Co-founder and CEO Katherine de Leon talks with GameDaily about the company's commitment to diversity and why the strategy genre is the right fit for the team.
This week, new remote-first development studio Drop Fake announced the closure of a $9 million seed funding round led by March Gaming, with contributions from FunPlus Ventures, CoutsideVC, 1Up Ventures, and more. The investment money will go towards the studio’s first game, which is an unannounced multiplayer, cross-platform 4X strategy title for mobile and PC.
Founded earlier this year, Drop Fake is led by CEO Katherine de León, a former VP at Electronic Arts. She established the studio with the goal of “fostering a diverse team and developing games for a diverse world,” according to an announcement. It’s a tenet baked into the business philosophy of the company, and one that de León said drives the team’s approach to video game development.
“Our company values have been shaped by the fact that over 50% of our staff are from underrepresented groups,” she told GameDaily. “Values like remote-first, quantitative culture, openness, supporting employee side hustles, and stock options for all are examples of how we’re building Drop Fake’s culture. These aren’t just benevolent ideals; they are also good business decisions.”
De León pointed to Drop Fake’s remote-first working policy as a good way to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the greater games industry. She explained that the company will never have to ask prospective employees to uproot themselves and their families in order to work. More importantly, those for whom moving is simply not a possibility are not immediately disregarded for potential employment.
Of course, there are plenty of business benefits to such a policy as well:
“Remote-first also means we can recruit the best talent from anywhere in the world,” de León said.
Historically, diversity is something that the games industry has struggled with: in the IGDA’s most recent Developer Satisfaction Survey, 81% of respondents identified as white, and 71% identified as male. These statistics paint a rather homogeneous picture of the business, which results in a gaming landscape in desperate need of variety, de León said.
“Games look like their makers,” she explained. “If you want to make games for a diverse and global audience, you must start by building a diverse and global team.”
De León noted that while some progress has been made regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry, it has mostly been limited to the policy level, such as companies hiring DEI leads to audit a company’s efforts. However, true change occurs when people from underrepresented backgrounds start occupying leadership roles.
“There are precious few women, people of color, and queer leaders in highly visible positions,” de León said. “I am grateful to see more gaming companies and venture firms making explicit commitments to building and supporting diverse teams.”
In preparing for her new role as CEO of a development studio, de León said that she leaned on the example set by her mother, who returned to work when de León was only two months old.
“Being raised in childcare centers resulted in a lifelong passion for curating people, and the single most important thing I’ve done to date is curate this founding team,” she said.
From EverQuest, Skate, Command & Conquer and more, every one of Drop Fake’s nine co-founders has been a part of a $1 billion-plus title. They also share the values and ideals necessary to building an inclusive business.
“They chose me to lead Drop Fake because I am committed to innovation and values-led development,” de León explained. “We don’t need to choose between doing the ethically virtuous thing and building a commercially exceptional business. We want to do both.”
It’s a philosophy exemplified by the name of the studio: de León wants to drop the facade of the corporate view of game development in favor of authentic, passionate products built on a foundation of diversity and inclusiveness.
To that end, the 4X strategy genre felt like the right fit for the Drop Fake team thanks to its open-ended nature and the organic development of player-driven narrative throughlines in any given match. For this reason, the genre is one where any player can see themselves reflected through their choices. Of course, there are a number of gameplay considerations the team is making as well.
“Multiplayer 4X strategy games are characterized by extraordinary human drama in the metagame, but they are too light on tactical gameplay,” de León said. “We raised this seed round to do two things: build a live service framework to support the social meta, and prototype to develop a super fun tactical gameplay toy.”
Drop Fake doesn’t have any concrete details to share just yet, but de León said that multiplayer 4X games showcase some of the industry’s most meaningful and sophisticated social interaction. The hope is to facilitate such interaction and expand it for a greater audience. At the same time, the strategy genre has been booming in recent years, presenting an attractive business opportunity for a new studio.
“4X is growing year-over-year on mobile but still relatively sparse on PC, opening up cross-platform,” de León said. “Gameplay is also innovating and evolving with every new title. It’s an exciting and complex space. We want the challenge.”
She also noted that now is a good time for new developers to seek funding from venture capitalists, and hopes that Drop Fake can serve as inspiration for other small upstarts to seek out investors.
“We hope our seed round will inspire more game makers to fundraise. With unprecedented consolidation of the games industry, there is no better time to raise money, and we need competition now more than ever.”
In all, de León’s vision for Drop Fake is certainly ambitious, but there’s no denying the pedigree of the team. De León herself spent two-and-a-half years as a vice president at EA leading the mobile, RPG, strategy, and sports efforts. Before that she was a general manager at mobile powerhouse Zynga where she oversaw the strategy and RPG segments. Given such a background, it makes a lot of sense that Drop Fake would debut with a mobile 4X strategy title. Moving forward, it will be interesting to track Drop Fake’s progress as it begins development.
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