“If I can impart two things to anybody interested in walking this path, let this be the second thing you commit to: find and commit to a group of deep friends that you are honest with, loyal to, and different from. Let the first thing be this: find and submit to a mentor.”
For the January 2016 issue, my Startup column in MinistryTech magazine featured Chris Skaggs of Soma Games.
In this article series, we’ve defined a Christian entrepreneur as: a person, driven to glorify God in all he does, and ruled by the Word of God, who starts a new venture and is willing to risk a loss in order to achieve the success of the venture. Each month I’ve been introducing you to specific Christian startups and entrepreneurs, some of which may be helpful to your church, ministry, business, or family, but my main intent is to encourage and inspire you to be entrepreneurial in your ministry and career.
This month I’m pleased to introduce you to Chris Skaggs. In his own words, he has always been entrepreneurial – the kid with the lemonade stand, or the college student doing web development. With the launch of Soma Games, Chris and his team have been able to bring their Christian faith to the forefront.
Web Development is Good Money
Chris learned computer skills in the Navy, so later, when he was a college student around the turn of the century, he found that developing web sites was a great way to earn extra spending money. As web technologies developed, Chris stayed on top of the new tools, tricks, and languages. Over time, that web development business became Code-Monkeys. Happy customers brought more happy customers and the business grew. Chris built a team of like minded people from his community. For Chris that community largely is the church so it turns out that Code-Monkeys is primarily made up of fellow believers. It was natural for them to pray together over major decisions and pivotal events, and to praise the Lord for their success.
Then God Called
Not unlike many of us, Chris enjoys playing video games. But, in 2005, a major controversy emerged around a popular violent video game that reached all the way to Congress. As Chris was reading news about the controversy, he became aware for the first time that there was such a thing as a Christian video game industry, and that there was an industry conference the coming weekend just half an hour from his home. Chris felt what he referred to as “God’s nudge” to attend the conference, and as he began to pursue that, God’s call into the video game industry became clearer and stronger. You can read the whole amazing story on Soma’s website – how God providentially intervened time and again over several days to confirm that this was the next step in Chris’ journey. From the website: “To recap, in the course of five days God had: Convinced me to attend a conference on a topic I’d never heard of; Arranged for an in-depth education on a very detailed subject; Started a new ‘business’ in something I was a complete stranger to; Made it so I was primed to represent that same, unknown industry, to roughly six million people; And paid for every bit of it.”
The Long Hike to the Starting Line
God may have moved quickly to call Chris and his team to video games, but He forced them to be patient and to prepare for this new business. Not only were there new technologies to learn, but this would be the first business they had intentionally launched, and it required real business planning and discipline. Most importantly, everyone on the team needed to be prepared spiritually. One aspect of this spiritual preparation was a dependence on God and not on the world or anyone in it. As the team read the Bible and prayed, they were constantly drawn to the reality that God was looking for them to be people “who could not be bought.”
It was also during this time that Chris became involved with a men’s ministry called Boot Camp Northwest. The relationships that formed in this ministry were critical to Chris’ development as a Christian leader. Most importantly, God provided Chris a mentor, Rande Bruhn, who would become CEO of Soma Games. Chris says, “If I can impart two things to anybody interested in walking this path, let this be the second thing you commit to: find and commit to a group of deep friends that you are honest with, loyal to, and different from. Let the first thing be this: find and submit to a mentor.”
Finally, in late 2008, shortly after the launch of the iPhone App Store, Soma Games released its first title – “G – Into the Rain” on iOS. (On January 6 Soma will be launching G Prime – the Xbox One update of this “gravity gripping, Steampunk styled, moody-beautiful, slingshot simulating puzzle pleaser” that was inspired by the Genesis 6 account of Noah’s Ark.) G was very well received. It had a lot of downloads and won a number of awards. It also brought new business to Code-Monkeys – companies wanting mobile or game development. In the years since, The Code-Monkeys/Soma Games team has developed over 300 apps and games on 4 different platforms, with over a million downloads. G, and its follow-ons also opened doors.
One of those doors was the opportunity to be the exclusive licensee for video games based on the popular Redwall series of books. In 2013, Soma launched a Kickstarter to build a Minecraft version of the Redwall Abbey as their Minimal Viable Product, and it was overfunded in just a few days. Clearly this is a big, and high profile, opportunity. To prepare, Chris was accepted into the Praxis Business Accelerator Program. That year-long experience exposed him to many business experts that not only helped with critical elements of the business, but also challenged him to wrestle with key questions about what it means to build and operate a gospel-centered business.
On their website, the company says “While Soma Games is a group of Christians making video games, we’re not what you might call a ‘Christian Video Game company’ and it’s important for us to be very clear about this to avoid inaccurate expectations. We’re making games that will be founded upon, and informed by Christian thought and the Christian understanding of reality – however, we don’t plan on making games that teach Christian theology. There are no scripture references, no Biblical characters and no telling of the Jonah story – other companies have been there and done a fine job. We hope to try something a little different.”
In their company motto, they acknowledge both their position relative to their Creator and their desire to honor God with their work: “terribliter magnificasti me mirabilia” – Latin for “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In other words, Chris and his team are Christian entrepreneurs, driven to glorify God in all they do, and ruled by the Word of God. May each of us seek to do the same!