Neal Taparia, is the CEO of Solitaired, a platform that offers over 500 versions of solitaire – Play Klondike Turn 1, Klondike Turn 3, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, and Golf Solitaire, among many other versions.
What inspired you to launch Solitaired?
There has been a more and more emphasis on mental health and how to stay mentally strong while aging. Many companies like Lumosity have sprung up to tackle concepts like brain training in a fun way. We believe this category will continue to grow as more attention is placed on mental health.
We wanted to find a unique angle to brain training, and find a way to try brain training exercises in a medium they are familiar with. We didn’t want potential consumers to learn new games. Not only would there be a learning curve, but it could hinder adoption.
So we decided to explore how classic games that people already know and love could be used as a medium for brain training. There is also the added benefit that our target market, which tends to be elderly individuals, love classic games and are interested in keeping their mental skills sharp.
Could you tell us about the different versions of games offered on Solitaired?
We focused on creating high quality graphics to create a good user experience. We also have additional features like a game of the day, leaderboard, and ability to customize cards to keep users coming back to the site.
Soon, we’ll start offering features geared towards mentally challenging yourself. This includes trying to beat previous times and number of moves, and recreate an exact sequence to win a game.
Over the next year, we want to add more games, from crosswords puzzles, to Sudoku, to Majong, all designed in a way that are fun and help with brain training.
You’ve explored the link between classic games and brain training. Could you share with us how games can be used to train the brain?
Studies find that as we age, we lose cognitive abilities such as reasoning, memory, and processing speed. However, if we regularly exercise our minds, we can prevent or minimize these losses, and stay sharp. It can even help combat dementia.
Classic games like Solitaire are a great solution for this. Games that stimulate thinking are shown to improve processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory.
Why is solitaire a great game for brain training?
Solitaire is a great way to cognitively push yourself. For example, trying to beat a solitaire game in the exact same sequence exercises your memory skills. There are dozens of sequential moves, and to repeat this is no easy feat. Doing so can strengthen your memory.
More broadly, games that require you to think help with your cognitive reserve which powers your ability to improvise, think on the spot, and make quick decisions. Solitaire, especially in a timed format, can strengthen this.
Lastly, novelty is important to strengthening your brain. With solitaire, there are endless decks that can be dealt of varying difficulty. Some games can’t even be won. The variability and variety of solitaire games creates a novel game play effect which is good for you cognitively.
What are some life skill sets that can be adapted from playing solitaire?
In solitaire, you might think you have successfully placed a card, only to find you need it back to unlock the game and further advance. It teaches you that sometimes, to take two steps forward, you have to take a step back. You can’t rush progress, and you need to constantly evaluate what it takes to get to your end goal.
Solitaire also teaches you how to be patient in your decision making. There are many moves that will come up where you might pass on, because moving a different card can surface more cards you can play. You have to mentally keep track of what the probability of this is, and decide if it’s worthwhile to be patient. If you’re selling your house, for example, you don’t want to bite on the first offer. Rather, you want to be patient and then make your decision.
This is your second startup, as previously you were a co-founder of EasyBib.com a company that was later acquired by Chegg. What are some of the lessons that you learned over the years about launching and successfully scaling a business?
No matter how good you think your product idea is, or how much research you’ve done, you will only truly know if it’s promising by putting a product or feature out there. I see so many entrepreneurs overthink their product, only to find out it’s a dud. Focus on getting something in the hands of your users to understand what value it brings and to learn and iterate to truly solve for their needs.
Now, instead of building out product features, we will regularly launch painted door tests. This is where we show a button to a feature, but have not built out the feature yet. To give you an example, we wanted to see if a multiplayer mode would be popular among our users. Instead of building it, we just launched a button where when clicked, it would say the feature is coming soon. We quickly learned there was little interest in it, and decided not to invest the resources in building it out.
To succeed, learn to fail fast. The faster you fail, the faster you learn and the faster you succeed.
You are also a Co-Founder of SOTA Partners, which invests, incubates, and advises companies. When it comes to gaming or VR products is there a specific type of concept or technology that you look for?
We really like identifying new ways technology can be applied. For example, we invested in TrasfrVR. With intelligent tutoring technology, they use virtual reality simulations that teach manufacturing skills. The idea is to rethink traditional education and directly teach skills needed on the job. They recently launched a partnership with the state of Alabama, and after using their technology, have placed candidates with companies like Lockheed Martin.
Classic games have also not been built for VR, and it’s something we think can become a new category.
Have you noticed any type of traffic jump since COVID-19?
We certainly saw an acceleration in our growth, and by looking at the stats of other classic gaming sites, we’ve seen the space as a whole grow. With people being stuck at home, and not venturing out, many have turned to games as an outlet. With people stressed, games are also a great way to take the edge off.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Solitaired?
Solitaire interestingly is one of the most popular and oldest games in the world. Millions of people play it today and it dates back to the 1800s!
Thank you for the interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Solitaired.
Uri Marchand, CEO and Co-Founder of Overwolf – Interview Series
Uri Marchand, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Overwolf which is a guild for in-game creators, that empowers them to create, grow, and monetize in-game apps and mods. Built for creators by creators, Overwolf is uniting the in-game creator community, giving them everything they need to make a living doing what they love – developing truly awesome gaming experiences, that gamers and game developer benefit from.
When did you initially fall in love with gaming?
I’ve been playing games since I was about six years old, but the game that had the most impact on me in the early days was Dune2. I loved the mechanics of a real-time strategy (RTS) game, and spent countless hours playing.
When you initially started Overwolf in 2010 you had a big ambition to build apps for all gamers. Could you tell us about these early genesis days, such as what inspired you to launch Overwolf?
When we started, our aim was to build a swiss-army knife type software, with all the features we were missing while playing games. Our first features included in-game overlay apps for Skype, Facebook, game capture and even an in-game web browser. The key inspiration came from either the features we were missing or from existing products and use cases that we felt could be done a lot better if designed specifically for gamers.
At the end of 2013, you decided to pivot Overwolf towards creating a framework for others to develop on the Overwolf platform. What inspired this pivot?
As I just mentioned, we started as creators ourselves, building apps for the games we played. As creators, we understood all the difficulties third-party developers have around building apps for games, and we understood that we can’t build everything ourselves. So, we decided to pivot and build an open framework. Today, Overwolf is the guild for in-game creators. With over 30,000 creators and 12 million monthly active users, Overwolf is the all-in-one platform that enables creators to create, distribute, and monetize in-game apps and mods. We are on a mission to unite the in-game creator community and empower them to make a living doing what they love – developing truly awesome gaming creations.
Can you discuss how Overwolf enables developers to create, distribute, and monetize apps for existing games?
Third-party content around games, which includes apps, mods, or gaming websites has existed since the genesis of gaming. Passionate gamers who were also techies chimed in and helped in the creation of content for their favorite games. But, up until today, these creators were scattered, isolated, and out of the spotlight. Millions of gamers enjoy their creations, but they don’t get the credit or the compensation for it. They lack the advanced tools, the distribution, or the resources AAA developers already have.
Overwolf is changing that by being the all-in-one platform for in-game creators. Aside from the tech platform, Overwolf offers creators a lot of resources to get started and stay focused. Services like QA and testing by pro gamers, technical support, development resources, and marketing solutions, allow creators to solely focus on building the best app they can. In only a few weeks, creators are able to build and publish a high-quality app, share it with millions of gamers, and turn a hobby into a lucrative business. Once the app is up and running, there are two main monetization tools the creator can choose from: premium subscriptions and in-app ads.
For the first time, we’re seeing more and more in-game creators making a living from building apps for games, and thus creating a new profession – an in-game creator. This is similar to a YouTube, or a Twitch streamer, but instead of the creator being a very good gamer or entertainer, she’s a developer.
What are some of the notable apps that have been created on the Overwolf platform?
We have the honor of working with some extremely talented creators that work relentlessly to bring apps to gamers that will truly enhance their game experience. One of our top-rated apps is Porofessor which helps League of Legends players understand their match statistics, improve performance, and provide other key aspects of gameplay. The creator of this app actually began coding when he was only eleven years old, making games for his family and friends.
Tracker Network’s R6 Tracker app is also one of the most popular Rainbow Six Siege apps on Overwolf. The CEO of Tracker Network was able to turn his gaming websites into in-game apps and scale incredibly fast. He went from a one-man show to a company with a team of five employees and over 2.5 million registered users across the most popular game titles like Valorant, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Rainbow Six Siege.
Another is TFTactics which helps players make winning strategy choices in Teamfight Tactics, with suggested builds, item references, and even a match analysis system to help players self-review and improve.
What type of apps/games are generally more popular?
While we can’t share commercial details, download numbers are public and often reflect the most successful apps. Some of the most popular are Porofessor, Facecheck, R6Tracker, TFTactics, Outplayed, Fuze.tv, R6Tab, Firestone, Heartharena, and more. The apps that are most popular tend to align with the game titles that are played widely so apps for League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, Dota 2, and Rainbow Six Siege.
Overwolf partnered with Intel to create a fund to empower developers to create apps on the Overwolf platform. What are the things that you look for when reviewing applications?
When we review applications we are mainly looking for an idea we’d be excited about as gamers, and for a product-team fit. We want to make sure that the team that’s going to take the challenge has everything they need to succeed.
Since the launch, we’ve invested $3M out of the $7M and we generate about $1.5 for every dollar invested and have incredible success stories like Amit Tsur who was a lone-wolf developer that single-handedly created the app DotaPlus, one of Overwolf’s most successful DOTA 2 apps with over 400,000 downloads. The Fund allowed him to quit his dev position at a prominent tech company and to make a career out of his passion.
The fund grants between $10K and $150K to each approved creator, depending on their needs and the potential value of their app or mod.
What are some traits that make some developers more successful on the platform than others?
Creators who create from true passion, with a real love of the game and a culture of iteration based on community feedback usually succeed more than others.
Creators who are not only willing to listen to feedback but request it frequently are always more successful than those who don’t take fan feedback into consideration. The most successful creators take the recommendations from fans, iterate on their apps, and constantly have a pulse on what others are saying. In return, the market rewards them with more downloads, more shares, and more positive mentions.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Overwolf?
The top 25% of in-game creators on Overwolf are pulling in more than $30,000 a month, and a few are even poised to make more than $1 million this year. As a whole, Overwolf is on track to pay out $10 million to its creators in the coming year. We are proud to be able to offer in-game app creators and mod authors legitimate ways to turn their passion into a profitable profession. We’re here for the long run and would love to serve as many creators as we can.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Overwolf.
Olcay Yılmazçoban, Co-founder & CEO of SenpAI – Interview Series
Graeme Winder, Founder of MeloQuest – Interview Series
Graeme Winder is the Founder of MeloQuest, the company behind the world’s first role-playing game, Keys & Kingdoms, that trains real musical skills and abilities in a whole new way. Joining the journey along the way, was the former CCO of Activision Blizzard and creator of Guitar Hero, Brian Hodous.
When did you first fall in love with gaming?
I’ll never forget the day when the original Nintendo system came out and I begged and pleaded with my mom to get it for me. Well, that next Christmas, Santa delivered! That was the beginning of my epic journey into gaming.
You also have a deep passion for music. Could you share with us how you discovered that music would play such an important role in your life?
I knew from a very early age that music moved me deeply. I also knew that I was horrible at learning music through reading, and yet, I could play just about anything I heard. This disconnect that I felt, and the challenges that would come with it, would prove to be the foundation of creating the innovation in the method that we implement today.
What are some of the current limitations with how we currently teach music?
The biggest limitation I see in music education is that the most important piece to the learning process is being left out of the equation… this piece is the student themselves. We all carry a tremendous amount of musical experience inside of us because we listen to or are exposed to music almost every day of our lives. This incredible wealth of experience is almost always overlooked or left out of more traditional learning environments. At MeloQuest, we believe it is the key to unlocking a person’s true musical power!
When did you initially come across the concept of using games to teach music?
After my first attempt at this failed, I had to take a long look in the mirror and realize that the edtech software we had built just wasn’t entertaining enough for our audience. We knew the method was powerful, but the product execution was poor. So after hitting the reset button, I decided to flip the product model upside down and create an amazingly fun game first—and then bake our secret sauce into it.
Could you tell us about the world’s first role-playing game that trains real music skills Keys & Kingdoms. What’s the storyline in this game?
It’s really an amazing storyline that Leviathan Games developed. You start off in your own virtual room much like your room in the real world. Suddenly, there is a rip through space and time and a portal to another fantasy world emerges. This world is under constant threat of the ‘waste’ and only those with musical powers can save them. The overarching theme is not good vs. evil, but rather forces of creation vs. forces of destruction. I love the philosophical message here to the players that says that things you pour your energy and effort into (like music learning) will prosper and grow. However, things you neglect and put off will eventually crumble to dust.
How does the game optimize how children learn music?
We have built something very close to AI called the Adaptive Learning Engine. The game constantly monitors the success/fail rates of everything the player engages with in the game and it does this independently throughout five unique verticals. What all this means is simply the game will quickly meet you where you are at, whether a complete beginner or seasoned pro, and develop your unique abilities at your pace.
How much replay value is there in this game. How much time can children be expected to play?
Well, just like music itself, we hope the journey never really ends. Personally, I hope children get used to logging in everyday and playing songs to chase away the waste. New content, songs and challenges are updated every few weeks. One of the sticky points in the game is that if you do not log in regularly, your island world will slowly be devoured by the waste. Also, as we all know, repetition with songs and learning are very important in building up skills quickly and efficiently. The game uses many well-known RPG tricks to keep engaging the players over and over.
What type of games will MeloQuest be working on in the future?
As excited as we are now with Keys & Kingdoms, the future looks even more amazing! We have plans ready to go to bring in multiplayer (imagine battling with your friends and it feels like band practice!) and other instruments outside of the keyboard. The fun in learning music will certainly never end!
Is there anything else that you want to share about Keys & Kingdoms or Meloquest?
I’m just so humbled and proud of the incredible team that has joined me on this amazing journey. These are extremely talented individuals who all collectively believe in shaping a better world through the power of music. I couldn’t be more blessed to do what I do everyday!
Thank you for the interview. Readers who wish to learn more about the game should visit the Keys & Kingdoms website.