Game of Thrones: Ascent Interview with Jon Radoff

gotWhat do you do when you’re a game developer who doesn’t see the type of games they want to play on a platform? You make them yourself. Jon Radoff, the CEO of Disruptor Beam, did exactly that. He looked at the state of Facebook games, with its endless stream of Farmvilles or games that are just “clickers” and wanted something more. As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series, he set out with a plan to utilize more than just the install base and ability to communicate with friends on Facebook.

If you’ve read the novels or have seen the HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, you know that the series is much more than a simply fantasy story about knights and warring kingdoms, it is a complex hierarchy of relationships, romance, backstabbings, alliances and so much more. Radoff saw this as a perfect fit for the social graph of Facebook. Who better to ally yourself with or betray than your friends?

Even that wasn’t enough. Inspired by the complex social interactions in the series and his love for the way Bioware laid out their narrative choices, he set out a plan to inject that long, interactive dialog into a Facebook game.

“It’s about bringing stories to life and you can’t do that without a dialog heavy game,” Radoff said. “We got writers from Star Wars: The Old Republic on the team when that game finished.”

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Regardless of the vision he had, Radoff still had one huge step to overcome, securing the license. After twisting as many arms as possible, he secured a meeting with George R.R. Martin himself. Martin had seen the Facebook platform, but he didn’t want just another castle building game with the Game of Thrones name slapped on it. He wanted a great game that was honest to the series and Radoff’s vision was just that. Martin loved it and the deal was made before the HBO show was a reality.

“HBO was excited about the game for the same reason George was, it was different,” Radoff said. “HBO wants to be on the leading edge of new markets, to take risks.”

Radoff knew you couldn’t just buy your way into Facebook without a huge amount of funds that he didn’t have. He had to capitalize on the already loyal fanbase, which with the newly created show would only be growing. He had an over 100 page design document, which is unheard of for a social game.

“Publishers wouldn’t touch it because it was different,” Radoff said. “They just want to clone a game and add more production values.”

Radoff is an entrepreneur and he knew how to raise capital. Even the founders of Harmonix contributed to Game of Thrones: Ascent because they believed in his vision. He wanted to make a game that was free-to-play and monetize it through virtual goods that added to the world, not by selling an instant win button, and make sure you can still enjoy it without paying.

It’s hard to overcome that so many people say they hate Facebook games, but the Game of Thrones page has nearly 6,000,000 likes and Ascent has over 300,000 installs. As one of those people who despises most Facebook games, I can say that Jon has built something incredible. Game of Thrones: Ascent defies was you think Facebook games are and deserves to be seen.