Novel will jump from games to business simulations

The gaming start-up Novel has a business strategy that it likes to think is, well, novel. The company is making Empire & State, an online strategy game with a focus on politics, business, and crime. And after it ships that game, it will pivot into business simulations for enterprises.

It’s a unique strategy for a new game company, but Brayden Olson, the 23-year-old chief executive of the firm, says that being different is what it takes to thrive in the age of so many giant game companies. Novel’s focus is another example of “gamification,” or making non-game applications more game-like. The Gamification Summit takes place this week in San Francisco (I’ll be moderating a panel there).

“We’re starting with a consumer game because we want to stay in close touch with the leading consumer game practices,” Olson said. “Too often we find that training companies lose touch with what people consider to be fun.”

And the company has made pretty good progress. It has 20 employees, including game veterans such as Toby Ragaini, head of product development and a pioneer of online games who formerly worked at Big Fish Games and will start work at Novel on Thursday. Ragaini also worked on Asheron’s Call, a pioneering fantasy role-playing game published years ago by Microsoft.

Ragaini is focused on making consumer-focused games for Novel, but Olson said the company is also working on an enterprise simulation with the University of Washington for a specific business customer. The collaboration is with the school’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking, led by Bruce Avolio at the Foster School of Business.

Olson (pictured above) has been a fan of online games since he was 12. He founded Redmond, Wash.-based Novel in 2009 and has raised a round of funding from McLean Capital and Nairbo Investments, both in Vancouver, Canada. In the next six months, Olson hopes to double the number of employees. The first business simulation products will likely come out in 2012.

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