This is how we started

 

I'm Molly, one of the founders of Kavalri Games. We're the team making Equestrian the Horse Game, and in this blog post I'd like to share with you the journey of starting a game studio that's all about making horse games.

Some background then. First off - yes, I do love horses, I've been riding all my life, and I spent a lot of time on equestrian forums, playing horse games and of course in the stables. I studied art, literature, and writing, and I took a bachelor in game development at Stockholm University. All the while - like so many others - not quite sure about what to do next. I assumed my best chance at landing a job in the games industry right after university, was getting a spot as a 3D artist. While I love making 3D graphics, I didn't really feel thrilled about spending 8 hours a day creating graphics for someone else's game. Most likely, for a game that I didn't feel all that connected to or excited about. I imagined years and years of creating crates and other props before I could finally do something I was genuinely excited about - like designing and creating characters. But even so, I'd be doing the work of someone else, thus losing some of the inspiration.

I was in a position of not really wanting to apply for most of the jobs out there - but at the same time, I felt like I had to. After all, I'd spent three years studying and starting to apply for jobs in the industry felt like the obvious thing to do. It was either that, or commit to two more years of studies.

I ended up not applying for a single position at a game studio. I looked around a lot, but not many opportunities really felt right for me (I did apply for an internship at Star Stable during my education and had I gotten it, it's quite likely I'd be working there now). At the time, I had met Axl, my co-founder who was kind of in the same position as I. I could talk forever about starting a business with your partner, but I'll save it for another time. The important part is that neither of us knew what to do, but we both were confident we couldn't stand working a regular 9 to 5 at someplace we weren't really passionate about. I think the only important part for me was to do something of my own choosing. I'd gladly take an "easy" job, just to get to do my own stuff in my spare time - make my own games, write my own book or whatever I wanted to do.

Because there were indeed things that I was indeed, very passionate about. For some years I had had this lingering idea of a game, a really dreamy game for me, and I had toyed with the thought of creating it. It was the ultimate horse game, the game I felt the industry had robbed me of, as a player. The blank space in the market of games that felt so weird, that for a time I just assumed that kind of game was a really stupid idea, even though I would've loved to play it.

When one of my friends from the university said: "we should make games together after uni!" I was like "fuck it", and I told him about my idea, the game that later would become Equestrian. I also told Axl about it, and as the two of them decided they wanted to be a part of making the game, no one could've been happier than me. Making a game about horses? That's like a dream coming true!

Starting your own game studio, three people straight from university with little more experience than one semester of internship and some freelancing work? Yes, it does sound shaky. When I met up with some industry people and told them I wanted to start my own studio, the response was like "yeah, who doesn't want that. But first, we have to get some years of working experience. Then you can start your own thing." I hoped that wasn't an ultimate truth, because I had my mind set on making this horse game, right now, and not in a few years.

At least it seemed like making a game to fill the weird, big, horse-shaped hole in the games market wasn't a stupid idea. We started our Instagram in November 2017, showing off some early concepts, and in just three months time we had 10 000 followers. Needless to say, people went crazy about our game, and it got pretty clear that I wasn't the only one who had dreamt about this game (that might seem pretty obvious now, but back then we weren't sure).

So we went for creating this horse game. Axl stepped in with his "Always be branding" state of mind, and quickly replaced my working title "Horse Trainer" with "Equestrian the Horse Game". Fonts were changed, color schemes set and post templates designed. We had a big vision and it was time to start acting like it.

From there we started thinking about the bigger picture. Sure, we had an idea for a game, we had a bunch of design hypotheses, and we began developing - but we didn't just want to make a game. We wanted to create for ourselves a game studio, a workplace. As I mentioned, we couldn't stand the thought of working for someone else, so we started building our own company. The game was, of course, a big part of it, but what about all the other stuff? How would we make money, and when, and how much? How big a team should we be, what was our plan for our company 10 years from now? And what should we even be called?

I think it's pretty standard for game developers who start their own business to only be thinking about the game, and the development of it. It figures because game developers are passionate about making games, not business development in general. All the other things are kind of set aside or not thought about, and if the game is successful, I guess they become more of an afterthought. We're not one of those developers. We're not the opposite either - it's not like we're all business and no game - but we started thinking about these things and develop them parallel to building the game. Again, we wanted to make this our jobs for several years forward, and the game is only one part of it. Running a startup of any kind is a ton of work, and making a game is too - so yes, we could definitely have chosen an easier challenge. Oh, and the name "Kavalri" came to be during a bus ride with Axl and me going home from the gym, and it stuck with us immediately (another option we had in mind was Giddy Up Games, but I always favored Kavalri).

I'm not getting into all the things that come with a startup, obviously. But granted, there are tons of things when running a game startup that is not making the game. And we knew we were inexperienced, young and most likely very naive. We knew from the start we wanted to get all the help we could; we wanted help building our company, but we still wanted to do it ourselves. If we didn't, we could've just taken a job at someone else's studio.

So when we had gotten a little way with the business development of our new business, we applied and were accepted into the Sting incubator here in Stockholm. We got a business coach, office space and much more. The incubator has helped us develop our company so much faster than it had otherwise, and I can't recommend it enough for any green entrepreneur out there. It was precisely the kind of help we needed.

Suddenly we had investor meetings on a regular basis, lots of connections from the industry and - and this still feels surreal to me sometimes - we had started to grow this network of people in the industry who were actually excited about our game, who approved it, sort of. We won a pitching competition because the people in the audience wanted us to and voted for us. Suddenly we'd started to get known to the gaming industry of Sweden and to me, personally, this is huge. I know every entrepreneur think of their startup as their very special baby, and I'm no exception. For me, this is so special because I know how excited our players are about our games, and I know just how neglected this audience has been by the gaming industry. Of course it lies close to my heart since I'm part of that demographic, so I can relate to them. So having become some sort of spokesperson of the horse people to the gaming industry, I'm thrilled about the positive support we've gotten so far. It seems like almost anyone I speak to realizes this is a game that should be made (sure, some think only of the financial potential, but that's fine too). And to me, bringing these games into the world is the craziest, funniest thing I could have ever gotten myself into. I couldn't be happier that I didn't do "the obvious thing" and applied for a job I didn't really want. So if there's supposed to be a nicely wrapped spiritual meaning here at the end, it's "do the thing you wanted to, even if it's stupid."

 
Molly EricsonComment