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Meta Games Makes a Small Pivot Toward a Larger Audience

Ryan Gilbrech said that around the same time that Meta Games got its second round of funding from the Bulldog Angel Network at the beginning of this year, they also started a slight pivot in the way they offer their PC-based fighting game, “Slayers for Hire.”

“At the time, it was kind of a weird crossroads because the support for the game was very niche. The people who we could get it in front of loved it. We had a one hundred percent review rating up to something like 80 reviews,” said Gilbrech, who is CEO of Meta Games. “But what we felt was that continuing on the path we were on was not quite novel enough.”

Ryan Gilbrech
Ryan Gilbrech, CEO of Meta Games

MetaGames initially set out to build a modern version of the one-on-one “fighting game.” (That genre is popular for competitive gaming, often referred to as e-sports.) Then called “Dragon Slayers,” the game helped Meta Games get its first raise from the Bulldog Angel Network (which focuses on early funding for companies that come out of Mississippi State University) and an award from the Mississippi Seed Fund, giving the company $250,000 for development in 2018.

With this year’s second round of angel investment—a little over $190,000—comes a pivot toward a larger, more commercial audience. First, the updated game offers new multiplayer and competitive gaming options, particularly a “Battle Royale” mode. Instead of being limited to standard head-to-head fights, in a Battle Royale, 16 gamers (and eventually more) can battle to be the last character standing in a given piece of virtual territory.

“Fortnite is extraordinarily popular, and it’s that style of ‘drop a whole bunch of players onto this big map’ game,” he said. “The map shrinks over time. You try to survive until you’re the last person or last team alive.”

Fortnite and similar multiplayer games are “first-person shooters,” so building a fighting game with these sort of “big map” gameplay options is a fresh twist. But, with those changes made, another challenge looms: How to get it to a massive audience.

The answer: Give it away for free.

“Especially in the PC market, the most popular and successful way [to grow your audience] is to make the game ‘free-to-play’,” Gilbrech said. Meta Games doesn’t intend to charge for “power-ups” or add-ons that affect gameplay. Instead, they plan to charge for aesthetic options that enable players to make their avatars their own.

“It’s like virtual fashion—and maybe it seems weird that people would buy it. Except that people always like customizing— personalizing—whatever they’re doing,” he said. “We don’t lock away gameplay by making people buy stuff; you just allow the game to actually be free. What you sell, then, are cosmetic [items] that people can buy.”

And that brings Gilbrech to the third big development for 2021: the Slayer. While all of their current gameplay characters in Slayers for Hire have a distinct look and backstory, the Slayer is considerably more customizable, allowing the human player to make all sorts of choices about their Slayer’s appearance and abilities. For a price, of course.

“The Slayer is a customizable, personalized avatar that you can play in the game, and then unlock more and more stuff for—that’s the overall premise.”

Meta Games has 11 people working feverishly to develop the game and bring all of these components together into a release that Gilbrech expects to go live this fall. The company has always been a virtual company, with remote workers from around the world. Gilbrech said that the pandemic didn’t change the way they work, although stay-at-home and shelter-in-place has been a boon for the casual gamer market.

Once released, the goal is to get as many people playing Slayers for Hire as possible. “We have ideas for marketing on Reddit, Twitter, TikTok, Youtube, Twitch… which we’ve got some experience with because we’ve already done Kickstarter and Steam launches,” Gilbrech said. “I’m really optimistic because it feels like all of the pieces are in place to make something that can go mainstream.”

So what does 2022 hold? “I mean, I think 2022 is the year of Meta Games,” he laughed.

“The thing that gives me the most hope is that—as a player myself—I have a ton of fun when I play it,” he said about Slayers for Hire. “I think that’s a very good sign.”