Ben Walsh has had a successful career producing video games for big platforms, such as Nintendo’s popular Wii console, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Sony’s PlayStation. But, at 34, Walsh decided to leave that world behind for the startup life.
He quit his job at Bethesda Softworks, a Maryland gaming giant based in Rockville, in January, and used his own savings months later to launch Pure Bang Games – a Facebook gaming company based in Baltimore's Highlandtown neighborhood.
"There isn't a big gaming company based here in the city," said Walsh, picture above with a laptop at his office. "We hope to change that."
The first game Pure Bang created, called My Pet Rock, is currently in testing among 500 users on Facebook, and is expected to launch in January. Players accumulate and care for pet rocks, which they adorn and customize, and can even do battle with others' pet rocks.
"It definitely fits our style and humor," Walsh said of the game concept. "People will adopt pet rocks and personalize them how they want them to look." (Below is a sample page from My Pet Rock. Hit the jump for the rest of the post)
Walsh is part of a new wave of video game designers, including programmers and artists, who are flocking to Facebook to build — and profit from — social games. The challenge for online social game developers, whose games are typically free, is to create a game that goes "viral" and attracts millions of players.
But if game designers can score a hit, then the market potential is vast. A report by InsideNetwork, which tracks online social gaming, estimates that the market for virtual currencies — where players spend real money on online gaming and other virtual products — will be $2.1 billion next year.
The dominant company in the social gaming field, privately-held Zynga Game Network, has tens of millions of monthly users for its Facebook games, which include FarmVille, Mafia Wars and FrontierVille.
Zynga has an office in Timonium, also is home to other gaming companies such as Firaxis Games and Big Huge Games. Walsh hopes that Pure Bang games can contribute to the ecosystem of gaming companies in the Baltimore area.
He's been a booster of the Baltimore technology scene for a couple years. Last year, he co-founded Innovate Baltimore, a technology and entrepreneur-friendly networking event that attracts 150 or more people several times a year. So far, Walsh has hired four full-time employees and he uses another 11 part-time staff and interns.
To save money, Pure Bang shares a bright and meticulously renovated office with a real estate development company on Eastern Avenue. Walsh has grander dreams of helping turn Highlandtown into a hub for technology startups.
But for now, his next step is to find investors who can help fund the company's marketing expansion, as Pure Bang needs to start spending money to advertise and attract game players.
Walsh also is exploring the idea of building online games for other companies to market. News media operations, e-learning providers and other companies are increasingly looking to attract and satisfy online users with games, and Pure Bang could build those games, Walsh said.
"Our goal is to build fun, high-quality games," Walsh said.