In the sprawling landscape of entrepreneur stories, some stories stand out not just for their success, but for the journey they encapsulate. Mark Otero, a visionary game designer, takes us on an expedition from his humble upbringing in South Korea to the pinnacle of the gaming industry. This is a journey of overcoming challenges, chasing dreams, and reshaping the gaming landscape.
His latest venture, Azra Games, has raised funding from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Jonathan Lai, Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX, and Arianna Simpson.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The journey from a cinder block house in South Korea to selling a $35M gaming empire exemplifies the transformative power of adversity and resilience in entrepreneurship.
- A childhood shaped by economic challenges and a love for Western literature fueled an imaginative foundation, laying the groundwork for a future in the gaming industry.
- Playing Dungeons and Dragons as a child– and eventually learning English through it – led to unexpected ventures in frozen yogurt before the true calling in game development.
- The success of the gaming studio, marked by innovative approaches and a deep understanding of player psychology, culminated in a $35M sale to industry giants Electronic Arts Inc. and Kabam.
- After a hiatus, the return to game development with Azra Games reflects a commitment to continuous learning and a vision to empower players to address societal challenges through a dark fantasy RPG experience.
- Azra Games’ successful seed round, led by Andreessen Horowitz and others, underscores industry confidence in Mark’s vision and RPG game design prowess.
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About Mark Otero:
Mark Otero is the CEO of Azra Games. They were previously the General Manager of Capital Games at Electronic Arts, where they were responsible for the studio’s mobile and Facebook free-to-play games.
These games include Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, Heroes of Dragon Age, Supreme Heroes, Age of Immortals, Six Gun Galaxy, and Starship Command.
Prior to their work at EA, Mark was a managing partner and co-founder of Alice Capital, a hedge fund. Mark also served as the CEO and co-founder of KlickNation, which was acquired by EA in 2011. Mark began their career as a director of research at FunToDo.com in 1999.
Mark Otero has an MBA in marketing from the University of California, Davis – Graduate School of Management, an MS in Computer Science with a focus on Artificial Intelligence from CSUS, and a BS in Computer Science with a focus on Graphics from California State University Sacramento.
Some individuals on their team include Dan Offner – General Counsel & Head of Business/Legal, David Scurfield – CFO, and Neel Upadhye – VP Creative Development.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmaker show. So again today we have another really interesting episode with a founder that has gone through the journey of building scaling financing and exiting. You know his last company. He sold it to electronic arts and we’re going to be really talking about what that journey was and then also what is the journey now that he has embarked on on this other rocket ship that he’s building again. We’re going to be talking about. You know, really really cool stuff. You know? For example, like how you go about going through a competitive process like the one that he went. When getting his company acquired also the misunderstanding you know around games. Also the thing the how his childhood all also shaped the way that he thinks about games and then also different cycles when it comes to games and and we’re going to be talking about culture team. All of the above so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today Mark Mayan Sick Otero welcome to the show.
Mark Otero: Great. Thank you very much for having me alejandro. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So you grew up in South Korea near a us military base give us a walk through memory lane. How is life growing up there. Okay.
Mark Otero: Tough you know I grew up in a very very extremely modest neighborhood. In fact, our home was a cinder block probably just a little larger than this tiny room that I’m sitting in right now for a family of 4 And um, didn’t have many toys but I’ll tell you what we did have is I ended up befriending um some people who lived on the military base. It was a us military base and you know as as in, you know, most people most Koreans Um, you know they grew up with anime. I didn’t grow up with Anime. So I grew up with Western Literature Western comics and Western stories like dungeon dragons and battle tech and that laid the groundwork in the seed you know for me later on as a you know making games for for entertainment and going Through. Um. The adversity that I went through as a child um was was interesting because it allowed me to feel these primitive needs like Hunger safety shelter in a way that I think. Many people here in the Western world take for granted and certainly I’m a father now with two sons. They don’t have to worry about food or shelter but growing up I I had to think about those things and those would become the seeds for my thinking.
Mark Otero: When I’m designing entertainment role-playing experiences for players.
Alejandro Cremades: So how do you? How do you end up coming to the Us eventually and I guess before even that you got into reading books you know as well. So first how do you get like that crazy interest into reading books and then also how do you find yourself in the Us. So.
Mark Otero: I Think as a young man you know when you’re going through hardships as a way as as a coping mechanism you tend to fictionalize things you tend to create stories and so your imagination really begins to Blossom. Because you’re coping with the reality of something that’s a lot harder basic things like access to food or clean water and so when my brother’s older friend played dunges and dragons with us I had a hard time understanding him because English is a second language for me, It’s not my first language. However. The stories and the art compelled me to want to learn about this world This mystical fantasy world and I became drawn to it so much so that it forced me to pick up a very advanced language and words and so I learned the English language. Largely through this game and by having a dictionary next to me to help me translate and it developed not only my vocabulary but it fed my desire to fictionalize this crazy world that surrounded me at the time as a child in other words.
Alejandro Cremades: So then and and and obviously that that was incredible because that gave you a net about reading you know something that would serve you very well later on I Guess how do you come to the Us was it like much of a culture shock.
Mark Otero: It was an end.
Mark Otero: It was beyond a culture shock and so my mother had left us for a period of time to escape um a very tough environment. It’s a very abusive environment. My father had my biological father had lost his job because you know he stabbed somebody in a hand with a pencil. Lost this job. It. So and so my mom escaped that and she she said to my brother and I one night hey young shik and ungshhik. That’s my older brother. You guys got to stick together and mom’s gonna come back for you later, but you must stick together and know I’m gonna come back so she left. And so it was just my brother and I left her own devices Rumm ground stealing food doing what we need to do to survive and so you know from that experience my mother then married a um ah soldier from the military base.
Mark Otero: And so in other words, that became our golden ticket for a new life here in the west and so um.
Alejandro Cremades: And before before that happened I mean was your was your father still around or you guys were like completely out there. You know on your own. So.
Mark Otero: Well, he would come by a few times a week but we’re on our own we’re left isis. It was a crazy period of time. This is what I meant by a very modest upbringing and learning about adversity at a very young age and we were 4 years old.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Alejandro Cremades: How old are you? Oh my god.
Mark Otero: So my brother was was was 8 and so we lived in that period of time for for a bit. Um, but we learned a lot. We learned how to survive we learned how to meet you know you know meet our needs we and we also learned how to be extremely independent. Um, without. Um, without much guidance because we had to because we’re relying upon our our primitive needs to survive and and I think part of this childhood trauma um is perfect match for an entrepreneur to navigate uncertainty. And to have incredible belief in yourself to deliver and so I think it was all these this early childhood trauma led to the building blocks of of a future entrepreneur because you know we all have fears. We all have doubts. We all have insecurities. Um, but when you when you overcome these challenges. 1 thing I learned is you build confidence in knowing how to overcome the hard things in life and once you know and you’ve developed that confidence not that everything gets easier but you have the confidence to pursue. Big bold ideas.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow I mean this is absolutely incredible Mark and I and I fully agree with you there because ultimately being a founder too is is all about how you’re able to be with uncertainty you know and and and obviously the fact that you had to endure. You know that type of experience. Although incredibly painful and challenging at such a young age. You know it served you very well later on so at what point does your mother come back and then how do you guys come to the Us. So.
Mark Otero: Yeah, so a mother returns one night it’s a funny story this was in the the late 70 s and she also you know one luxury item that we did have was this tiny little tv this black and white tv so she took us and she took the Tv.
Mark Otero: And a week later um we were packing our bags and I asked them on where are we going and she said to this place called the United States I had no idea what that was and so I got on this plane for the first time but here was the funniest thing in Korea. Was used to just seeing koreans you know, just everywhere in my rhythm of life and and and in Korea you know the lowest cast of the least educated for the most part in Korea you know were the janitors and so when I came here to the us I had seen western movies. It was my first time when I saw. A Caucasian janitor and and I asked him mom what is going on how come he’s not korean and my first meal you know when we set foot here in the us was at Kmart and it was a corn dog and I never had a corn dog before and it was like the most delicious succulent greasy. Thing had ever just chow that down and so Kmart and corn dogs have a very special place in my heart.
Alejandro Cremades: I Hear you now eventually for you. You ended up being going after computer science so out of all things What what caught your attention for computer science.
Mark Otero: You know I didn’t know anyone who knew how to program to make the type of game design experiences I wanted to create and so I started taking computer programming classes in high school. And so during the summertime I was one of those nerds who took 8 hours of day programming classes. Um through one of their special programs and so that’s when I started to develop my own role-playing games and in parallel I was a dungeon master for the second edition of dungeon dragon rule set. And so I had I had 2 different groups that I would create stories and adventures for and I would take those adventures and I would codify them in in computer programming language. It’s time it was basic in pascal and so I was like you know since I can’t find someone else to program my ideas. I better learn how to do this and I should probably pursue a computer science degree. So I stayed local here. It’s where all my family is and went to Sacramento State University got my computer science degree there then decided to get my master’s research I started to pursue ai um and I was like this is kind of boring I need to learn some new skills. And applied to Uc Davis got into it and specialized in the psychology of marketing and that’s when I started to understand things about the psychology of products and needs and and paired that with you know my desire to create products that.
Mark Otero: Really facilitate aspiration fantasies for people. So what I mean by that is as human beings. You know we have a lot of desires one of those desires is love or to be loved. Um, another desire is to feel empowered or to feel to have power fantasies. You know you’re an important person you’re empowered to lead the changes in your life and the third thing too I think is a fantasy amen is have is wealth and so these 3 very powerful aspirations is really part of the inspiration of of how I design games. Is I first start with recognizing um, unmet needs and then I look to optimize those unmet needs by creating a role-playing game experience for the player and you know at the end of the day we we create and facilitate stories and adventures that meet a very. Um, aspirational type of fantasy goal that they may not fully feel fulfilled in life and so when designing games the psychology of understanding human needs and human desires without ideology whether it’s religious. Whether it’s some other ideology whether it’s life’s left center right? doesn’t matter to me instead I recognize as a human you know through millions of years of human evolution you know we have developed a certain set of of.
Mark Otero: Of desires that have been pressure and formed by the environment in a very competitive way and so for example, if we see if I see you know I’m married now. But if you know there’s a very attractive woman down you know, walking down and she has all the right dimensions and races. Whatever it is these these signals these beauty signals as a man you know primly. Within I may respond to that and look and then look away and and so I recognize that I recognize that we’re human I recognize there’s millions of years of human evolution that have been informed our desires and we try to. We tried to capture that and acknowledge that from our first principles so that doesn’t matter what ideology or religious beliefs you have we recognize you as a human as a human being first and then we create an experience that facilitates those desires that are unmet.
Alejandro Cremades: Now I mean it makes total sense and and I think that’s quite profound what you just share there now. It sounds like gaming was really your passion. How how do you get distracted by asset management and you don’t go into gaming in first place. So.
Mark Otero: That make.
Mark Otero: I couldn’t get a job in the gaming industry I didn’t have the experience and quite frankly I probably wasn’t as tenacious enough and I applied to several gaming companies including electronic Arts activision and a bunch of others. No one accepted me.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah.
Mark Otero: So was like okay I better. Go get ah a normal job and learn some life skills and so I eventually joined Frankel Templeton Investments which was great which was fantastic and in a very short period of time kept getting promoted and I I initially thought very naively. If I made more money my happiness would increase. But what happened was you know when I was in my early late 20 s to early 30 s is that the more money I made the happiness wasn’t correlated with that and so I knew something was Wrong. And I knew I needed to make a change because more money. Um, wasn’t going to make me feel purpose in my life. So I wasn’t happy and.
Alejandro Cremades: So Walk us walk us through that moment where all of a sudden you know you realize really what you’re just alluding to and you’re like I got I got to shift gears and you just gave your notice you sell your house you move in with your mother. And you completely change career paths I mean this is quite Unbelievable. So walk us through that.
Mark Otero: Yes, so about three and a half years in you know I became a manager so I was managing a data department and I realized I made a lot of money for a man in his early 20 s and I had a house and a car. And as a young man getting laid on a regular basis. You know, but even that was not satisfying and so I made the connection that more money pursuing what I was pursuing. Would not lead to more purpose in my life therefore I would not be happy, but it took me a total of 5 years so three and a half years was that recognition when I got promoted and then over the course of a year I began to plan and save everything and and so I prepared for the exit. So by the time I got to year five I was ready with a plan sell my house. Let my mother know who I thought she thought I was absolutely crazy. She was what is wrong with you. You know we made all these sacrifices to come here. You have a great education. You have a great paying job. You have health benefits what in the world is going on with you. And that took some time with a mom took about six months of socializing but then she loved having me home because she loves cooking and she expresses her love through food and so she loves so I gain like £15 living at home and then.
Mark Otero: Um I knew. Okay then I spent six months doing absolutely nothing I was like oh my god I don’t have to shave my face I don’t have to shower I don’t have to do anything and then after about six months I got into a bit of a panic like oh my god I got to go do something and um. Was like okay I need I need a a potentially low budget capital investment in some business that has some type of sustaining revenue and so I looked into all the businesses around and I was like huh. There’s a new kind of like trend in you know trend in la with pinkberrying and frozen. Frozen yogurt. They only had 1 store at the time I had never tasted it and so I hired a food chemist in Arizona to help me craft and understand the chemistry of frozen yogurt and all the different types of ingredients that go in there and so I created my own formula of a natural frozen yogurt. And I called it zang z a n g and then I did a gurilla marketing around the area about this brand new highbrow. All natural yogurt shop and I had 400 customers in my day of opening it cost me $50000 investment. It was a hit it was ah it was a grand slam.
Alejandro Cremades: Oh my God so.
Mark Otero: And I had lines out my door. Um, the press was there every major press in Sacramento covered my yogurt opening and then I learned something else man I only make like a buck 75 on each one of these yogurt cubs to sell to make over $10 you know I’ve kind of sell like 8 to 10 yogurt cups I was like ah this business has a low barrier to entry other people were now copying me. Um and so to me it wasn’t a sustaining or exciting business model and so I decided to to take the capital from there. And I said okay let me put my computer science degree to use. There’s a new thing called apps and so I learned how to create apps I created 30 of them. They all failed but I learned something from each one of these apps I had like 3 dating apps 2 of them blew up. They had over half a million daily active users. However, they were all the wrong markets they were in markets that were difficult to monetize with adsense and so the server bills to manage these apps ate all the revenue that came in. And then in app number 30 and thirty one I started to experiment with virtual goods. Just really lightweight testing and just western markets specifically the us and I had a cofounder at that time who was helping me with the coding and we’re both just coding and these little apps.
Mark Otero: We’re targeting these tier one markets we’re suddenly making more money than anything else when I say more money I mean like fifty fifty bucks a day every day and I was like you know what the math just isn’t working I’m tired of putting money into these apps. Let’s do something that’s serious. Um, my business partner disagreed. But he says okay I’ll stick it out with you. What do you have? I’m gonna make a game a role-playing game called superhero cities. He’s all you are crazy. You’ve never made a game before this isn’t going to succeed and it’s gonna use up. You know all of our time and it’s gonna use up all the. You know the profit from the yogurt shop and so you know he disappeared for a couple months and in those couple months I designed my first game I read every single game design book that was out there that I can get at borders books and Barnes and Noble’s just consume them then I studied the marketplace and I asked myself. What game can I afford to make on a low budget. What game can I make that plays to my strengths as ah as a dungeon master and what market should we go after and so the first one was okay I can make these collectible and combat rpg game where you collect a bunch of heroes. You know you put them together in a party and then you go combat and so I designed that over you know between serving yogurt cups and then hired a team who had never made a game before by putting up a Craigslist ad that basically said this.
Mark Otero: If you want to pursue your dream in the game industry and never had your chance here. It is right here in Sacramento above a yogurt shop in the stockroom but I have to be clear. We’re going to pay you poorly the hours will be long but you’ll be pursuing your dream. So I hired a cake decorator from safeway. And supermarket who’d like to draw I hired a a pizza delivery boy who was you know he had hobbies in terms of creating graphics I hired a con artist who stole about $10000 from me.
Alejandro Cremades: So I’m I’m hearing a lot of will we’ll edit this part but I’m hearing a ton of noise and people talking on the background and they cut so I’m wondering if there is a way to um to to reduce the um, the background noise. What do you think? Mark.
Mark Otero: Oh yes, love that? Yep let me do that right now one second
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah noise.
Mark Otero: Faster I Want to record.
Mark Otero: It’s grandpa he came over and.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Yeah, don’t worry. Don’t worry about this. Ah we’ll edit it I just wanted to share so that we make sure that we get the the the the audio. Ah right? because this is powerful. So so here. So let’s continue with the deliver Boy go ahead, Go ahead.
Mark Otero: Yes, so I hired him I hired a con artist who stole about $10000 from me and and just hired. You know a couple college students and I shared with them my game design documents with all the mathematical formulas. Um, and I said hey here it is and then what should have taken perhaps three months took end up six months and at this point time I had burned through all the profits profits from my yogurt shop and we didn’t have much money left in a bank account.
Mark Otero: And I got discouraged I was like oh man I don’t think this game is good enough and my business partner’s name is Ken Walton goes Mark let’s just launch it. Okay so he took a break and then he came back and he saw what was built. He’s all this is incredible because let’s just launch it so we launched it. Nothing happens and then a month later on fourth of July I get a call from a Mark. You’re not going to believe this. We made two hundred and forty dollars today that was the most we had ever made from any app and I go. That’s great next day 300 and 60 to $380 a month later a thousand dollars a day every day a month after that 3 to $ 4000 every day by the end of the year tens of thousands of dollars every day. This 1 game was generating.
Alejandro Cremades: And where was the money coming from. How was they how was that money being generated from the game but was that was that ads or people buying credits or what was the money coming. Where was it coming from.
Mark Otero: From the from the United States and so I think.
Mark Otero: So we were using paypal to handle transactions and and so the money was coming from people who wanted to collect more characters or more powers within the game and so as you’re making as you’re progressing through the game you can accelerate your gameplay. Um, by purchasing um these these packs at the time you know these packs contain powers and equipment and and and players were buying these things um and some players were spending a thousand bucks at a time and other players would spend up to $10000 to get these to get the most desirable things in these gotcha packs and so.
Alejandro Cremades: So. So so so what do you think happened because I mean one month in and and no movement I mean anyone would have pulled the plug I mean what? What do you think was the yeah that that that event that that triggered this for for for. Then of a sudden you know to to to to break through what happened.
Mark Otero: Yeah, so here’s what happened Um, my business partner goes Mark let’s spend about $500 in in advertising and user acquisition through Facebook and let’s just let’s target men in their thirty s forty s and fifty s because that’s where. We’re seeing some activity. It was just a guess and so we spent and blew $500 what was remaining of our budget. We had nothing left after that I was like okay yeah, whatever go ahead and let’s try it and it was after we spent the $500 that now we’re making. Two hundred three hundred dollars every day and so our elt so our our cost of acquisition um was very promising at the time we didn’t understand the concept of ltv but we understood this concept if we spent $500 and we made back 2 or $3000 a couple weeks later we have a flywheel here where we can spend as much money advertising within the game and we can make it all back within a short period of time and we got lucky as well. There was a new ad partner called rock you at the time who had raised hundreds of millions of dollars they had this huge ad network and to do business with them to to send traffic your way you have to give them tens of thousands of dollars but we didn’t have that and so what we told them is.
Mark Otero: You know we had a couple thousand. How about we wire you guys some money because we don’t have it. We don’t even have a checkbook it just so happens they did not have controls for wiring so when we wired them the initial couple thousand dollars they gave us a $50000 credit but and so. We used the entire $50000 credit and we made all that money back within ah, less than a month’s time and the game was just generating just cash just ridiculous amounts of cash and we’re like okay this isn’t going to last long you know this will probably last you know four to six months but lo and behold.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Mark Otero: We’re hitting new records every month and at this point time whatever money that was coming in. We would put it all right back to advertising and we would make it all back again and so paypal flagged us and say hey this is very strange activity. This is very unusual. We’re going to hold $100000 of the payments from you and in that moment we’re like down we’re going and we’re going to have to raise some capital and so we raised a very small seed round of 100 k to get over that period of time it because paypal flagged this as possible fraudulent activity.
Alejandro Cremades: My god.
Mark Otero: And they were going to hold it for three months ah with no warning with no warning by the way they literally hold this overnight.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah I mean that happens all the time I mean it’s it’s it’s just awful and you see that with with other credit card processing you know companies too. But in any case you know for you guys. It ended up working out. Well you know you ended up. Building a very successful game studio and you rolled out you know, not only 1 but you know another game there that was also very successful and you just kept going but electronic arts. You know, comes knocking. You know all of a sudden there is a competitive. Acquisition process that starts how how does the whole a man a thing start and make us insiders into that process.
Mark Otero: Sure So at the time as a game designer and producer I I learned some very important things about about games I learned that people exchange their time for activities that provide. Mental rewards where the more the more they play the more we’re facilitating some type of psychological need and the Tld are for that is that you could think of these games like a dopamine curve over time and that as you progressively play the game more. You get these chemical releases in your brain. So This is all mathematical completely engineered and every game for the most part will have a slightly different dopamine pattern for New Users Veteran Pilots and elder Players. So I knew this already. Um.
Mark Otero: But there’s a layer that sits on top of a game and this is going to answer your question which is the graphics the user interface the sound and the music our games are atrocious. They were just so ugly to look at. But once if you can overcome that and you can tap in to the mathematics of the game. Know you will enjoy it so I thought to myself. Okay, electronic arts is known for making triple a quality games I know these games are made up of 2 layers. The user experience layer what everyone thinks is the game with the graphics and the sound and then layer 2 what I call the mathematics layer I was like if I learn how to master the layer one of the user experience layer I believe we can widen the funnel of users to make the game more accessible to funnel them into the mathematics and the psychology of what these games facilitate. And so for me, we met ea at a gaming conference and ea at the time had acquired another free to play studio I think for 3 to 400000000 called I think it’s called playfish and so they’re entering into the free to play space. What caught their attention. Was our metrics. They couldn’t believe the amount of revenue that we were driving on a per user basis. It was just unfathomable to them and they initially thought we were a scam artist a fraudulent company.
Mark Otero: And so at the time the second in command his name was Michael Chang who discovered us for electronic arts said. Okay, we want to do some due diligence on your accounting and so they hired a forensic accounting firm and went through all of our math all of our financials and realized. These guys are the real deal. They have some breakthroughs here in terms of the science of free to play gaming for rpgs and kabam was also doing running due diligence on us as well too. They said? Oh yeah, these guys are for real and so. It was through a six month period of time where you had really kabam and electronic arts investigating every aspect of our business and they realized that our metrics were real that we were drivings ridiculous arpdaw. Um.
Mark Otero: In in a way that was 20 to 30 times higher than what they were used to seeing and so we had made a number of inventions and most of these inventions were once again related to the psychology of meeting unmet needs and maximizing them to the highest degree and so. Through this process I met 1 of my heroes his name is Dr Ray Muzooka he’s the cofounder of bioware and he had sold this company a couple years beforehand to electronic arts and so they sent Dr Ray Muzookka and his landing party of executives to investigate us. See if this is this is a good fit and he was one of my heroes because he made valder’s gate number one and that was a game that I played you know in college and so as they began to investigate. They’re like no. These guys are very innovative. They figured some things out. We should definitely acquire them and that’s when I met the presidents of the 8 at the time Frank Jabo and I remember the president asked me straight up. You know after we went through this process Mark. Why are you selling your company just not high. Why are you selling your company because he saw our balance sheet is very healthy and I said man I can either lie to him or tell him the truth like Frank so I decided to just.
Alejandro Cremades: Oh.
Mark Otero: Just to be candid I said frank we’re doing good now we figured some things out but I’m afraid that ea is gonna figure out what we’re gonna do and make better looking games and you’re gonna crush us. That’s what I told him and then he smiled ear to ear. And then his next question was Mark what’s wrong with our latest free to play game that was failing at the time I wasn’t expecting that question but thank god I played that game and I looked at him I said I enumerated 3 things that were wrong with it and then he had this huge smile in his face. He says okay, let’s talk and so that was near the final ending of this process. Um, and then the final final gate was what the Ceo at the time was John Rickateello and he got me into the room he goes I want to meet this character and John Rickateello and I debated debated. for 90 minutes on game design and game design experiences and he turned around he looked at me he smiled and is okay and then he left and then a month later if the deal closed so it was a total process of six months of
Alejandro Cremades: That’s un bolievo and what was it thirty thirty five million that’s incredible that is absolutely incredible now you did stay you know quite a bit in in ea. You know you guys say did also like tremendous stuff you were also involved in.
Mark Otero: Yes.
Alejandro Cremades: In really incredible games like for example, 1 of them which was a it was galaxy of heroes that actually you know ended up performing very well but hey as the saying goes as an entrepreneur you’re you’re always an entrepreneur and you know it didn’t take long until all of a sudden you find yourself. Launching your latest baby asra games so walkke us through you know what needed to happen for you to really feel at peace with going at it again. Yeah.
Mark Otero: Yeah, so you know my last game was as you mentioned galaxy piros so star wars galaxy piros and I feel like at that point time I had kind of peakd in my knowledge base and you know for me if I’m not learning I’m dying and and so. I didn’t know if a better game could be made and so I had reached this peak knowledge point and that’s a very ignorant and arrogant thing to think now that I’m looking back because there’s still a lot more things I could have learned and so after that I was done that was my eighth. Collectibles and combat rpg game by the way. So I made 8 of them in sequence either designed produced or directed and so after working on the same type of game 8 times you know you you kind of want to change because you want to do something different that’s and you know it’s a natural human thing to do one and something different. And so I took some time off and I realized I was incredibly miserable and so I had to create work for myself and create problems that weren’t there to solve and um, but but I found myself playing games about 8 hours a day every day. Which I hadn’t done in years so I was playing 3 games and I was like god you know I would change this thing about this game I would change this thing about this game and I was back in a creative moment and so I was like you know what.
Mark Otero: I gotta get back in games I had this gentleman his name is Nathan Fog he’s made 8 games with me. He’s a user experience master and he goes Mark he would visit me every year because Mark when you when we when are we making the next game again. I’m like ah I don’t know and then finally in in 2021 um, I started to meet with members of the team that I had worked with before at called Ea Capital games and in December of 2021 I was like you know what? let’s do it. Let’s try it and so in January I began calling up my network I said hey I’m back. Called up Michael Chain you know who who was the the cork dev champion for the acquisition ofli nation to become an eac capital games and I called up my little co-founder they all said. Yes let’s do it and so we went out to the market in March ah in in February to raise a seed round. I didn’t know how much money we’re going to need at the time and I didn’t even know what type of game we’re going to make other than it was going to be another collectibles and com at rpg game and through a two week process we received 4 preemptive offers um of about 15000000 and so we closed the seed round in April with Andreessen Horowitz um led by John Lai and Ariaa Simpson and with nx co-leading with Levi Gigi Weiss and so
Mark Otero: Begin bringing back the team we’re about 30 something people by the time we get to about August the November timeframe you know at a board meeting. We provided an update on the progress of the team and the product I was asked to provide an operational update to Andresen Horowitz I thought it was just gonna be 3 or 4 people. And in that operational. Update I was going to provide an abridged version of a master class in rpg game design little did I know 26 people from Andresen Horowitz showed up including Ben Horowitz and Chris Dixon and it was a ambush. Ah, we had no warning and worse I was 15 minutes late which I’m never late to these pitches because it was a car accident that derailed in front of me and I was stuck in traffic and of course that just sounds like the dog at your homework bullshit and so I’m going up the elevator I don’t realize there’s now over 30 something people on this line. 20 something people Fromreessen Horowitz 6 people from my team I finally log in and I see all these faces and I go holy shit that I just fuck up and so I go into an operational update I go into what’s called Professor Mark Mode where I go into teach mode about the psychology of gaming how to construct games. To think about every single game system and what purpose they serve and where you should innovate and where you don’t have to innovate as much an hour after that call I received a call I will say which partner goes Mark that was the worst meeting I’ve ever come to. However, you recovered.
Mark Otero: And hour later they offered to to double down on us with an extra 10000000 and so the total seed in the seed plus round was $25000000 led by Ariana Simpson and John Lai um with pro rata participation from the followers. And so moving to the present date. Um, we’re going to announce the name of our game. It’s it’s a very important game to me because I I feel and I sense in this modern society here in the west especially within the us. Things feel like it’s kind of broken and people seem to be more divided than they’ve ever been before and there appears to be a level of corruption that have become so socialized. It’s it’s you know it’s rubbed right in our faces and so in other words. We decide to use that as inspiration and create a game experience. An rpg game experience where it’s a mirror image of our current times set in a dark fantasy universe and so that as you’re playing our game. You’re going to feel like you are empowered to fix the things that you see broken in our world. So it lights your soul and that in your real life. You feel like you have taken control and you feel empowered because our game is facilitating.
Mark Otero: These challenges that we all see that’s happening around us and so we’re going to announce my ninth collectibles a come rpg game in February at a gaming convention called dice in Las Vegas
Alejandro Cremades: That’s pretty amazing now for the people that are listening to really get this one so for asra games I mean obviously you guys have raised money from really incredible people and ultimately they invest in in in future imposibility in Visionion. You know, obviously vision is what is going to get people enrolled whether it is you know, ah investors employees I guess with that in mind if you were to go to sleep tonight Mark and you wake up in a world where the vision of asra games is fully realized. What does that world look like.
Mark Otero: That world looks like to me a lot happier people here in the Western markets where people are not as disenfranchised to what they see. Every day and experience where they have a software and entertaining software where they feel validated and they feel better about themselves and so the cause for our game is really to empower people. To lead the type of change that they want to see in their real physical life and to and to open their eyes to to knowing that we see you we feel you and we’re going to provide. Entertaining piece of software a world that validates what you see and to give you the power and the courage to lead the type of changes you want to see in your real life.. That’s very important to us very very important to us. And so empowering mankind to take action and to feel empowered.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now we’re talking about the future here. So I want to talk about the past but doing so with a lens of reflection. Let’s say I was to put you now into a time machine and I bring you back in time you know perhaps to that moment where now you were really you know coming out of the. Yogurt shop and you were wondering you know in around 2008 you know what what? What could you do around games and and obviously eventually you know like it would e evolve into a company but let’s say you had the opportunity of having a sit down with your younger self. Maybe even before that at the moment where you were giving the notice from. The asset manager that you are working at and let’s say you are right there standing at the at the front you know door of the place. You know, right? seeing your younger self coming out of the door and entering what will become the venture world. You know, let’s say you were able to stop that younger self on the tracks. And give that younger mark 1 piece of our device before launching a business. What would that be ny given what you know now.
Mark Otero: Mark you’re gonna be okay, that’s it. You’re going to be okay and to trust yourself and your instincts that’s it. That’s all I would say and.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that.
Mark Otero: And I think about that a lot in terms of the challenges that not just myself but all entrepreneurs have to overcome you know because at the end of the day if you don’t believe in yourself. Why should anybody believe in you and. My early childhood experience was very formidable and it made me investigate. You know human instincts at a very primal level at an accelerated rate at a young age. And so I became very sensitive to the psychology of these needs as a way of therapy for myself and it just so happens. There’s a lot of us here who need that therapy and what better way to do it in a through than through a game. Where it’s not intimidating where you can play at your own pace and you’re feeling a level of control and competency and needs satisfied and validated and so for me making games is very personal I put everything. Of myself into the game and the people that I work with like Justin Jones who was the 0 to 1 late lead game designer star wars the last game and John Mots who was a development director and Nathan Fong and Li Tran and Stephen Kdani and all these wonderful people that were.
Mark Otero: We’re back together again is we all share this common purpose that we’re here for a greater cause for mankind and we believe that in our soul and so that belief system then permeates throughout the company. And it gives us purpose to put in our best work and we put ourselves into the game and the best art is when you put yourself into it and so that’s how I see these games they are. They are a literal interface. Ah, software interface to the human mind where we facilitate and engage your primal human instincts to the highest level and when I say engage we facilitate over a period of time to help you experience these things to feel validated.
Mark Otero: Entertained and that’s what fun is.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s incredible Mark. So for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Mark Otero: Mark at ozragames.com
Alejandro Cremades: Wow, easy enough. Well hey Mark it has been such an honor to have you with us on the deal maker show today. Thank you so much.
Mark Otero: Alandra. Thank you so much for for making the time to to have this conversation. It was an honor.
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