Meet the Big Boss
Just a few hours after we launched the Kickstarter for Satellite Reign, we were already the victims of a hostile takeover. The CEO “Big Boss” reward tier which grants the backer the right to become the competing CEO in Satellite Reign was snatched up, and we were all at the mercy of our new corporate overlord, Steven Dengler...
When he’s not crushing competition with his army of corporate soldiers in Satellite Reign, he serves as CEO of XE.com, which he co-founded. He also founded and runs Dracogen Inc, a strategic investment company “committed to making fun and awesome things happen”.
Through Dracogen he helps game companies make the games they want to make while trying to reduce the red tape and overhead of traditional funding avenues. He’s financed projects at companies like Double Fine, InXile, Obsidian as well as numerous charities like Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play.
All of this is an elaborate cover up of course, in Satellite Reign his true colours will come out as he fights to maintain his corporate empire against 4 sole agents in trench coats.
One of those agents managed to apprehend him briefly and made him divulge some more information with a bit of pharmaceutical help.
You support a lot of video game projects, are you a big gamer yourself?
Absolutely. I've been playing games for a solid 30 years. I started gaming way back in the days when games were not particularly cool. Back then, playing computer games made you the target of a lot of ridicule. One of my first paid jobs as a teenager -- back in the mid-eighties -- was designing and coding an adventure game. It was a Scott Adams type game called Adventure to Xanadu. I was (and remain) very proud of it. I don't believe it was ever released.
What are your favourite gaming memories?
There are just too many to count. Infocom games were my gateway. After that it was Ultimas, Xenomorph, System Shock, Torment... argh, there's just no way to make a list that doesn't leave out really important titles. Games were a hugely formative part of my childhood. What's wonderful is that so many of the people who made those games are still around. They gave me so many wonderful memories! And now I even get to return the favor. I'm actively financing games at several studios run by my childhood heroes.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, could you briefly describe what Dracogen is?
I started XE.com Inc. with my best friend in 1993. Today it's grown to be the world's favorite foreign exchange website, one of the top 500 websites in the world. With success came the inevitable question: what do I do now? Dracogen Inc. is a company I established a few years ago that does angel investing in companies and projects that interest me.
Dracogen is certainly a unique, intriguing company. Was there a particular catalyst for the company’s creation?
I don't like dead money. Money sitting in a bank account isn't doing anybody any good, except the banks. There are so many amazing people and projects out there that wither on the vine. I can't help all of them but I can pick a few I like and take some intelligent risks. It's worked out very well so far.
Dracogen has supported a variety of causes, not just games, but even film and animal welfare. Do you have an ultimate plan for Dracogen? Or do you want to keep it fairly relaxed?
Dracogen is whatever I want it to be. Sometimes I invest in something because it's a great business proposition, and I fully expect a return. Sometimes I support something that will have no financial return at all, just because I want to help it happen. And I have charities I like to support, most notably Child's Play. But everything I do has one thing in common: it excites me personally.
What are your feelings towards the current state of the games industry? Hope/concerns?
Publishers are putting more and more money into bigger and bigger games. These games are typically the "safe bets" that they feel will guarantee returns. At the other end of the spectrum there are countless bootstrapped, microbudget indie games getting made now that are wonderfully creative. These games are labors of love and are about sharing a personal creative vision, not making a "cookie cutter" game with mass appeal. In the middle is a bit of a wasteland where great games that might cost $200,000 or $2,000,0000 languish because they are too big to do as an indie project and too small to interest a publisher. I've financed a number of titles in this zone now and it's been incredibly satisfying to help some of these games get out there. But even with Kickstarter, private investors like me, groups like IndyFund, there just isn't enough money coming into that part of the space. Hopefully this will change over time as studios do more self-publishing. If small studios have some solid self-published titles that are generating money -- money they get too keep, imagine that -- they can start to plot their own courses without involving outside financing. I would truly love to see this happen.
Do you see Kickstarter (or crowdfunding in general) having a permanent place in the future of games development?
Yes. But not just for gaming, for everything. Crowdfunding is a brand new social factor, a cultural force, a universal resource. As with the Internet, it will only be in hindsight that we will appreciate how fundamental a cultural shift it was. People will wonder how we ever got along without it.
You jumped on the highest reward tier for Satellite Reign incredibly quickly. What drew you to the campaign?
I'm a huge fan of the Syndicate series. I played the heck out of those games when I was a kid and had nothing to my name. Now I get to repay the people that helped give me so many wonderful gaming memories. And I get to help a new game get made. And I get to be a part of the story. It's a huge thrill.
What traits do you feel you bring to the role of Corporate Overlord?
I've run a company now for 20 years. I bring a lot of practical, real-world experience as Corporate Overlord, dating back to the very dawn of the commercial Internet. I am highly proficient with corporate buzzwords; for example, I have a strong track record of building synergy and leveraging core skillsets to engineer of best-of-breed services. My sister and I have a webcomic that has incontrovertible proof that I would be good for the job. Plus I paid you off so you can't say no.