For many DigiPen students, getting a job at a game company is the ultimate goal of their education. After four years of hard work and too many sleepless nights to count, students who find employment in the game industry can look forward to being part of a creative team whose projects may one day be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of players.
But Will Perone, a 2004 graduate of the RTIS program, realized early on in his career that it wasn’t enough to work at game companies: He wanted to start them.
From an early age, Perone knew that he wanted to work in the game industry. “I started programming games way back in 1992 when I was 11,” he says. “I was playing Atari and NES games, and I was like ‘I want to make these!’ But everybody thought I was crazy, like ‘There’s no career in that. I don’t know anybody that makes games! Just some crazy Japanese people somewhere.’”
Thankfully, Perone persisted. “I just kept doing it,” he says. “In ‘95 I taught myself C. Then in ‘97 I taught myself assembly. And in ‘99 I went off to college.”
Perone began his studies at what he calls “your standard university – I was just like ‘I’ll get a CS degree!’ because I didn’t think the a place like DigiPen existed.” Then, midway through his freshman year, he heard about DigiPen through a forum post. “I checked it out, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what I want to do. What am I doing wasting my time at this other college?’ So I applied to DigiPen and got in.”
The difference was night and day. “I thought college was difficult when I went to it,” Perone says, “but then I went to DigiPen and it was like, ‘Wow, college is actually trivial.’” But along with the increase in difficulty, Perone discovered new opportunities for growth. “It was just way, way, way more difficult than going to normal college, but you get so much more out of it if you actually apply yourself, and I really thrived in that kind of challenging environment.”
While Perone had plenty of experience with game development, there was one technique that continued to elude him: “I could never wrap my mind around how to make a 3D game,” he says. “I made plenty of 2D side-scrollers, top-down RPGs, space shooters – all kinds of different games – but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to do the math for a 3D game.” Not surprisingly, he found his coursework in 3D graphics the most valuable during his time at DigiPen. “Coming out of the RTIS program and understanding the whole background and actually being able to do it put me way ahead of all of my colleagues starting out from scratch.”
Perone’s first job after graduating was at San Francisco-based Glu Mobile, where he quickly made a name for himself as a highly capable software engineer. “I came into Glu Mobile in ‘05, and I pitched to them the idea of making a 3D cell phone game,” he says. “We had gotten the IP for Deerhunter, and I was able to not only propose and design out this 3D game where you walk through the world and hunt deer, but actually make it, on a cell phone, in 2005.”
A couple years later, Perone left Glu to join his first start-up, a 3D social network/geo-location service called Loopt. “I was one of their first employees,” Perone says, “so since I was one of their first employees, I wrote a lot of the code for their service.” But while he wasn’t creating the technology behind Loopt, Perone was learning everything he could about how to form a company. And in 2008, he got to put that knowledge into practice by starting his first company, an online gaming portal called Andrograde.
Since then, Perone has helped start a number of Silicon Valley-based gaming companies, including RubyCoins (acquired by PayPal), Funzio (acquired by Gree), and KIXEYE. And as the list of companies he’s founded has grown, so has Perone himself. “Originally, I became an entrepreneur because I just didn’t want to work for somebody else,” he says. “I just wanted to make a game that I could call my own and not have to report to anybody. But over time you come to realize that there’s a lot of other factors about being an entrepreneur that are really appealing. It’s exciting being able to have an open-ended career where you choose it for yourself rather than have a certain set path. When you’re an entrepreneur, everything is open to you.”
Perone is quick to emphasize that the path he’s taken is not for everyone. “If you are really motivated, really dedicated and passionate about something, and also willing to work your ass off and get very stressed out and not sleep, at the potential gain of becoming rich and famous, then starting a company is for you,” he says. “But if you want more stability in your life – if you want to grow and be successful over time, then working at a company is the way to go.”
And for future DigiPen graduates who decide to go the “employee” route, Perone has one last piece of advice: relax. Believe it or not, he says, “working at a job was way easier than going to DigiPen!”