Theorycraft Games' CEO and co-founder Joe Tung told us about the studio's upcoming team-based, competitive PvP game codenamed Loki and approach to its creation and shared how Theorycraft managed to raise $50 million during a shift in the macro environment.
In September, Theorycraft Games, a new indie studio comprised of game developers who worked on many major titles, including League of Legends, VALORANT, Halo, Overwatch, and Destiny, announced they raised $50 million in a funding round. At the time, the team noted that it plans to use the funding to ramp up development and talent acquisition for its debut project, a MOBA-inspired team-based, competitive PvP game codenamed Loki.
We talked to Theorycraft's CEO and co-founder Joe Tung to ask him about the upcoming title and tools and technologies used to build the game as well as learn how the team managed to raise the money during times of economic and market uncertainty and what approach they use to create games that would be commercially successful.
Joe Tung, CEO and co-founder of Theorycraft Games
Hi, I’m Joe, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Theorycraft Games. Before Theorycraft, I led League of Legends at Riot Games, and before that, I was the Executive Producer for Halo and Destiny at Bungie.
After many years leading large teams and some of the most successful game franchises in the world, in 2020 I took a step back and decided I wanted to try to build something from scratch. I wanted to get back to working at a smaller scale, where you can be 100% focused on the game, where you can move quickly with minimal bureaucracy, where you can be super selective and really prioritize the talent density of the team.
Not long after I started down this path, it became abundantly clear that there were many others out there who wanted the same thing: ambitious, hungry developers who wanted more impact, more focus on games, a faster pace, and to be surrounded by the highest caliber talent in the industry.
To date, I’m most proud of the team we’ve built at Theorycraft – developers who were central to many of the world’s biggest games and IPs. This includes people like:
- Michael Evans – former tech director of VALORANT, Overwatch, and Halo;
- Areeb Pirani – former monetization lead of League of Legends;
- Jessica Nam – former executive producer of League of Legends;
- Jon Belliss – former game director of League of Legends;
- Josh Smith – former character art director of VALORANT;
- Moby Francke – former art director of Team Fortress 2, DotA 2, League of Legends, and VALORANT;
- Andrew Yip – former game director of Legends of Runeterra;
- Brian Bossé – former tech lead of League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics;
- Renaud Galand, Dylan Jones, Jesse Davis, and Matt Taylor – all of whom played key roles in bringing to life the characters of Overwatch.
The $50 Million Raise in Funding
It was an interesting time for fundraising, for sure! We definitely felt a shift in the macro environment happening during our process, but we were grateful and humbled to gain the confidence of an incredible group of partners in spite of that.
We raised $50 million in Series B funding, led by Makers Fund with participation from NEA, a16z, and others. These partners believe in our vision and we’ll be using this investment to continue building out the team and making deep, 10,000-hour games. We get to remain super independent and hyper-focused on shipping our first game, codenamed Loki, to the world as quickly as possible.
We’re not yet ready to speak about the game in detail, but our studio’s mission is to "make deep, 10,000-hour games that are just better when played with friends," so of course that applies fully to Loki. We think about making games from the perspective of serving human needs – with an emphasis on mastery and social – this keeps us pointed in the right direction and relatively immune to trends of the moment.
And of course, if you think about our team’s pedigree – working on previous titles like League of Legends, Overwatch, Halo, and VALORANT – obviously we have a lot of rich experience to draw on for Loki.
To that end, what I can say is that Loki is a competitive, team-based game of adventure, creative strategy, and high-stakes combat.
Tools Used in the Development of Loki
While developing Loki, our focus is on the parts of the game where we add the most value for players. We are working with several great partners. Some of the largest are Epic Games (Unreal Engine), AccelByte, Unity (Vivox), and Amazon (AWS). We are comfortable adapting and enhancing these offerings as needed.
Theorycraft's Approach to Creating Games
I don’t think gamers care very much about talent density, pedigree, or past successes – they only want to know if your game is any good. And it’s an all-out war for attention out there. Breaking through the noise and getting players to pay attention definitely keeps us up at night.
The world has also changed a lot when it comes to reaching an audience. The playbook that worked 5 years ago probably needs a lot of updating today.
Fundamentally, we believe in making a great game first – you can’t build anything else without that. But we also have a novel approach to community building in that we’ve been building our community from day 1 – we’ve let them play the build when it was full of junk, we listen to their feedback, and they help us make the game better. We have community members who’ve been playing Loki for over a year already! I’m incredibly grateful for them – they’ve had a tremendous influence on our game and our company.
As for when we get closer to launch, I think we’ll maintain much of this same philosophy by staying focused on making a great game and ensuring we authentically connect with as many players as possible. Marketing growth hacks can help us get spikes of awareness but to build something worthwhile of players’ time means always thinking about what keeps them engaged and connected.
Being a Fully Remote Studio
Somewhat organically, we've ended up as a fully remote studio with people all over North America, and a few based internationally. Although there have been tradeoffs, overall this has been great for us. I think it has been key in letting people live their best lives and do the best work of their careers. For people, a huge benefit of remote work is being able to organize work around your life versus the other way around. For the company, being able to work with the best talent all over the world is incredibly exciting.
For us though, this has meant growing very thoughtfully and biasing heavily toward senior talent. This aligns with our overall talent strategy (high talent density, incredible freedom, and responsibility) anyway, so it's great for us but might be different for others.
It also means really investing in stuff that you lose by being remote. For example, we invest in getting the whole team together in-person several times a year, just to spend time together and build relationships.
Finally, we know that a new working style will always bring unforeseen challenges; by bear-hugging remote work and talking candidly about our problems, we’re confident we can be even more effective than even when we’ve been in offices.
We have no concrete plans to announce as of yet – we’re still iterating on the game with our community, and we’ll release it when we’re ready! If anyone is interested in joining us on our development journey; if you’re a fan of team-based competitive games and want to see something fresh, we’d love to have more playtesters sign up here.