George Donovan, owner of Gogii Games Corp., a Moncton-based developer of interactive games, knew that the choice of location for his company was one challenge that would never change.
Disruptive technologies had changed the way the video-gaming industry worked, moving away from large video-game developers to independent producers spread around the globe. This shift had empowered individuals with unique skill sets to provide gaming content for hardware platforms, such as the iPhone and Android devices, from anywhere in the world.
Although the software side of the business could be farmed out remotely, the big players who controlled the production and financing sides of games continued to be in Silicon Valley, and Mr. Donovan knew that’s where he had to be to physically connect with the industry, customers and investors if he wanted to set up his own production and development business and grow.
Yet, he was not willing to sacrifice the lifestyle choice that residing in the Maritimes provided.
His choice was simple: Move to Silicon Valley to grow exponentially, or stay in Moncton and find a way to make it big.
Mr. Donovan grew up in Miramichi, N.B., and obtained a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a double minor in psychology and business from the University of New Brunswick in 1995.
He was introduced to the world of computer technology while working part-time managing the intramural program at UNB. The dean of the program gave him a laptop and a mandate to manage the program efficiently, using various software applications. Mr. Donovan was amazed by the access computer technology and the Internet provided to individuals, and was hooked.
After graduation, he completed a one-year international software and marketing program at the New Brunswick Community College in Miramichi. As part of the program, he set up a company that provided advertisements to various fishing lodges on the Miramichi River. The business proved successful and was bought out by the local newspaper within six months of its launch.
Around the same time, Barry Friedman, a transplanted Californian who was one of the computer industry’s most successful licencing agents and one of the first to represent interactive entertainment, moved to Bouctouche, N.B., and Mr. Donovan started to work for him.
In 1998, Mr. Donovan moved to Moncton and, along with some friends, set up Infiknowledge Inc. They started to work on a safe portal for kids to use the Internet., hired developers and raised $5-million. But they ended up being a casualty of the tech bubble in 2000.
Mr. Donovan bought out his partners, re-launched the venture and, within a year, sold it to U.S.-based Traffix Inc., a database marketing and management company As part of the deal, Mr. Donovan stayed on to manage it until 2004.
After taking a six-month sabbatical, Mr. Donovan decided to follow his passion for the video-gaming business and established Gameagents Corp. as a publisher, sales and financing bridge for independent game developers.
In 2006, he created Gogii Games, a games development studio, in Moncton.
Mr. Donovan decided to stay in Moncton and overcome the physical location challenge by committing to strategically positioning his company in Silicon Valley.
He attended conferences and spent a considerable amount of time travelling and knocking on lots of doors. He leveraged his 17 years of experience and connections and was able to get in front of the right people to position his company as a developer, publisher, financier and bridge for independent game developers.
Based on his research, he was also able to identify a unique underserviced market, women over 35, as the key target for his products and focused his attention on developing games for this niche segment.
Mr. Donovan’s strategy has worked well. The company has successfully established itself as a niche producer for his target market in the hidden objects game genre, in which players move through levels by finding hidden objects and treasures.
Since 2006, the company has produced 48 games, with 13 No. 1 hits based on downloads. The success of his strategy has led to aggressive development of new games, which has been accomplished by increasing his footprint in the Moncton office, to more than 50 employees, as well as establishing partnerships with development studios in Prague, Romania, France, Kiev and Halifax.
The growth was accomplished by plowing his profits back into the business, rather than relying on traditional outside investors, the industry norm.
Gogii recently launched its latest offering, Attack of the Groupie,” a tongue-in-cheek game inspired by Shannon Tweed’s life looking at the hazards of fame, in which she , battles hordes of groupies.
Mr. Donovan feels strongly that other entrepreneurs in the Maritimes who want to replicate his success in the technology realm must establish a strong bridge with Silicon Valley to gain the connections, venture capital and channels for distribution – all of which he had to do himself at considerable cost and time.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
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