Tigard student creates video games with 500 million plays
Samuel Hofer likes statistics.
And he's really good at them.
Here are a few: Since he began creating his own online video games when he was 13 years old, Hofer, now a Tigard High School senior, has seen 500 million unique play sessions, racked up 6 billion minutes of total game engagement, and has experienced as many as 100,000 concurrent or simultaneous players playing at the same time.
Hofer, 18, is the founder and chief executive officer of Silky Games LLC, which offers free-to-play, real-time games Hofer has designed over the years to be played on computers, tablets and smartphones.
While he's always loved video games — as a child, he loved playing both "Lego Universe" and "Minecraft" — Hofer decided he wanted to create his own.
"I worked on them," Hofer said, adding, "I learned from my mistakes."
Initially focusing on the technological aspects of his games, Hofer later honed in on the design of the game, asking such questions as: "What makes for a fun experience? What keeps (players) coming back?"
Along the way, he's had some success with two major online games that have proved to be hits — "Destruction Simulator" and "Lucky Block Battlegrounds" — on Roblox, a user-generated content platform that allows independent game developers to post their games.
Hofer launched "Destruction Simulator" about a year ago. This year, it won the 2019 Bloxy Award for Favorite Breakout Game of the Year, an accolade determined by the Roblox community members who nominated and voted for him.
"That was really cool," he said, explaining, "The premise of 'Destruction Simulator' is you basically blow up and destroy everything and you level up, collect rocket launchers, bombs, and you have to upgrade backpacks to carry your bricks. When you destroy stuff, you get bricks."
The game allows players to destroy everything from cars to volcanoes to spaceships to even larger targets. Hofer's personal favorite, however, is blowing up the largest structure he has put into the game: castles.
It took Hofer all last summer to develop the game, working with a couple of contractors who helped him enhance the visual aspects of it.
"So it's got over 40 million users registered on that one," Hofer said, noting that there are 175 million unique sessions created at his "Destruction Simulator" site.
His other highly popular game is "Lucky Block Battlegrounds, "something he created two or three years ago. The game includes a battle area where players open lucky blocks to retrieve weapons and find modes of transportation.
"One of my favorites is the magic carpet," Hofer said. "You can fly on it."
Hofer said both games are deliberately simple to play and cartoonish.
"I like to keep my games tailored to a younger audience, (ages) 8 to 12," Hofer said.
He remarked, "When developing games, I think it's really important to focus on understanding your players. It's crucial to make sure your target audience not only enjoys playing your game but wants to come back. This can be hit-or-miss. It took me years to understand what exactly worked."
When Hofer first started designing video games, he had no intention that he would make money — he just loved creating games, and he still does. But along the way, the games — not just "Destruction Simulator" and "Lucky Block Battlegrounds," but even the other less popular ones — have proven to be quite lucrative for him.
"I can pay for college fully from what I earned making these games," Hofer said. "I'm really blessed."
The games themselves are free, although they contain what are often referred to as "microtransactions" — charges for certain items inside the games, such as a variety of weapons, upgrades for cooler effects, faster progressions and more. And while those upgrades can cost anywhere from $1 to $50, the $1 upgrade is the most popular, Hoger said.
Those upgrades include everything from a $5 "rainbow block," allowing gamers to purchase such items as a flying rainbow magic carpet or rainbow swords, to the $50 Black Hole Rocket Launcher, which creates huge explosions.
Recently, Hofer worked on reaching international gamers by launching translations of some of his games into different languages, including German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and French.
Hofer said his favorite class so far was a Portland State University statistics class, "because it was so applicable to what I do for my business," he explained.
With a 4.0 GPA, Hofer is a founding member of Tigard High School's Entrepreneurship Club, which uses a curriculum provided by LaunchX, a MIT-founded program that has curriculum ranging from marketing to team creation.
In December, he was sponsored by Microsoft. The tech giant featured "Destruction Simulator" on the front page of the online Microsoft Store, which sells game apps.
Although Hofer could make a full-time career out of designing games, he plans to attend college, likely pursuing interests such as computer science, statistics and business.
In his spare time, Hofer likes to go work out at the gym, something that helps him focus and think.
He also likes reading, mostly nonfiction books about business. His most recent pick is "Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg.
Tim Hummel, a Tigard High School physical education and health teacher, said he believes Hofer's future is bright, noting that as cliché as it sounds, he thinks he can succeed at anything he puts his mind to.
"He is constantly thinking of ways to challenge himself to learn new things through creative innovation," said Hummel. "He also cares about helping others in any way he can. The discussions Sam leads are always about these two things, which are the best traits of a successful entrepreneur and a person who wants to impact society for the greater good."
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