Starting Up a Mobile Games Development Company: the Story of CODE

In 2012 alone, as many as 20 game studios closed down, adding to a total of 120 games studios, developers, and publishers that have faded into memory since 2006. But amidst the looming threats of rising costs and disruptive trends, the change that is shaking the foundations of triple-A gaming has opened a lot of new doors for many startups. In a gaming industry abuzz with shifting trends and roiling tides of uncertainty, established gaming names are not immune to failure, and startup companies in turn are optimistic about success – startup companies like Poland-based Creative Output DEvelopment (CODE).

CODE, a mobile games development company, is the brainchild of childhood-friends-turned-entrepreneurial-partners Jarek Krefta and Dan Szulc. The story of the founding of their new startup and the upcoming release of their first title called “Very Little Monsters” reflects the dynamic landscape upon which the gaming industry is now resting. Dan started an IT Engineering degree in 2008 and wanted to become a Sys_admin, while Jarek is on his way to earning an Electrical Engineering degree, yet now they find themselves designing a game about little monsters that can be played on mobile devices – and they’re loving it.

CODE founders Jarek and Dan

Dan has some background in the gaming industry – after three years of being stuck in a junior admin role in a hosting company, he flew from Poland to Ireland and was hired by a gaming company as a Quality Assurance Game Tester. Dan always had a passion for video games and when he was working there, he said “it was like heaven for a gamer every single day.” Inspired by the people around him and realizing that even the company bigwigs are “not god-like; they are mortals like me and you,” Dan curiously observed the inner workings of the company, intent on learning everything he can. That summer when he returned to Poland to continue his degree his dreams changed from being a Sys_admin to a game tester, marking Vancouver EA Games as his goal.

In 2011 Dan had another chance to break into the industry as a 3d artist intern for a small games company. Unfortunately he was let go because he “was not good enough.” Forced to go back and work for significantly lower compensation, Dan used his experience to turn things around. “I quickly realized that college doesn’t give me a guarantee of a stable and good-paying job,” he says, “I started thinking about [putting together] my own company, making better games, and treating employees like humans, not like cogs.” So he set out to find some backup for his plans: his childhood friend Jarek.

As an electrical engineering student Jarek mostly dealt with the hardware side of things; he dabbled in micro controllers instead of programming languages. But he was passionate about programming and learned as many languages as he could. Once he was talking to his cousin about game development as a job, a career possibility he would normally not entertain. After all, he was formally educated in hardware skills not software skills. But he soon realized that he could use this fact to his advantage. “When you think about it, the very first games where made by electrical engineers,” Jarek says. And as if his childhood friend Dan heard his thoughts from out of the blue, a month later in January 2012, he contacted Jarek and proposed that they make their own game. Doubtful but determined, Jarek agreed and started learning and experimenting as much as he could to learn everything he can to build his own game.

Screencaps of Very Little Monsters - still under development

The duo professed that their teamwork was flawless, and during their self-imposed learning curve they were like sponges absorbing everything they could from the books they read. They reached out to folks from all over the gaming industry, and were fortunate enough to have a question and answer session with EA founder Trip Hawkins. Dan says that after researching, they learned that many other companies in the industry had “two similar patterns: 1: one to three founders, [and] 2: ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” It looked like the duo was spot on when they partnered up, and Dan was on the right track in his goal of treating employees better.

Dan and Jarek went through a few company name ideas – from the strange (Epileptic Games) to the already taken (Badpixel), but they finally settled for Creative Output DEvelopment or CODE. With their journey nearing the completion of its first phase, Dan and Jarek are pleased to share what they’ve learned so far. “Never give up your dreams. You have ability to shape your reality just as reality can shape you,” Jarek says. He learned to trust in himself by first putting his trust “in others that had faith in me.” Going through mountains of books and other learning material, Jarek found new meaning in three simple words: “Never stop learning.” Dan, on the other hand, had an aversion to books that had been in him since childhood. But now, he says “I’m reading books like crazy, it’s almost like Neo from the Matrix: ‘I know kung-fu’.” Dan proved to himself that “hard work beats talent to the knees,” and advises dreamers like him: “you have 24 hours every day, use it.” He also found that it’s best to turn a deaf ear to people who “don’t have a bloody clue what are you talking about… if they can’t do it, they will tell you that YOU can’t do it.”

“Work hard,” Dan says, “there is no other way around.”


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