Navigating the Realities of Establishing a Gaming Studio
For this month’s blog post, we wanted to once again talk to our founders and bring a rare perspective from behind the scenes and answer some tough questions we often hear from industry peers and would-be founders looking to start their first startup in gaming.
Getting the Ball Rolling
Rony: What made you decide to start a gaming studio?
Dogan: We wanted to create a game, we believe that this is one of the most unique entertainment approaches, it’s beyond tech and art. You create an experience that people can influence, is among the most engaging forms of content, and they can simply live in it. It has been interesting to me since childhood as an art form and a technological product. It comes down to building a dream and mixing art and technology to create a unique experience.
Anas: Games are a fantastic communication tool and a significant art form that enriches people's lives. As a kid, I would play games and always ask myself how a system could be better; this birthed in me the desire to build and create games, leading me to the AAA industry. In it, I quickly understood that I’m a small part of a big machine, and I felt that I wanted to be a big part of an experience we’re crafting, which led me to join Dogan and start Elyzio.
Rony: How did you guys choose each other as a co-founder?
Dogan: Anas and I have different and unique backgrounds. I come from a mobile development background, and Anas has a strong AAA and mainline platforms background. Combining our skill sets was a solid basis to start a company and deliver a unique product. We both agreed early on that it is not just about the product but about our relationship, almost like a marriage. We spend so much time together during this journey that having anything different from a close relationship will become challenging. We experienced a lot of highs and lows together and have come to trust each other’s approach to dealing with these situations, which we understood is critical to the success of a startup.
Anas: From the get-go, it felt like Dogan and I have a solid mutual understanding and complementary skill sets. We’re both understanding and aligned with each other’s values and approach to running a company and our business goals.
Q: What did the first months look like for you, and what was the most challenging moment?
Anas: There have been a lot of “initial steps” after deciding to do this together; we spent a lot of time profoundly analyzing our combined skill sets, goals, dreams, and how we want to approach the company. We then decided to go with a VC-backed approach, which was a tough decision as it created a lot of work and challenges we didn’t anticipate beforehand. When we started fund-raising, it was pretty stressful as we felt the clock was ticking for us, but thankfully, we raised on time and could get to work. The trickiest part was after the raise; you’re hit with the responsibility to prove not only to yourself but to your backers as well; there’s no room for mistakes, and we had to understand that we were stepping into a chaotic world of game development that’s entirely under our supervision, control, and leadership.
Being a team from the get-go and going into this together, I always knew that when one of us was at a low point, the other would be there to back him up, and thus, we were more flexible and more robust in the face of sometimes very challenging odds.
Dogan: We were lucky to raise based on a deck and a dream at full survival mode, but after the investment, we had to build a company. We had to go beyond the product, address culture, hiring, and operations, and juggle so many subjects that aren’t the actual product. At times, most of our time was spent on everything that wasn’t the game.
Life as a Founder
Rony: What has changed in your daily life since becoming a founder?
Anas: The most significant change after becoming a founder is the loss of time. There’s no time anymore, which isn’t all bad but is challenging. For me, it required removing many distractions like social media and sometimes unessential social interactions and shifting my core focus to the company as well as reminding myself and Dogan to focus on ourselves, which can be overseen at times. So you have to make sacrifices but also focus on yourselves, your productivity, and your personal lives. We’re more focused on our nutrition, exercising, and ability to operate at our best, which has strongly influenced our lives. As a founder, you have no excuses; there’s a fund, a team, and a goal - you must keep yourself up to speed and at peak performance all the time. I feel like I’ve been getting closer and closer to the best version of myself along the journey as a founder.
Dogan: It was pretty similar for me. Before Elyzio, I worked at a big tech company. There were many people, and while it was comfortable and I engaged with meaningful projects - there was a distinction between work and life. As a founder, you make significant, potentially life-changing choices daily. You may find yourself deciding how to manage the millions of funds you just raised, only to have the next decision be about tech support for the one computer that stopped working. An excellent analogy for the change is that when you are working as a hire, there’s a guy who will come to fix your computer - As a founder, you have to be the guy to fix all the computers.
Rony: Do you feel starting a company impacted the people around you?
Dogan: In both good and challenging ways, the good - quitting the company and founding Elyzio inspired some friends to see that there are other paths besides working a lifelong job at a company. I get calls from friends asking about the decision itself and what different ways are there. The challenging courses are more related to my relatives. It always feels like there isn’t enough time for family - but this pushes for even better time management, and eventually, things start to click.
Anas: My family and close friends see me as a crazy person for leaving my position at Ubisoft, to the point of not understanding what I am even doing at first. But after the raise, people started to both believe and get inspired, only to once again see the challenges after seeing the working hours and sacrifices that needed to be made. So, while some friends were motivated to start a new project or side gig, most have decided it’s not for them.
Rony: I know you guys are big gamers. How do you find time to play games while running a company?
Anas: First, buying a handheld has been meaningful as I can now play in more locations and at more times. I choose my games wisely and only if they benefit the company from a research standpoint. So, I play primarily indie games now in search of innovation. I also removed all lengthy games, no more 100-hour titles, MMOs, or heavy skill-based multiplayer games. And rarely, we have to force ourselves to play games we don’t like to keep up with trends and innovations.
Dogan: I’ve become a more casual player and can't always dedicate lengthy periods to one game. Instead, I try to squeeze some gameplay in 20-30 minute breaks I have in my schedule to make sure I do the most effective and analytical playthrough possible. Also, many of our employees are hardcore gamers who play a lot and bring their insights and experiences to our daily talks. I also find it very important to dedicate time to genres that aren’t directly related to the game you develop, as it can help you understand player mindsets better and loop back to improving your own game with systems or approaches you haven’t thought of before.
Anas: And indie games are beneficial to understanding scope and prioritization. Scope creep can be a big challenge, and playing indie games allows us to see the more important features and values to prioritize over flair that might not add much but will require a lot of time.
All About the Mindset
Rony: How did having a VC backing you impact your company besides capital?
Dogan: When we started a company, we knew that this wasn’t just a project; it was a company that would require resources and expertise we don’t necessarily have. Going with a VC, we knew we could get someone to brainstorm with, strategize with, help with connections, and have an extensive support system to back us during this journey. Having VCs was and is a massive help for us; we have tried to choose different VCs with different expertise and points of view to get as much value as possible from having these partners.
Anas: VCs, especially ones that are specialized in specific fields, can provide a lot of insight and support that’s very relevant. For example, a few weeks ago, we were connected to another founder with a full remote ~100-person company to learn about better remote management. Additionally, VCs hold us accountable for our progress and management of the company. It keeps us focused and efficient.
Q: What’s your long-term vision for the company, and how does it impact your day-to-day decisions early into its lifetime? Dogan: Elyzio aspires to be a top-tier game content company, blending quality, agility, and innovative design to introduce fresh gameplay experiences.
From the get-go, it became evident that this journey wasn't just about creating a singular game but laying a robust foundation that could accelerate future creations. We needed a solid foundation for faster, quality-driven game development in the future, even with small teams. This led us to prioritize building a strong tech backbone and streamlining our production process. We empowered our teams to harness emerging technologies, like AI, to augment their productivity, establishing a harmonious rhythm in our game-creation process.
We viewed our early efforts as long-term investments, ensuring our first game paved the way for many more standout titles.
Elyzio is a game development studio based in Turkey and Dubai developing a roguelike action game, Warden’s Will. You can check out a sneak peek of it here: