Ultimate Bootstrapping: Office-squatting for 82 Sundays

Small startup Rikai Games - the team of five builds games on Sundays. During work week all five earn salaries at day-jobs and then focuses on gaming development every Sunday. Their first game Bit by Bit, which launched last month, took 82 Sundays to develop. 

The only funding so far, a 8300 euro grant from startup prototyping fund, Prototron, was spent on licences of Unity Pro. Fixed costs are kept at zero - so the focus can be fully on building games. "We are squatting at co-founders offices. This is the ultimate bootstrapping,” chief executive Kaspar Roost, told Hybe in an interview.

Bit by Bit
Bit by Bit. Photo: From file

In their offices the team has revised early stage coding lessons for kids after they saw the problem - children of ages below 10 were taught coding with tools which were clearly for older pupils. “It's not the time to teach kids to code - it's the time to prepare them for that,” Roost said, "Bit by Bit is more of a game than a tool." So to make the game as useful as possible the team separated teaching logic - how things work, and syntax - exact words and commands. “Only logic stayed in the game. There is not a single word,” Roost said.

By summer 2014 the team had a working prototype and took it to schools where several hundred pupils played it and gave feedback — allowing the developers to smoothen the game balancing to generate flow; the state where kids adopt fast and they are extremely concentrated, so it’s hard to get them out of the game. The same so-called flow state of mind allows commercial hit games to lock people in for hours and days, spend money on add-on features and lock themselves out of the society around them.

With their next projects Rikai will move to more commercial games. Roost says the other four members of the team are passionate gamers themselves. "They want to make really cool games and my job is to remind them that we have to also make money. It’s hard to have a business model for educational game, but the whole game studio should have a business model."

Last Sunday the team was squatting again - polishing versions of Bit by Bit for Estonian schools.