The Gaming Founders Podcast Episode: 2x Founder Chris Scholz of Free Range Games and Upcoming Blockbuster: Return to Moria
Welcome to The Gaming Founders Podcast, where we interview founders that have shaped the gaming industry. You’ll hear origin stories, tactics that helped founders and companies survive and thrive, and key lessons for anyone building the next generation of gaming companies. Your hosts are Eden Chen, CEO of Pragma and Kevin Zhang, Partner at Upfront Ventures.
Today’s guest is Chris Scholz, CEO of Free Range Games. The company’s mission is to make video games that people find meaningful, memorable, and fun. Established in 2009, and headquartered in Sausalito, California, Free Range Games was founded by veteran game developers and longtime collaborators. Game projects have spanned across PC, console, mobile, web, VR, and AR platforms. Free Range will be releasing their own fully developed game The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria™ in 2023.
In this episode, you’ll hear Chris’ journey from a spate of temp jobs that he hated and wasn’t very good at, the ‘youthful exuberance’ that led him to start his first company, Shaba Games, and his later successes when Shaba was acquired by Activision, and finally leaving again to start Free Range Games. Chris talks about the early days of Free Range, their culture, their dedication to games that delight people, and the upcoming release of The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria™.
Chris’ journey from ‘bad’ temp employee to focused gaming designer at Toys for Bob
Youthful exuberance led Chris to leave to start his own company
Sony, Activision, and Tony Hawk
Activision and its interesting characters
Starting Free Range Games in 2009
Past learnings that were useful at Free Range
The current state of things at Free Range
The license for LOTR and its many properties
Free Range’s organizational balance, culture
Advice for other founders - Stay small until you’re sure of what you’re doing
The Gaming Founders Podcast is brought to you by Pragma, a venture-backed backend game engine founded by the engineering leaders who built the platforms for some of the largest live service games including League of Legends, Fortnite, Destiny 2, and Plants vs. Zombies 2. Pragma powers services like accounts, matchmaking, and player data for the world’s most ambitious live service games. CEO of Pragma Eden Chen was also the founder of Fisherman Labs and Lightmark Capital and was previously an investment banker at Citigroup and Lehman Brothers. Kevin Zhang leads the healthcare and gaming practices at Upfront Ventures. Upfront has backed standout teams across all technology sectors with a current focus in healthcare, fintech, consumerization of enterprise software, gaming, computer vision, and AgTech/ sustainability.
Pragma is a venture-backed backend game engine founded by the engineering leaders who built the platforms for some of the largest live service games including League of Legends, Fortnite, Destiny 2, and Plants vs. Zombies 2. Pragma powers services like accounts, matchmaking and player data for the world’s most ambitious live service games. Eden Chen is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Pragma, Fishermen Labs and Lightmark Capital, and started his career in investment banking at Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.
Founded in 1996 in Los Angeles with investing professionals based in LA and SF, Upfront Ventures has backed startup teams across all technology sectors, with about half in Southern California, and the rest across the US and Europe. Kevin Zhang is an avid gamer and former neurobiology researcher who leads gaming and healthcare investments at Upfront Ventures, including Pragma.