Alright, guys, I’ve got a treat for you today. Ever since I started the Behind the Mask column back in August, I’ve wanted to interview this guy. And finally, that day is here.
Last Spring, I came across a game in development called Splitgate: Arena Warfare. One of my friends sent me the trailer (below) to the game and, HOLY SHIT, I was immediately sold. The team at 1047 Games somehow found a way to seamlessly mash the arena shooter mechanics from Halo 2 with the portal guns from Valve’s Portal franchise. It’s the perfect blend of chaos and fun.
So today, I give to you my interview with the founder and CEO of 1047 Games, Ian Prolux. But before we get started, as always…
This is me.
This is Ian.
This is a GIF of all the noobs I’ve been destroying.
Let’s start with this: many people know that you came up with the idea for Splitgate in college and build a pre-alpha demo for your senior project.
But what was the deciding factor for you that said: “Hey, this could actually be a great game if we finished it and published it”?
At first, I did not plan on doing anything beyond a cool school project. Before the senior project fair, I asked 7 of my friends to come and test the game to make sure it worked with a full 8 players (I had only tested with 2 PCs at that point). It was the weekend before finals and everyone was busy, but they agreed to test for an hour. We ended up playing for 5 hours straight!
Everyone was hooked, and clearly, there was potential even as an early prototype. The game played fundamentally different from any game we had ever played. At that point, I started thinking this could turn into something huge.
I’m picturing that scene from The Social Network where Mark Zuckerberg makes the “hot or not” site but with video games instead haha.
Hahaha not exactly but it was definitely really cool to see the initial reaction of my friends!
So how many of those friends ended up becoming part of 1047 Games? I’m sure Nicholas Bagamian (co-founder) was part of that crew right?
None actually. That was before I knew Nick. Many of them continued to test the game and offer feedback throughout the development process though.
Oh wow. Did you find it difficult to find (or filter) the RIGHT team members for your company at the start? I know in my case a lot of people show interest right out the gate for ideas I’m passionate about but when its time to actually do some work they kinda fade away.
I think it’s always difficult to find the right team members, and it’s especially important when starting a company to have a rockstar founding team. I definitely lucked out with finding someone as smart and talented as Nick, and we actually didn’t hire anyone else for 6 months because of how strict we were with maintaining a high bar for who we were willing to hire.
I get that 100%. Makes complete sense. So do you think that was the right way to go about it? In retrospect would you have done anything differently?
Definitely. I would not have done anything differently.
Awesome! So when you first started this journey into forming your own studio and creating Splitgate, what level of success seemed realistic to you? Like how big did you think it would be?
I have always thought, and still think, the sky is the limit.
I do think we had too much hype before we were ready. We never expected to have 10k concurrent players on Day 1, and we had always planned to roll it out slowly, improve the product and learn from our players, and to catch fire when the time was right and the product was right.
We are getting really close and have big things planned for this year. In a lot of ways, we took a similar approach to an early access game. We just viewed it as an MVP (minimal viable product) as opposed to an early access alpha or beta.
That’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve wanted to interview you for the last 6 months. I think you specifically have such a unique journey into the industry. Many of the people I interview make standalone narrative-driven offline games. You jumped right into what I think might be the hardest genre to enter into with one of the more unique ideas I’ve seen in a while.
So you said you planned on rolling it out slowly and never expected that huge popularity spike on day 1. Is that one of the reasons you guys delayed the launch date?
No, the delay of the launch date came down to us cutting it way too close and having too much confidence that we would pull it off.
Essentially, we all had different things we were working on, which all separately managed to get done in time, but when we finally merged everyone’s work together 4 hours before our launch, new bugs popped up. There was a chance we could have pulled it off and fixed the bugs and launch 4 hours later but there was no time to test and no one had slept for 3 days so it would have been too risky.
I gotcha. I’m sure that was a ridiculously tough decision right? Especially to make on almost no sleep?
Yea no one was thinking clearly. Some of us wanted to delay 3 hours or so, but it would have been way too risky since we hadn’t tested enough. We also knew we had to be awake at launch to put out any fires that could pop up, so we delayed 48 hours, slept for a bit, and got back to work.
Ok, so you started with 10k concurrent players on Day 1. What levels are you at right now?
We are now at about 200 concurrent players.
Once we realized the issues we had with the matchmaking/ranking system and the poor new user experience, we basically shut off the little marketing we were doing and went back into dev mode. We felt great about the gameplay but knew there were issues that could not be solved overnight. We spent the summer working to improve the game and fix the issues with the season 1 update, but unfortunately, most of the player base was gone after 3 months of no marketing or updates.
Yea it’s crazy how once you slow down the marketing for a game the player base starts to crash. I think the Apex Legends team learned that last year.
So you’re launching your first competitive league right? The SAW Scrims?
Yes! Signups are now! We have a pro and amateur league.
We have done tourneys in the past but the issue is finding a time that works for everyone. There are also a lot of new teams that want to play but end up having bad experiences because of how good the experienced teams have become.
Instead, we are doing two leagues now, one for the pros and one for the amateurs. The league is also flexible in that each team will have 1 game per week where they agree upon a time that works to play. The top 4 teams at the end of the season will play in a tournament (also at an agreed time that works for all teams).
That sounds cool as hell. Great way to incorporate flexibility into an age-old system.
Last question before we go into rapid-fire questions to close this out: what’s your biggest goal for Splitgate in 2020?
I would say my ultimate goal is to be the next Riot Games or the next Rocket League. But really, I just want the game to be successful so that we can keep doing what we love doing.
Love it, love it, love it. Let’s dive into those rapid-fire questions.
Favorite game of all time?
A year ago, I would have said Halo 2. I can honestly now say Splitgate is my favorite game of all time. I love playing it.
Why am I not surprised…haha about the Halo 2, I mean. But that’s nuts that you created something yourself that trumps your all-time favorite.
Favorite game of 2019 (that’s not Splitgate)?
Haha well, I am pretty behind on gaming. So in 2019, I caught up on 2018 games. Am I allowed to say God of War from 2018?
How about (in your opinion) the most overrated game of all time?
Oh, this is gonna be controversial but I would say The Witcher 3. It’s not a bad game by any means, but I just couldn’t get into it. I played it shortly after playing Bloodborne, and I just didn’t enjoy the combat compared to the Souls games.
I respect that. I’m a Soulsbourne guy myself. Have you gotten into Sekiro yet?
Not yet but I want to!
Ian. My guy. I know you think you know pain. You know nothing.
Hahaha, I look forward to it!
Ok, how about the most underrated game of all-time?
Shadowrun! It had crossplay between Xbox 360 and PC and was a great game with awesome abilities and good gunplay.
I’m not sure I’ve heard of it but I’ll have to check it out now! How about a game you refuse to play for whatever reason?
Umm…I don’t think there’s any game I refuse to play. There are games I don’t play because I don’t like them but I’ll give any game a shot pretty much.
I gotcha. Ok, two final questions to wrap this up.
First, how upset were you to only play 4 minutes in your college basketball career at Stanford?
That’s right I did my research hahaha.
Well since you asked, I’ll give you some more context:
I was a recruited walk-on going into freshman year at Stanford. I was pretty burnt out on basketball and broke my foot over the summer, so I decided not to play as a freshman but maintained a good relationship with the team and coaches.
Years later, summer before senior year, the team had a number of injuries so they asked me if I had any interest in joining the team, which I did. I was happy to play 4 mins (since most walk-ons didn’t play at all). I unfortunately tore my labrum in the following practice right before our next game that I would have travelled to, so I had to get surgery and was out for the rest of the season.
Oh damn haha. Great tidbit Ok last question, and it’s a big one:
Your top competitor and comparison in the realm of arena shooters is probably Halo. As you already know, Halo Infinite is launching at the end of the year.
So answer this question in two ways: as a fan of the Halo series, what are your thoughts and expectations for Halo Infinite? And as a competitor in the same video game space, do you guys have a plan to keep your player base from jumping over to Infinite?
I honestly haven’t been a huge fan of Halo since Halo 3. To me, Reach was just ok, 4 was terrible, and 5 was better but still not great. So I don’t really know what to expect for Halo Infinite.
I do think competition is good though and that Halo will help get the new generation of gamers to stop playing Battle Royale’s and bring more interest into the arena shooter genre. Fortnite and PUBG elevated each other, and I believe the same can happen to us.
Love it! Thanks again for your time Ian, and I’m sure I’ll be talking with you more in the future!
Alright guys, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. You can follow both Ian and the Splitgate team here on Twitter.
And if you want to learn more about Splitgate but don’t have a gaming PC, you’re in luck. I’ll be doing my first stream from my new PC tonight on Mixer, and I’ll be playing Splitgate the whole time.
Also, there may be a surprise guest…stay tuned!