feature to millions of League players.”
Tung said the company is making games in a different way with a focus on long-term services for players. The team is working with players early and it is sharing a lot in order to get feedback.
“The feedback that we’ve got from our community has been so sharp and so smart and just worth its weight in gold,” Thung said. “Experimentation and iteration are at the center of our product development process. We playtest the game every day, often twice a day.”
While it’s hard to hire people and get them to leave jobs at big companies, Tung said that it is an ideal time to start a game company because money is available to start studios and the best talent always wants to work with their peers.
“It started with our founding team and snowballed from there,” he said.
As for those who have joined, Tung said they share some things in common.
“And to a person, the people who’ve joined us want more autonomy, they want to move fast, they’re exhausted by bureaucracy, they want to learn and push themselves and grow. They want better alignment between value creation and value capture. They want clarity of purpose and they want to make a big bet on themselves.”
As for newfangled ideas like nonfungible tokens (NFTs), Tung said he is paying attention to it and what he hears is interesting. But he’s not thinking about it right now, as NFTs are orthogonal to the focus on gameplay mastery and a sense of belonging.
GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. How will you do that? Membership includes access to:
- Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
- The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
- Networking opportunities
- Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
- Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
- And maybe even a fun prize or two
- Introductions to like-minded parties