Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight – Kevin Senet (B’11), Co-Founder and CFO, Fun Dog Studios

Kevin Senet (B’11) is the co-founder and CFO of Fun Dog Studios, an independent game studio focused on creating new IP in the shooter genre. In his role, Kevin oversees finance, corporate development, operations, marketing, and analytics.

What was your first “big break”? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?

In the early days of streaming, I was hired by a Georgetown alumni at Hulu. While competition was immense for streamers as each attempted to lure top actors and show-runners away from TV (in one deal, we saw the price of a stand-up comedy special increase 3x), I wound up fighting a battle on a different front – improving the efficiency of Hulu’s content spend.

One day, our CMO forwarded an article to our CFO and myself about how Netflix had come up with advanced models that help efficiently retain their users. From that email, I built out an internal team to take a stab at evolving our own metric to catch up to Netflix. At that time, Hulu primarily valued content based on the number of hours of consumption it drove across the platform.  With this metric, a subscriber who watched 50 hours of content a month would get 10x the representation in future content acquisition decisions vs. another subscriber who watched 5 hours a month. In order to better represent the content preferences of our most vulnerable users, we created a new metric that took into account the types of users who were consuming the content. Hulu leadership tasked me to get Walt Disney Television leadership (accustomed to linear TV ratings) to buy into the new metric ahead of the launch of Disney+. The meeting was a success, and the new metric became foundational for assessing content performance across Disney’s streaming business. Today, Disney jostles with Netflix for the title of most streaming subscribers.

As someone who was three promotions away from anyone else in the meeting, I shouldn’t have been in the room when it came to deciding the KPIs that would be used to vet Disney’s content performance in streaming. I got in the room by seeing an opportunity and pursuing it relentlessly. That is why when an artist told me he had an idea for a new game, we made an entire studio out of it – and about 5 years later we have a team of 30 game developers at Fun Dog Studios!  

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding part?

The most challenging part of my job has been learning how to embrace failure. While at Georgetown and Goldman Sachs, the expectation was perfection, and I treated the prospect of making a mistake like it was life or death. I’ve spent the last decade at media start-ups trying to unlearn this and am still working at it! As a start-up trying to build something new using new technologies, you are going to fail constantly. This has been hard for my co-founders and myself to accept. That said, I feel that it is in the moments we’ve let the eggs hit our faces and reflected on what changes we can implement that we lay the foundation of a company that could be great one day. 

The most rewarding part of my job has been the reception of the gaming audience and the broader creative community to the previews for our upcoming product. While I had heard that gaming audiences can be brutal, this has been far from my experience – we have received countless heartfelt emails from folks who want to support us. When you take the risk of putting years of your life into a creative project, setbacks can get in your head and keep you up at night. This kindness of strangers has been the fuel that is taking our team across the finish line, and we are excited to repay the deed in kind with a challenging, yet fun, gaming experience. 

What is something current you are working on that you are excited about?

Our team has spent the last two and a half years working on our upcoming title, The Forever Winter. Over the past few months we’ve started to market the game on a shoestring budget, and have been pleased with the progress we’ve made in striking a chord with the community via our guerilla marketing tactics. Around a quarter million users have wishlisted the game on the PC gaming platform, Steam, making TFW one of the most wishlisted upcoming Extraction Shooter games.

How is the ever-changing media landscape affecting your industry?

Launching a PC game as an indie studio is perhaps easier to do than ever before, and we are seeing the results of this with multiple $100M+ revenue indie game launches recently. In developing games, there are incredibly powerful platforms like Unreal Engine or Unity which provide unbelievable tools out of the box for a huge swath of components of game development. When it comes to marketing a game, social media platforms and influencers have enabled trailers to reach millions of interested fans on (potentially) very little cost. In distributing a game, platforms like Steam and Overwolf help developers launch their games and downloadable content seamlessly to a broad audience. This is how you get small teams of even sub-10 employees launching games that are hitting tens of millions of dollars in sales within the first year.

Then there’s the potential impact that generative AI could have in game development. Currently, the production-ready use cases are a bit thin. Activision is using AI to moderate bad actor player interactions. At our studio, we have used OpenAI’s API to create a debugger for Unreal engine, which looks at our call logs, groups and identifies problems, and recommends solutions.  

From powering creation of assets to the design of the game itself, the future of generative AI’s impact on game development will be enormous. This is how you may one day see one person create a game that hits a hundred million dollars in sales.

Are there any ways that you feel Georgetown especially prepared you for your career?

I think one of the most wonderful things about Georgetown is the pride it takes in its global student body and its focus on global studies. This global orientation is incredibly important when it comes to media distribution and content as a globally unifying medium. For content creators, especially those who work with forms of media that travel well across borders such as the sci-fi genre and video games as a medium, it is becoming easier than ever to grow your audience abroad with localization (subbing, dubbing, etc.) and platforms that distribute globally.

What is your best advice to those who are starting out in your field?

For folks interested in gaming, my advice would be to become a student of gaming and get your hands dirty.

When you play a game, have fun but also pay close attention to what design decisions and trade-offs the creators made. Be mindful of how game developers balance challenge and reward within the moment-to-moment and as players progress throughout the broader experience. Watch YouTube content from influencers who break-down the various intricacies of a game and why the pieces of the puzzle fit together so well.  

Then, try to make a game yourself, even if it’s simple! Write up a fun idea as a game design document or try to mock up quick prototypes in Unreal or Unity. One of the most important pieces of collaborating with game devs across design, engineering, art, animation, audio, or production is better understanding the problems they have to contend with. If you understand your objective and the other department’s objective, it becomes much easier to chart a common path forward that puts making the game great first.

Best Business Advice Received:

You don’t get if you don’t ask.

Trait You Most Admire in People: 

I admire when people have the courage to bet on themselves and work tirelessly to try to see it pay off. 

Favorite App, Website, Podcast, or Social Platform (other than related to your own company):

I like to play around with ChatGPT. In my spare time, I launched Mitzvah.AI which uses OpenAI API-powered AI (Bot Mitzvah) to help people relate to the Old Testament.

Favorite Georgetown Professor: 

Professor Skuba. Georgetown’s international focus is part of its special sauce. Within McDonough, Professor Skuba makes sure you get a world class education from someone who has had impact in both the public and private sector. He also helped pave my path into media by allowing me to write a paper on potential routes of collaboration between Hollywood and Bollywood.

Favorite Georgetown Restaurant or Bar: 

Of course, The Tombs! I will never forget my brother’s (Blake, C’15) 21st birthday there.

Favorite Georgetown Memory:

Snowpocalypse in 2009-2010. Semester Finals were cancelled so I instead played video games with my roommates while eating lasagna my roommate, Tony’s, dad cooked for most of a week. All transportation was shut down so we had to walk from Georgetown to the former Verizon Center to watch Georgetown play Duke in men’s basketball. It was well worth it – Obama came to watch and Georgetown upset that year’s national champions! 

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