Sami Khan began his work in the startup world by marketing mobile-based investment services like Acorns.
Now the marketer who helped grow that business to a nearly $1 billion valuation is turning his attention to location-based gaming in the hopes that he can take on leading contender Niantic with a faster, more flexible and fan-driven approach to game development with his new startup, Cerberus Interactive.
Khan’s pitch is that he’s taking the skills he honed building up services like Acorns or the browser extension for bargain hunters, Honey, to game development to make games more viral from their inception.
“The biggest thing is how do you de-risk what is perceived as a hit-driven industry?,” Khan asks. “Games are closer to digital apps than back in the days of the console and companies should ship it like an e-commerce concept… If adoption of the game is going to be the decision factor of whether a game fails or succeeds… why isn’t the adoption of the game tested before the title is built or while the game is being conceived?”
So for his first foray into gaming, Khan is combining a crowdsourced approach to the development of the game and applying it to what many people think is gaming’s next big frontier — the location-based game phenomenon that hit its stride with Niantic’s Pokémon GO.
“Right now in location-based games you have the behemoth which is Niantic,” says Khan. “Right now the gaming industry looks at location-based games as its own sub genre. But when we look at location-based games, we believe that location-based games have an aspect that it is a game mechanic within other games.”
The first game that Cerberus is developing is a base-building simulator akin to a title like “Age of Empires,” but based on real-world locations. “Simulation games or casual games with location built in will have a bonus or an advantage over the stationary games that we play today,” says Khan.
The “Atlas Empires” title that Cerberus is currently developing is being made in concert with the gamers who might want to play it. So far, an undisclosed number of customers are already paying to have a say in certain aspects of the game’s development — kind of like a premier tier within a crowdfunding campaign.
Khan, a New Orleans native who splits his time between Los Angeles and Austin, has enlisted some marquee investors in his bid to challenge both the traditional ways in which games have been developed and the current industry leader.
Strategic investor MobilityWare has signed on to back the company along with individual investors like Steve Huffman, the co-founder and chief executive of Reddit, and Blake Chandler, the chief business officer of the runaway social network hit, TikTok.
Khan traces his love of games to his time visiting his cousins in Bangladesh and playing “Prince of Persia” on an early Toshiba laptop. “I remember sitting around the computer, watching my oldest cousin play because my dad didn’t want any of the kids touching the laptop,” Khan says.
So far the beta version of “Atlas Empires” has had 50,000 downloads and has about 1,000 daily players, Khan says. The commercial version of the game is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2020, says Khan.