Game change: Raven Software’s Raffel goes from dreamer to player and beyond
Excerpted from In Business Magazine
When it comes to the strange, inspiring history of Madison’s Raven Software, you can pretty much pick whichever story suits you: Either the company was a fantastic, head-spinning success right out of the gate, or it was the clear embodiment of Thomas Edison’s famous axiom that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
For Brian Raffel, Raven’s studio head and one of its two co-founders (with his brother Steve), Edison’s recipe is probably closer to the truth, though there was plenty of luck and magic in the mix to help sustain this lifelong gamer’s dream.
“The thing that you don’t see is that for two or so years, my brother and I worked on that demo and everyone thought we were crazy. It’s like trying to say you’re going to be a rock star or something.” – Brian Raffel
The story of industry giant Raven goes back to 1986, when Raffel and his brother, at the time both hard-core Dungeons & Dragons players, were looking over a friend’s new computer games. Noticing that the games’ artwork wasn’t as good as what Brian (then a Middleton High School art teacher) and Steve (then a silk screen printer) could do, Steve turned to Brian and said, “We should make our own computer game.”
That started the brothers on a roughly two-year quest to get their game off the ground. The problem? They had no programming experience and no real idea how to begin.
The two got started, and on a shoestring budget, with a lot of hard work, and with the help of a 19-year-old programmer they’d found through an Amiga computer dealer in Janesville, they managed to get their demo – a fantasy adventure game called Black Crypt – completed. And that’s where the strange and inspiring part of the story started.
“We sent that demo out to 10 publishers, and they all said it would take months to get back to us – ‘we get them all the time,’” said Raffel. “And we’re like, ‘okay.’ And in three days, we had six offers. So that was pretty cool.”