Two former Niantic staff have gone solo to release Chief Emoji Officer, a satirical take on Silicon Valley working culture.
Developer duo Alexia Mandeville and Bo Boghosian were both working on Peridot at Niantic before leaving to set up indie studio Bodeville in October 2022.
Chief Emoji Officer was released on April 7, and casts the player as a newbie at an obnoxious tech start-up that wants to ‘change the world’. Through Slack-like chat software, the player climbs the corporate ladder by navigating onboarding and performance reviews only using emoji.
The satirical depiction of Silicon Valley is based on Mandeville and Boghosian’s time not just at Niantic but also two other Silicon Valley giants. Mandeville was previously senior game designer on Facebook/Oculus’ Horizon Worlds, and Boghosian was an engineer at Google for almost seven years.
“The tech workplace is a fairytale land where everybody is expected to be positive at all times,” Mandeville tells us. “It’s okay to be bad at your job, but not okay to say that somebody else isn’t doing a good job.”
“Meanwhile, everyone is wrapped in a blanket of virtue – they like to ‘change the world’ and have a ‘positive impact,’ but what’s really happening is that all these companies have built large data science teams to see how they can hook their users and keep them on the screen for as long as possible. But you can’t say ‘addiction.’ It’s called ‘engagement.’”
“We’ve both lived in Silicon Valley for a long time, and worked at many different companies. We know people from so many big tech companies and have heard stories through them – we meant for this game to be a reflection of the tech world as a whole.”
Chief Emoji Officer was released alongside a PC edition as a premium title. So far it has been “more successful than we were both expecting,” on mobile, says Mandeville, who describes going paid as “a big risk”.
“I think we really only did it because the game feels like it should be a mobile game, and both of us have experience in mobile,” she tells us. “But our game shows that it’s not impossible to get noticed, and there are other games like Neko Atsume and Bird Alone that were great hits and profitable.
“I would be interested in shipping a game solely on iOS now that I’ve seen that it’s been just as successful as Steam for us.”
With app store discovery tougher than it’s ever been, Mandeville says she’d like to see Apple and Google introduce more Steam-like features to support indies like Bodeville.
“What’s worked in the past for PC games is Humble Bundle,” she says. “It would be great if platforms would bundle games together and have sales to highlight similar games. The discovery on Steam is extremely good, Apple and Android don’t even compare when it comes to discovering games or even apps.”
Bodeville’s second game is Watchmakers, “a short adventure game about a watch deliverer, inspired by games like Zelda and A Short Hike,” says Mandeville. It is slated for release by the end of the year.