by Andrea JudyWith a business plan in hand, longtime gamers Kynton Stephens and Austin Mandus are achieving their dream of creating a video game through Spray ‘N Pray, a studio created by Stephens. Stephens, a current film student at Georgia State University (GSU), and Mandus, a Robinson alumnus who majored in finance and marketing, are working together with a team to bring their vision to reality.
Stephens created the story that would ultimately become the game, RAVEN, and after being introduced to Mandus, the two began working together. “I think my first question to Kynton was what’s your business plan?” Mandus said. “He responded, ‘Uh…’ and so I took over that.”
“He makes the money decisions,” Stephens agreed. “All the major business decisions that have to deal with money go through Austin. I have the best understanding of game development, and he has the best understanding of business, so we work together.”
“We’re a partnership. He trusts my judgment,” Mandus said. “You have to look at it like a business. We have a lot of incredible ideas but sometimes you look at something and say, whoa let’s take a step back. Is this even possible?”
Balancing the creative and the business is just one challenge of a game studio, but both Stephens and Mandus agree the hardest part of the process has been getting started. “The studio struggled through the first year; we had to work hard to get the right people on board. Georgia State really gave us roots and support. It’s given us what we needed to thrive. Georgia State has helped us become the game developers of tomorrow,” Stephens said. Roughly 80 percent of the talent supporting the game came from Georgia State University.
It was a chance for extra credit in a GSU class that led Stephens to apply to Student Startup Madness (SSM), a tournament-style competition for college student digital-media startups. After several rounds of review and elimination of applications, Spray ‘N Pray was selected as one of the 2014-2015 Entrepreneurial Eight Finalists for the Student Startup Madness tournament at South By Southwest Interactive. On March 16, they pitched their concept in front of a panel of successful entrepreneurs and investors from Google, Samsung, Dell and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
While the studio ultimately didn’t win, it gave them a chance to network with leaders from across the country, and to meet with big personalities in the gaming community. “One of the most important things to remember is that you’re a part of the community,” Mandus said. “You have to remember that or else you start losing the heart of the game. We will always be gamers.”
Georgia has become a hot bed for new media activity. Movie studios are filming frequently in and around Atlanta, and video game studios are starting to take notice and set up shop.
Already the economic impact of the video game industry in Georgia reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars. White Knuckle Games, TripWire Entertainment, Eyes Wide Games, Hi-Rez Studios and BBMF-Americas are all based in Atlanta or an Atlanta suburb. Even the local government recognizes the economic impact, and house Bill 339 was recently extended to allow tax credits through 2018 for film, video, and digital production.
Spray ‘N Pray’s game, RAVEN, is the first installment of an episodic series of science fiction narratives. It’s an adventure in space set 700 years from now on a far-flung human colony under siege from an alien invasion. The player’s choices in the games will have an impact on the story itself, changing how much other characters trust the player, and even what civilians think and do. With a planned release for fall 2015, RAVEN might just be one of the most innovative games put out by a small studio.Follow RAVEN on Facebook