The gaming world constantly evolves, and few have demonstrated the tenacity, insight, and innovation as John Welch, CEO of Making Fun. From pioneering milestones at SEGA to the thrilling world of Eternium, Welch gives us a rare glimpse into the mind behind some of our most cherished gaming experiences.
In your own words, how would you describe your company?
Making Fun is an independent game developer and publisher best known for the hit action role-playing game (ARPG) Eternium. We are headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and have a talented global team with concentrations in South America and Eastern Europe.
We love clever mechanics, beautiful art, rich narrative, straightforward controls, high-performance technology, fair PvP competition, and collaborative relationships with our player communities. Join our pursuit to improve the art and science of video games!
We have generated over $22 million in revenue with over 37 million downloads.
Making Fun is a company of gamers. We are incredibly fortunate to have careers in the industry, which is also our hobby. We understand and empathize with our audience because we are our audience.
How are we different from other game developers?
At heart, it’s probably not so different. In practice, it is significantly different.
As a startup, we must refrain from beating or even competing with the titans of the industry by copying what they do. Instead, we must be more innovative with technology and design, more efficient with our resources, and more connected and generous with our players.
We greatly respect our players’ time and money and prove it with every feature, customer support email, and Discord message.
We are faster / better / cheaper than the competition by keeping a laser focus on FUN and keeping player respect and value as our North Star. This will ultimately lead to an excellent outcome for our players, employees, and investors.
What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?
In one word: Innovation.
Throughout my career in video games, I have always operated on the cutting edge. At SEGA, my team and I designed and built the first multiplayer console network in the U.S. (the second globally). At Shockwave.com, we built and sold the first “safe for work” premium downloadable entertainment content online – long before Kindle books or iTunes. At PlayFirst, we were the first publisher of downloadable games, and we created one of the first killer games on the iPhone with Diner Dash.
At Making Fun, we innovated by bringing a traditionally hard-core gaming genre, ARPG, to the mass market consumer on phones and tablets with Eternium. Its beautiful graphics, slick gesture inputs, super fun game mechanics, and generous economy made it one of the highest-rated apps on the Apple and Google stores.
Today, the video games industry is massive and mature, what many people would call a “red ocean.” We see plenty of blue water. Our next free-to-play title will be even more player-friendly than Eternium in a market full of greedy, pay-to-win games. It will offer a 10X larger scope, even more beautiful graphics with Unreal Engine 5, and a vast, multiplayer open world to explore solo or with friends. You’ll also see us create a title that is not free-to-play because we think paying for a game can be an even better deal for the player than free. We win by looking at things differently.
Who is on your team, and how did you come together?
We have a highly talented team of developers who have worked together for a long time. I partnered with several team members living in Uruguay while running my last company, PlayFirst, now owned by Electronic Arts. That nucleus expanded year by year and included several people from neighboring Argentina. I met Joshua Quick, our head of design, while pitching his last company, Qunify, to become their publisher. We agreed to terms on a call while I was carrying my newborn daughter around the hospital. She is now 12. Josh lives 15 minutes away, so we get together frequently. Our chief player advocate, Travis, was a player and helpful voice in the community of one of our older games. Josh recruited him as a volunteer. We quickly saw his value and hired him full-time.
I met the creators of Eternium when they were working at another studio. We collaborated to get them under contract with Making Fun as they created their studio, Dream Primer. I’m not sure I had met them in person then, but since then, we have spent time together around the globe: here in California, in the U.K., and a few times in their native Romania. On one trip, I took my entire family. We traveled together in several cars through Bucharest and Transylvania, seeing the incredible sites, including the stunning Peleș Castle and the eerie Castle Bran, the fictional home of Dracula.
Amazingly, my wife’s path converged with mine personally and professionally. She started as our part-time data analyst, then had more time as our kids got older. She added product management duties, then finance, and eventually became President. We work well together. That said, we have offices on separate floors of our house. Our entire company works remotely, after all.
Can you provide context as to the recent revenue decline?
Making Fun was profitable for a number of years. Hidden Express was a hit in the Facebook hidden object category, topping 300,000 daily players. As the Facebook platform became less and less hospitable to games, we were fortunate that Eternium was ascending. We did it “the old fashioned way” – constant improvements over many years, listening to our players and the data. Eternium was built on mostly organic installs, not paid marketing.
As the cycle goes, one of our properties was in decline, and our new platform was ascending to replace it – and at a much faster pace.
Dream Primer built Eternium on a technology called Marmalade, not a game engine so much as a thin layer of code on top of OpenGL. We chose it because it was the best technology to make a high-performance mobile 3D action game 10 years ago. Unfortunately, the Marmalade company went out of business six years ago. Our dreams of multiplayer Eternium went out the window as we were forced to maintain Eternium and its underlying tech platform.
Knowing this wasn’t sustainable forever, we stopped development on Eternium to allow Dream Primer to start creating the next-generation “Project Artemis” atop Unreal Engine 5, the technology Fortnite is built on, and many Hollywood blockbuster films. Not surprisingly, stopping the updates in Eternium caused our active players to drop a bit and our revenue to drop a lot. Gamers thrive on new content, and we took that away.
The revenue decline may be a natural effect, but we weren’t content to let it stay like that. At the end 2022, we shuffled projects to resume development on Eternium with a different team. Dream Primer remained focused on Artemis while our studio in South America started coming up to speed on the Eternium code. As the first item of business, they made a bunch of difficult behind-the-scenes updates necessary to keep the game alive and current, as Apple and Google constantly update the APIs we must interface with to remain on their platforms.
Fast forward to today, and our team is fully up to speed on the Eternium code. We are making improvements requested by the community and designing new content and features. We will soon launch a new limited-time event. Next, we will add a new gameplay system. Then, what people ultimately have been clamoring for, we will deliver a thrilling conclusion to the story where players finally face the evil Ragadam!
We paid the price for letting Eternium wither on the vine. We expect the Eternium updates to re-engage its vast player base, with 37 million downloads, and the revenue decline to reverse in the next 6-12 months. Still, this is all preparation for the significant inflection we anticipate when the two new games launch in 2024.
If we speak again in 12 months, which milestones will you have achieved?
Next year, we will refresh Eternium with exciting new content and launch two next-generation games. This amounts to three new products for an audience that hasn’t seen new content for three years. Player engagement and revenue should shoot up to an entirely new level.
In addition to expanding our marketing initiatives to support these new properties, we’re bringing our biggest fans closer to the business. We’ve established a new program to connect our investors with product teams to help build and spread the word globally.
Looking at what we will achieve much sooner than a year out is exciting. We’ll launch several improvements and a new Eternium event before the year’s end. We will share gameplay videos of the two new titles in the coming weeks. We will start adding players into the Artemis closed alpha in about eight weeks, with the other new title bringing players into its alpha in early 2024.
Making Fun is firing on all cylinders, and amazing things are about to emerge. We are super excited to be welcoming in so many of our players in this crowdfunding raise, as well as insightful startup investors just discovering us now on Wefunder.
Making Fun is currently raising on Wefunder.