A Few Minutes with Seth Sivak, CEO of ‘World Zombination’ Creator, Proletariat

Over the past few years, there has been an uptick in the amount of smaller (1-5 people) independent game development studios in the Boston area. There are a number of reasons for this growth.

First and foremost, there is an ever-growing and super supportive community and network of game developers in the area. This community includes groups like Boston Post Mortem, as well as state-wide efforts to grow the industry by the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI). Additionally, we have talent. There are numerous game design and art programs throughout Massachusetts’ colleges and universities churning out talented students looking to develop games and break into the industry. Now more than ever there are also resources and tools that make is super accessible for ANYONE to actually make and distribute a game with a small team. These tools include Unity, which actually has an office in Massachusetts and a User Group dedicated to it – the Boston Unity Group (or B.U.G.). And, lastly, the shut-down of a few larger-ish studios in recent years, such as Zynga Boston, has inspired many to form their own teams, start their own companies, and make their own games.

Proletariat is just one of these independent studios. Led by Seth Sivak, CEO, the company was founded by members of Zynga Boston, formerly Conduit, when it shut down last year. Their first game – World Zombination – looks awesome. It is for this reason that I wanted to sit down with Seth and learn a bit more about the company and their plans for the future!

1)  I know you previously worked at Zynga Boston. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience and how it shaped your goals for this new company?

Proletariat’s founding group was actually together before that, at a company called Conduit Labs, which was acquired by Zynga in 2010 and became Zynga Boston. It’s easy to poke fun at Zynga and talk about all the things I learned to never do again, but there were also some valuable experiences that came out of it. One of the things I learned was the power of metrics to help inform design. Don't get me wrong; metrics can’t make a bad game good. Games still need a soul and a collective vision, but it’s very valuable to understand who players are and how they’re interacting with the game, especially for MMOs.

2)  Can you tell me more about the founding story of Proletariat? How did the company come into being, when and with what goals?

Prior to the close of the Zynga Boston, several of us discussed leaving to start our own studio, but we never actually went for it. The day the Boston studio shut down, we began discussing Proletariat. The following day, we had our first informal meeting and the day after, we had all five founders in agreement. From there, it was just over two weeks before we were an official company and moved into our first office space.

We all wanted to build a high-quality game studio focusing on team-based multiplayer games that are approachable but deep. The goal is to build games that we actually want to play together and take advantage of new platforms like tablets.

3)  ‘Games for the people’ is an interesting tagline for a game studio. How does this tagline play into the company’s mission?

The name "Proletariat" and the tagline point to some core features of our culture. We consider ourselves the working class of the game industry. Everyone on the founding team has an actual hand in building our games and we don’t have executives. At Proletariat, each person is expected to give feedback and take feedback but at the end of the day, it’s up to the individual to make the final decision. When we hire new people, we make sure that we trust them to be in total control of their area of expertise and be willing to iterate and constantly get better.

The tagline specifically speaks to the type of games we want to make. In the early days, when we were trying to figure out what sort of games we wanted to build, we all felt that the most fun we had playing games was when we were doing 40-man raids in MMOs or playing team death-match. The problem these days is that none of us can devote three or four hours a night to raid, but we still want the feeling of working together as a team. That’s why we decided to build team-based multiplayer games that are approachable in short sessions but have the quality and depth to captivate players for an extended period.

We’ve also taken a very open approach to the development of World Zombination. We stream live on Twitch.tv twice a week and, during the streams, we answer questions that the viewers ask about our development process. On Wednesdays, you will either see me working on the game (yes, I still code) or one of our artists painting characters, weapons, and other elements. On Fridays, we broadcast our weekly sprint review that shows everything that went into the game each week. We have also released the tools we’ve made for Haxe and Unity (HUGS and CUDLR) on GitHub so that other indie devs can use them. There’s a lot of interesting work being done here, and we want to share that.

4)  World Zombination is the first game from the studio. What is the game, exactly, and when can people expect it to release?

World Zombination is a faction-based massively multiplayer strategy game. Players can choose between playing as a massive zombie horde or as a small group of survivors as they grow their army and compete for control of cities all over the world. We built it with a focus on guild mechanics and competition so the game can stay fresh and alive for a long time. It will be heading into beta early next year and we’re looking to release it by mid-2014.

5)  Would you say that the Boston games community has been supportive? How so?

Absolutely. The game industry in Boston is small and very tight-knit, so people are willing to help when asked. When we started Proletariat, I was in over my head, especially compared to the other founders. They had all been doing their jobs for 5-10 years and I was a CEO for the first time. I spent considerable time with other local studios, asking their founders about how they got started. Even now, I frequently talk with those studios and continue to learn from them. The industry is moving quickly and there are so many opportunities to learn from your peers, whether you’re just starting out or suddenly finding yourself a CEO.

6)  Who did your launch trailer? It’s pretty awesome.

We did the trailer internally and we’re really proud of how it came out. Our art director, Damon Iannuzzelli, and our animator, Sterling Reames, built the entire thing in-house in less than four weeks. Damon was asked to speak about how we made the trailer at a Boston Unity Group meetup and the video has gotten a lot of interest in the Unity community. It’s posted on our blog:

http://blog.proletariat.com/post/66978001348/hot-zombie-action-at-the-boston-unity-group

7)  Anything else you’d like to share about Proletariat or World Zombination?

I can’t stress enough how excited we are about World Zombination. One of the other founders has this dream to see a stranger on the subway playing a game he’s made—it’s crazy that this is within reach. We’re having a tremendous amount of fun making the game, building the characters and their backstories, coming up with taglines for the city maps, and making sure that this is a game that we would genuinely want to play ourselves. The opportunity to do this independently with an open ear to our audience has been a fascinating experience and it is fun to have the ability to directly interact with players before the game is even available.

Elicia Basoli is a communications and PR consultant serving the video game industry. Born-and-raised in Massachusetts, she is particularly passionate about the New England games community working for a number of local developers and contributing to the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Games Circle, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute and the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Follow Elicia at @EliciaBuzz or learn more at www.EliciaBasoli.com.