Finding money for your game. You read about all those millionaire campaigns on Kickstarter and you do think: that sounds easy, but it is not as easy as it seems. Not only that, if you live in a country not exactly known for its videogames (namely, Italy) and this is your very first experience, you soon realize you have to roll up your sleeves and work hard for it.
At that time, all the five of us were just kids. We actually had some experience in digital entertainment, but we never had the opportunity to approach such a complex project as Dengen Chronicles. We had been developing social apps, games for iOS and other stuff easily manageable in a few weeks of work and with a relatively small budget.
In late 2011, we just wanted to make a videogame, in the very sense of the word. Something really innovative, captivating and addicting. In short, something we really would have liked to play. Finally, after two years, we made it through thanks to a significant seed investment from one of the biggest Italian VC firms.
How did we succeed?
Without a doubt, the first key concept here is “Minimum Viable Product”. We just extended this vital lean startup strategy to the videogame world. From the very start, we realized that it was practically impossible to get money from investors without providing them with something way more concrete than an idea.
Actually, when trying to reach several Italian capital ventures, we were often told: your idea is good, but we’re not interested right now. We had to admit to ourselves that our idea was pretty complex and we needed lots of resources and a great amount of time. So, we figured out that the only way to succeed was to proceed step by step.
We got started in late 2011 with a simple manga style avatar generator. Despite being a rather undemanding project, a kind of spare time activity indeed, it definitely impressed quite a number of users. We called it “Mangatar”, by combining the words “manga” and “avatar”. (By the way, you will note that it is also the name of our company.)
Hundreds of accurately customized avatars began to crowd the platform and to challenge each other. That was exciting - a community was being born! At that point, we decided to introduce some advanced features to strengthen those early social dynamics: comments, messages, chats, votes and so on. As expected, users got more and more competitive.
Anyway, we felt that there was something missing. We were still far from our goal, you know, the videogame thing. Once again, we took a small step forward. We wanted to boost engagement, then gamification was the way to go. Thus, we added up stuff like: rankings, badges, scores and levels that did help us enhance the platform.
In spring 2012, Mangatar boasted more than 20,000 users. We were ready for the last step: game features. The time had come to turn the avatar generator into a card game. No more users, only players. No more galleries, only decks.
May 2012 was an amazing month for us. We launched “Mangatar Saga” and needless to say, we came back to knock on VCs’ doors. As it turned out, our growing worldwide community gained much more interest and appeal. dPixel, one of the potential investors which had turned us down twice, realized there was some potential in our projects.
Meanwhile, the huge number of feedbacks motivated us to constantly improve the platform and we ended up getting paying users. That was the icing on the cake, but most importantly, that was the key reason why dPixel decided to invest in us.
Hence, in October 2012, Mangatar raised a seed investment round. What had been a spare time activity was now a real company.
Actually, we got to a point where we felt ready for a fresh start. What made us so confident?
In late 2012, we kicked off our brand new game “Dengen Chronicles”, which is the outcome of the Mangatar experience. We kind of like to think of Mangatar as our prototype, our MVP.
The game launched in beta in June 2013 and already hit 3,000 users. Once again, we’re using the “Minimum Viable Product” approach, releasing frequent small updates according to our users’ needs and interests. What is more, our enthusiastic user base is drawing more paying users than “Mangatar Saga” ever did.