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News, trends, history, and phenomena from the campus
They met in a business course;
now they’re in business
Our intern, Kari Vandraiss ’13, drops in on
computer-game start-up Camouflaj, and founders
Ryan Payton ’03 and Professor Jeff Matthews
When Ryan Payton registered for Jeff Matthews’ international business
course to fulfill a graduation requirement, who knew that the student
and the professor would one day become partners in a game-changing
venture funded largely during a last-minute whirlwind on the crowd-
sourcing website Kickstarter?
I met the odd-couple entrepreneurs at a Top Pot Doughnuts in Bel-
levue, Wash., a few blocks away from the offices of their new company,
and I was immediately struck by the contrast between the two men.
Payton, in a slightly too-large blue hoodie, baseball cap, and big, horn-
rim glasses, fulfilled my admittedly stereotypical vision of a gamer.
Matthews looked every bit the businessman.
Payton told me he entered Puget Sound intending to major in
computer science, which he saw as a good way to break into the games
industry as an engineer. After a few semesters of dismal grades, though,
he reluctantly concluded that he wasn’t as technically minded as he
thought. But he
excelled in prerequisite Japanese courses.
“So I changed my major as a sophomore,” Payton said, although he
was still hoping to eventually wind up working on computer games.
After graduation he taught English in the JET (Japan Exchange and
Teaching) Program and from there found work at video-game maga-
zines in Japan, which led to a job as producer on “Metal Gear Solid 4” at
Konami in Tokyo. He returned to the States when Microsoft recruited
him to be creative director for “Halo 4.”
Payton seemed almost surprised at how well things turned out.
Still, he found himself wanting to pursue a creative endeavor of his
own, without corporate confines, and who better to collaborate with
than his old professor, a former banker with management consultancy
As a current student, I am intrigued by Payton and Matthews’
relationship as professor and student, and whether they could have
imagined this outcome.
“At the beginning, we somehow struck a chord,” said Payton. “I
didn’t really talk to most of my professors out of class. You probably
don’t want to write that. But for whatever reason I felt a connection.”
And the connection has lasted for more than 10 years.
Said Matthews, who is the George F. Jewett Professor of Business
and Leadership at Puget Sound, “One of the great parts of the story is,
while I’ve been a business professor at the university for 12 years, Ryan
was not a business major. It’s really cool that as a
major studying
Japanese, he just took an international business course, and that was the
With Payton’s creativity and Matthews’ business acumen, the bou-
tique game studio Camouflaj was launched in fall 2011. Payton and
fellow designer Ezra Hanson-White were the game designers, and Mat-
thews was a business partner and investor. Among the 13 employees (all
intentionally without specific job titles), Matthews proclaims himself
“Biz Dude.” The author of several books on business strategy
is a proponent of relationship-oriented leadership, a concept that both
men agree on when it comes to working with employees and vendors,
and how they think about customers.
The company’s first game is called “République,” and it is designed
specifically for touch-based devices. The game will be supported by
high-end visuals and audio, a feature not seen on games made for tab-
lets and smartphones. The Los Angeles-based company Logan, which
works on many of Apple’s commercials, is in charge of visual direction.
The trailer for “République” goes like this:
“You receive a desperate phone call from Hope, a young woman
trapped within a shadowy totalitarian state. Using a stolen phone, she
calls and begs you to hack into the nation’s surveillance system, assume
control, and help her escape from the clutches of the omnipresent
Payton said “République” facilitates a symbiotic relationship
between Hope and the player. The internal design pillar is “Hope is
Alive,” meaning Hope is not a marionette for the player to manipulate
but rather a smart, believable hero who engages the player’s empathy.
Reading descriptions of the game, I noticed the nonsexualization
of the main female character, and that shooting and violence are mini-
mal—not exactly the norm in games today. There’s a story. Intrigue.
So is there a political agenda behind the work?
“People in my age group are becoming more and more nervous
about constraints on the Internet and free use of information,” Payton
said. “I don’t want to use ‘République’ as a political platform. It’s a piece
of software that people like to play because it’s fun. But it also leaves
you thinking, and few games today do that.”
“République,” the first product of the boutique video-
game company started by prof and student, is due out next summer.
That’s Hope, the game’s hero, looking over their shoulders.