It’s not every day a game publisher CEO quits to take a job as a senior vice president at another company. But that’s what Mike DeLaet did when he left Rogue Games to head strategic partnerships at Scopely.
The move shocked the team of 10 at Rogue Games, but it also gave others in the organization an opportunity to move up, DeLaet said in an interview with GamesBeat. His decision shows that titles aren’t always what matters when you make a career change, and sometimes a lateral shift is a good career move.
Cofounder Matt Casamassina took over as CEO of Rogue Games (he was the former head of strategy), and DeLaet started his new job this week without taking any time off. (Casamassina said in an interview he wished DeLaet the best of luck). Scopely is in the midst of a big expansion, with multiple acquisitions, and it recently raised a $400 million war chest.
“There is never a good time for the CEO to leave any company,” DeLaet said. “But Rogue is in a great place with a lot of great traction and a lot of growth. And the team at the company is phenomenal. So I feel like I left them in a great place. It was a good opportunity for me to take off and do something that I really want to do. Obviously, leaving your baby behind is never easy, but at the same time, we’re in a great place.”
A new role
DeLaet fills a role left open by Henry Lowenfels, who left Scopely recently, and will handle developer partnerships, platform relationships, licensing, and business development for the Los Angeles-based company.
“Tim O’Brien [Scopely’s chief revenue officer] reached out to me,” DeLaet said. “We’ve known each other for quite a while. The company is doing extremely well and growing very fast. It’s a large company in the West in mobile games. It has great intellectual property.”
Some things were missing at Rogue, such as big games that use major licenses.
“I’ve always wanted to work at companies already doing this stuff,” DeLaet said. “Scopely’s talent density and its global insights were super critical in convincing me to come over. They acquired the FoxNext team, and there were a lot of people I worked with on Marvel Strike Force when I worked at Kabam.”
DeLaet has been doing this kind of work for 15 years, and he has helped launch more than 250 games. He and Casamassina started Rogue Games in 2017 to publish titles for indie and mid-size game developers. They concentrated first on mobile games such as releases for Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass. But now Rogue is expanding to PC and console games as well. The company doesn’t disclose its revenues, but DeLaet said it grew its business 10-fold since its founding.
“I wasn’t looking to leave, and things were going great as the company was scaling very fast,” DeLaet said. “It’s always emotional because I started this thing in my closet in my house in San Francisco. So we got to grow to 10 people and millions of dollars in revenue. But at the same time, opportunities like Scopely don’t come up every day. It wasn’t a great conversation, but it went well. It was sad and I am sad, but it was a unique opportunity for others to step up.”
DeLaet said it was also a good time to change because Rogue Games had raised $2 million in May, giving the company enough runway to continue its mission.
Scopely publishes games on a wide variety of fronts, including games licensed on franchises such as Marvel or Hasbro titles, original games it makes, and third-party games made by specialists in categories such as puzzle or role-playing. Its biggest titles are Marvel Strike Force (made by the recently acquired FoxNext Studios), Star Trek: Fleet Command, and Yahtzee with Buddies.
“I think I can help them increase their enterprise value and the revenue pretty dramatically by my relationships and my know-how in the industry. It’s similar to the roles I had at Glu and Kabam.”
Fun over ego
While this move is a lateral one for DeLaet, he said his job is to make a contribution to the company and do what it needs. The Scopely job is complex because it gives equal weight to original titles, franchises, and third-party games from smaller external developers. DeLaet loves negotiating deals, and he has handled this kind of complexity in business development roles at Kabam and Glu Mobile.
While he was running the shop at Rogue Games, DeLaet found himself doing things that weren’t necessarily fun.
“At Rogue, I was kind of handling fundraising, legal, finance, HR, and all the things that are necessary evils but not necessarily the most fun things on earth to do,” DeLaet said. “Whereas here, it’s really I’ll be doing all the things I really enjoy doing.”
One of his responsibilities will be to stay in touch with platform companies such as Google and Apple.
“The title doesn’t matter as much, as it’s all relative based on the size of the company,” DeLaet said. “And it’s really about being part of something great. I’ve never been one of those people where I am the CEO and everyone bows down to me. It’s not how I like to operate things. I like to act like I’m the janitor. That’s the mentality I take into any company, and I’ll take it to Scopely. Whether that’s mopping the floor or doing some great business deal, you can’t have an ego. You have to be willing to jump in and do whatever you can to help.”