When Maya Rand came to the United States in 2005 to study business administration at MIT, she never dreamed she would stay there more than 15 years. She stayed thanks to a tempting job offer she received after completing her studies: In 2007 she joined the video game company Electronic Arts, which produced games like The SIMS, FIFA, Rock Band and Battlefield.
Rand moved up the ladder to become EA’s strategic director and then COO, during which time she was responsible for the launch of the games Battlefield 3 and 4, and played a role in a number of revolutions that took place in the world of video games. “I worked closely with the CEO, I saw how the industry underwent massive changes. For example, I was part of the launch of the first cloud-based game. That involved years of work with hundreds of employees on every game and project,” Rand says.
Rand also got a taste of the world of startups when she was appointed in 2015 as head of development and collaboration at Beepi, which among other things matched sellers and buyers of used cars; and in 2017, when she was appointed deputy CEO of the startup Pley, which provided content for children.
Over the past two years she has gone solo, putting her love of games into practice as the founder and CEO of the startup XPlace – which is developing a system that connects independent professionals in the video game industry to companies in the field.
Talent is the name of the game
The global video game industry has grown rapidly over the past few years, especially since the coronavirus pandemic. Market research by Statista estimates the video game market will grow 23 percent by 2025 and reach a valuation of $2.89 trillion.
Rand realized that the industry was suffering from a major human resources problem. “One of the biggest video game companies in the world told me that in all of 2020 they managed to hire less than 10 game developers,” she said. According to Rand, filling key positions like game developer or 3D designers that meet the needs of the market is an expensive process that takes many months.
- All Fun and Games? Israel’s Gaming Industry Is Blowing Up
- Israel Is Losing on a New Front: The Gaming World
- How the Addictive, Controversial Israeli Game ‘Coin Master’ Raked in a Fortune
Although the entire high-tech industry is suffering from a talent shortage, according to Rand, work in the video game industry is different: “People are usually hired for projects, sometimes a company can employ talented developers and designers and when the project is done [ties are cut off], the situation is difficult for both the employees and the companies.”
In 2021, XPlace raised initial capital of about $1.5 million from well-known angel investors in the video game industry, including Eyal Shaked; Charles Huang, founder of the popular game Guitar Hero; and the founders of Harmonix Music Systems. The capital was raised through the Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) mechanism, which allows investors to channel capital rapidly into a company when it is starting out, before setting the valuation of the company, which usually happens under certain conditions when the company is already active. XPlace has 12 employees, all in the United States.
“I’m not a heavy gamer,” Rand says. “When they introduced me at EA, they would always say: ‘This is Maya, she’s not a gamer but she’s legitimate.’ The game I enjoyed most dealing with when I worked at EA was Plants vs Zombies, and I enjoyed it mainly because I could play it with my children. I play mainly to release stress at the end of the day, especially so-called casual games. My 15-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a heavy gamer. When I see how she plays, I realize how much this world is the future,” she adds.
Rand explains that the difficulties the video game industry faces have a number of causes. The first is that the industry is full of niches and every project and game requires specific expertise. The second reason is the secrecy that shrouds this world – marketing in this field is built on big launches and a lot of thought goes into preventing leaks before the launch.
At XPlace, any video game freelancer can put up a professional profile, which includes a portfolio, and obtain work through the platform: “The system also knows how to automatically find the projects in which the profile poster’s name appears as a credit,” Rand says, and that way people can see what their potential workers have already done in the past.
According to Rand, one of the biggest benefits of her platform is the level of trust it can provide. “The video game industry is built on trust, and the other platforms have a problem that way. You don’t know whether the person you’re dealing with is a real person, and whether what they say about themselves reflects reality. We verify with the person as well as the content they present on their profile.” Rand says the employers also undergo a process of verification. “An employer who opens a profile with us undergoes a process that ensures that they are reliable. We also make sure they’re offering a fair fee and we ask for feedback later from the people who worked with them. That way we try to solve a problem that preoccupies many creators – they are often hired for projects without financial backing and they aren’t fairly paid.”
Another aspect unique to the video game industry, according to Rand, involves contracts and employment conditions, “such as copyrights for various uses of the products, or unique payment conditions such as payment before delivery. For example, a music producer for games will often receive payment per minute of music they produce, or payment on the basis of a percentage of the project according to its success,” Rand explains. In the near future, she predicts, the system of contracts XPlace has developed will allow a variety of such contracts to be signed directly on the platform.
Rand says that the company has also built a special feature to resolve biases that prevent equal opportunity to women and minorities. This feature allows employers to conceal details of a profile that could create a bias: “The feature we built makes it possible to neutralize unconscious biases,” she says. “When it operates, it conceals the gender, photo and other details that might create a preference that has nothing to do with the applicant’s abilities so the choice of applicant remains professional.
XPlace’s business model is to take a percentage of any payment transferred through it.
According to Rand, XPlace hosts a few thousands professionals and companies using the platform include Playtika, Tencent, EA, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, Zynga and Activision Blizzard. Rand describes how she brought the first users on board: “I started to work on the platform a moment before COVID-19 broke out. I prepared lists based on my personal connections, I listed as many friends and professionals in the field, and at the same time I talked to many companies. They were all happy to sign up, because I solved real problems for them.”
As for a connection to the Israeli market, Rand says: “People always ask me, ‘when will a big video game come out of Israel,’ but who said there has to be a game created in Israel? You can involve Israelis in giant companies so they create first-rate games from Israel,” she says.
And Rand has some criticism of the government: “We saw in other countries that when the government invests in the video game industry it gets a return in the form of income. I think that the Innovation Authority should invest more in this field. It’s a field that’s going to be the next cyber, and it’s a shame for Israel to miss the opportunity.”