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We launched PMOG in closed beta in February 2008 -- people could play, but only with an invitation. This allowed us to gradually grow the game, to be sure our servers held up and we weren't getting overwhelmed with new customers. We had a signup form for people to request access; I would scan the email addresses for the words "venture" or "capital" or "investments" or "partners" or "fund" -- this way I found a number of venture capitalists had signed up for the PMOG beta. I would reach out to each of them to see if we could book a pitch meeting.
Justin, M, Duncan - February 2008 - photo by Bryce
February and March were a big roadshow, talking to the press:
We presented "passively multiplayer online gaming" at conferences: Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (coverage), the Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, and South by Southwest in Austin.
Presenting "DataPlay: Living Games" at South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin, March 2008 photo by Narisa Spaulding
In our company IRC chat room, with people from the UK, Missouri, Kansas, San Diego, and East Oakland, we worked to evolve our experience, about six of us. Two and a half coders, a front end person, a community support person, a producer, and a game designer/writer. Not enough engineers, but we couldn't hire many -- during a technology boom, engineers are scarce. I pitched in making web views as the producer (the views, and occasionally controllers, part of Ruby on Rails' MVC).
A player profile on pmog.com circa May 2008
Another major lesson from running a software startup: engineers are the dreammakers, and everyone is in fierce competition for talented programmers.
M envisioned a virtual world on top of the internet: a battle between order and chaos, where we supplied the information weapons. For charitable sorts, there were crates for treasure to be left on web sites. For aggressive provocateurs, there were mines that exploded and shook your browser window when you hit their target URL. Surfing with our toolbar game on at times made the internet feel alive with play in the margins!
Money is running low towards mid-2008
In the spring of 2008, it looked like we had a promising game service that was getting a lot of buzz. We were spending slower than we'd planned, but we were running out of money. So the game designer/writer M, and myself the producer, shifted to fundraising for about 14 weeks of March-June in 2008. This is a huge attention-suck: tracking down introductions and opportunities, developing presentations, taking feedback, corresponding, prioritizing, traveling, pitching.
I started off with a stupidly fat slide deck. I thought it was important to walk through people through the idea, the history of the idea, the market context, the team, the upside, the plans. But a rigid linear presentation was anathema for busy people who have seen a ton of pitches. Each VC had their set of questions and usually couldn't sit through more than three slides.
We learned to show fewer slides, and then just talk with potential investors. Often these were smart folks with experience building companies, so we had a lot to learn. At best, it was a good conversation, when we learned to relax on the formal presentation. We kept a stack of slides in our appendix; if they asked about "competitor products" or "projected burn rate & operating expenses" or "DAU versus MAU over the last three months" we could pull those up.
There were some soul-crushing moments: taking our hard work into a room with five or six hard-driving rich dudes after a red-eye flight, and they want to know why you don't have explosions or blood in your game. Or why you're not a platform for embedding other people's Flash games. Or why you're so deluded about the size of the market.
We were intent on building one game, because the scale of our team didn't suit supporting multiple products, and we didn't want to spread ourselves across multiple products when we hadn't proven the idea and built a successful instance of this new kind of game. We thought we might build a platform someday -- opening up our tech for anyone to upload their games. But we wanted to get the core experience bolted together first before we supported other developers.
Here's a PMOG Experience video we produced as we were going out of closed beta, circa May 2008.