“In Machinations you can push a button and get an instant result of the future,” says in his pitch, during the Startup Spotlight Finals in Bucharest Mihai Gheza, the CEO of Machinations. Ideated in 2014 and officially launched in fall 2018, the company has developed a platform that can design, balance and forecast game economies. Initially developed by Ph.D. researcher Joris Dormans from the University of Amsterdam, Machinations seems to be on its way to disrupt the game design process and its monetization model, and even create a new profession within the game dev industry.
And this was enough for the jury of Startup Spotlight, the startup pitching track of the largest digital business conference in Romania – How To Web, to grant the company the big award. Machinations was selected among dozens of applicants, and close to 20 semifinalists, to receive the €125K award of the contest. The Romanian business angels network TechAngels and newly launched private VC fund ROCA provide €50k of investment each, and the rest €25k is a no-strings-attached prize.
How Machinations is changing the industry
Machinations says they are building the first dedicated tool for game designers. The team comes from a game design background, having worked over ten years for some of the biggest studios in the world, and facing the same challenges. In order to get their work done designers need to use a set of software products – from static spreadsheets to game design documents (GDD, kind of a more advanced and adjusted to the needs a Google drive doc – ed. n.) to diagrams and scripts. And according to Gheza this makes the whole process so complex.
“We’ve heard people from studios telling us that they sometimes walk out of meetings with completely different games in mind. There are three reasons for this. One: it’s very hard to communicate this complexity. Two: it’s even harder to visualize it. Three: It’s almost impossible to determine the outcome of a chaotic system,” explains Gheza. Looking for a solution, Gheza and his team stumbled across academic research on the matter developed by Joris Dormans. As they started using it, they realized that under the radar there was already a community of designers applying it. So they proceeded further and turned this into a company. Teaming up with Dormans, the Machinations incorporated a company in Luxemburg, went through an acceleration program, there called Fit4Start, and got funded by Seedcamp earlier this year.
What is Machinations actually doing? Through a very visual and in a way drag and drop system they allow the game designer to architect different scenarios of the outcomes a gamer would have while playing a certain game. On the push of a button, the system can generate a heatmap of potential outcomes from thousands of games played by thousands of gamers and let creators know what impact a specific design will have on the revenue of the studio.
So far, the company already has 8k registered game dev professionals, without spending a single euro on advertising and marketing. But what’s even more bullish is the fact that originally coming out of academical research, the system is already being taught in over 50 universities like Cornell University, or Columbia University. “This is a whole generation of game designers coming out of school, speaking the language and using the tool,” Gheza adds.
And even though coming from academia, the system is available for anyone to use it in an academic and research context, Machinations is the only company that can use this language for commercial purposes. The team is approaching a $140b industry, hoping to find its way there and it seems that the Romanian VC and angels ecosystem believes in their success.
“This tool will allow studios to optimize games while they are played. And we expect this to have the same impact on the gaming industry, what high-frequency trading did to the stock markets. So professionals will be able to control a machine to deliver a never before seen games and experiences, instead of taking a gut feeling and semi-informed decisions,” concludes Gheza.
Last, but not least, the system could be used in any other system with chaotic processes that could be simulated like logistics, aviation, energy, etc.
The other winners
Besides the big winner Machinations, the jury of Startup Spotlight selected two more companies. The best innovation award went to Neurolabs, a company that does automation through machine vision, targeting visual tasks currently performed by humans, such as checkouts in canteens, quality control in manufacturing or shelf monitoring.
The gamified job platform Jobful received the best pitch award. The recruiting platform empowers young professionals for career development and supporting recruiters for efficient sourcing through a gamified online experience.