Peter Thiel's Zero to One and I-Novae

The game plan of making a small game and moving up to a larger game makes perfect sense. This is actually the way that truly successful startups operate. You need capital to create budgets and grow a business.

I’ve been listening to an audiobook, repeatedly, by Peter Thiel - one of the Paypal co-founders and friend of Elon Musk called “Zero to One.” It’s really got some potent advice for startups, and honestly the I-Novae engine makes me think that you could be looking at a potentially incredibly popular and valuable game.

  • Paypal dominated the small market of Ebay power sellers - about 20,000 people - by marketing to them first. Then those people trickled the product down, and the rest is history and paypal is an institution.
  • Tesla dominated the “clean supercar” market of rich people by making a car that’s actually good.
  • SpaceX started by launching the small Falcon 1 rocket used to secure a NASA contract so that they could build Falcon 9 in its most basic form.

So, Battlescape fills a niche and mastering that niche first is what will lead to success that will allow you to build the MMO. But you have to identify and market to that niche.

Basically, Peter Thiel’s main point is that you have to master these following questions:

  1. The Engineering Question: is your product ten times as good as the competition? This is where you win by concentrating your forces in a small, niche market. The combination of everything you do must yield that 10x result. That is, you don’t need to have a singular piece be 10x as good, it just needs to end up about that good overall. Incremental improvement doesn’t justify the expense.

  2. The Timing Question: big moments happen only once. The next Google won’t be a search engine, the next Facebook won’t be a social media site. I worry about this one the most with Star Citizen on the horizon. So, don’t take them on directly - not yet at least.

  3. The Monopoly Question: plays into the 10X question and needing a niche market. You need to monopolize the correct area by just being better. Competition eliminates profits, which eliminates the ability to develop and expand. Don’t exaggerate your uniqueness - this is the biggest failing point of a venture.

  4. The People Question: I think this one seems pretty good from the outside. This community is great and the devs are great, you all get along well. Which is actually his point - if you don’t like working with people you’re not going to give it your all. When hiring people in the future, make sure that people are in it because they want to be a part of it.

  5. The Distribution Question: You’ll be fine on this, it’s software distribution, which makes distribution ultimately easier.

  6. The Durability Question: when you grow, will the competition actively destroy you? Will your source of income actually be something sustainable? Present value formula determines your present value based on future cashflows. Future cash flows need to be based in reality.

  7. The Secret Question: basically, IP that gives you an edge. The I-Novae engine is that secret and you need to use it to dominate a market that Star Citizen doesn’t operate in. Not everyone wants to spend all day on an MMO.

I’d listen to the book:

It’s just like a very long lecture by a guy whose actually built several billion dollar industries who has worked with many others who’ve done the same. He has several contrarian points that end up being pretty insightful.

Finding the Right Market

This is the hardest part since video games are saturated as hell, and there is a lot of overlap, which makes it hard to compete. I think that markets that are easiest to differentiate are as follows:

Indie Market
Space Game Market
Competitive Multiplayer Game market

A lot of businesses fail because they don’t make something new, but just cross existing crap together in a new combo that isn’t actually very unique because it’s just a mashup. The indie market will only carry you so far - it fails the durability question. You have to transition out of that market and into a more mainstream one.

The Space Game market is pretty packed, but the I-Novae engine is one of the few that lets you fly in and out of atmospheres. This advantage is not enough on its own - everything else must work as well.


I’d normally caution against putting too much faith in this sort of book. They tend to be chock full of survivorship bias and make mass generalisations across very different commercial environments, but it probably won’t hurt to consider the general points you listed.

Oh, and I’m going to be making points based on Battlescape itself, as the future of Inovae and everything it’s going on to do is based around how Battlescape performs. I’m sure everyone will be more than happy to slog through growing pains that follow a big hit. :slight_smile:

It’s kinda funny that you miss what Inoave is doing differently to the competition after that great big spiel.

When almost everyone else (who counts) is going for big detail with resource intensive features like full ship interiors and animated character models, Inovae are using the savings from lower detail environments to go for far larger scale combat with vast numbers of ships and quantity of weapons fire.

It’s a tiny team with limited funding and resources, so they’re playing to their strengths on that.

(Obviously, there are other small indi studios making lower detail space games on the cheap, but none of them have years of prior work sunk into a dedicated game engine built from the ground up to do that job well.)

Onto covering the specific points and plastering my opinion all over them:

1: Inoave have made something offering 10 times the battle size of anything else I’ve played outside of barebones tech demos by sacrificing a level of detail they wouldn’t have been able to deliver anyway.

2: Are providing an experience with that scale of combat not offered by anyone who could be considered their competition.

3: Have a dedicated custom built game engine, unlikely to be replicated any time soon by studios that start offering a similar product.

4: Don’t hire people you hate. Don’t let the community turn into a toxic cesspool. Got it.

5: What, no epic store exclusivity deal? :wink: (That was a joke. Please don’t.)

6: The studios with the resources to compete with what Inovae are offering probably wouldn’t bother, and the studios that would want to take a market share probably won’t have the capability. At least for some time.

7: The Inovae Engine isn’t an edge by itself against larger, far better funded studios. How the engine is being used is what provides that edge.

8: (My own addition.) LUCK.

Just to finish up; there’s no big obvious reason why Battlescape shouldn’t be able to succeed beyond the whims of market exposure and social media algorithms. After all this time, all we can really do is hope it gets a fair shot in the limelight.

Oh, and hype the hell out of it to everyone we know.


They tend to be chock full of survivorship bias and make mass generalisations across very different commercial environments, but it probably won’t hurt to consider the general points you listed.

Oh, absolutely. I listened to it several times with a critical ear. I think it’s best to try to understand the book critically by trying to actually solve problems in your head with some of the ideas that he presents and seeing if they make sense.

I thought a lot of the ideas were pretty solid. The biggest thing I disagree with is about competition: a lot of people are poor competitors in a market. Instead of competition eliminating profit, it’s more like profit goes to the top few players in a market.


A lot of business success is about timing and getting into the market early before it’s saturated. It’s easy to be a copycat, it’s hard to do something no one has really done before on a large scale.

When Paypal was created, it was one of the first internet payment processors out there, it had no competition since they basically pioneered their way into the consumer buy/payment space. If Flavien had started his Kickstarter back in 2008 after they made that cool procedural demo from way back and released it in 2012 or something, it wouldn’t have had any real competition (outside of EVE maybe). Now there’s a large group of ppl already invested in large games like SC/Elite, etc (RIP Limit Theory)

And pretty much any small company goes through a growth period initially, how much growth depends on how good their product is and how much of a demand for it is. I’m pretty sure Flavien and crew already have good business sense, their only blocker is time and a limited amount of developers, so he can’t really focus on business side.


I couldn’t have started a Kickstarter in 2008 when Kickstarter didn’t exist yet.

IIRC Kickstarter was created around 2009-2010, and only funded very small projects at first. It’s not until 2011-2012 that we started to see budgets over a million dollars, and crowd-funding getting popularized in video games.

So yeah, if we had magical powers to see the future, it would have made sense to prepare the Kickstarter before Kickstarter became a thing :wink:


Honestly though Flavien, Battlescape is kind of at that secret status right now precisely because you’re not an MMO or sandbox. Those are very different markets than competitive fast paced combat. I kind of group fast paced combat games into a more similar category, be it medieval, shooter or dogfighting. They tend to attract the same crowd.

Your game is built on your engine. Others have retrofitted their engines. They have more resources, but they’ve also backed themselves into a corner by having to cater to player demands and fit a certain style of gameplay.

SpaceX has much higher autonomy than a public company like Boeing or Lockheed because they’re small and private.

I-Novae Studios is small and private, and can therefore adapt to challenges that Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen cannot.

The biggest thing, perhaps, is that you don’t want to compare yourself to ED or SC. You don’t want their attention. You want a monopoly on the “easy to get into this solar system combat game.” Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous are expensive and take a long time to figure out and get into.

So as I see it there’d be this process of figuring out how you’re going to beat the shit out of those games when you have the resources to do so, and finding out what things you need to do now with Battlescape to make that future scenario more likely. I.e. how do you set up certain things? Is the engine readily able to take upgrades? Can the combat be tweaked quickly for balance/fun?

It’s like you want to combine the lust-like feeling of seeing your enemy’s health going down when you’re a skilled player with the awe of flying around a solar system in massive battles. Just pushing that combo is what I see making Battlescape stand out.

I dunno - obviously this is opinion, but I always like to share such thoughts in case the perspective lends itself in a way that is useful.


It is an MMO and a sandbox, biggest 1 to 1 scale sandbox ever made. Only reason the servers aren’t full is because the lack of marketing and the marketing power of the larger AAAs.

Just polish the game and put in a few props and it will beat the shit out of all of those games.

ED maybe but SC is a buggy overhyped $1000 jpeg factory and the ships fly like overheated ww1 biplanes. Infinity has smooth net code and more planetary detail and scale than ED, SC and any other game and not to mention the ships go 3000mph on the planets surfaces.

Quality over quantity wins. Does not matter if you have 250 million dollars for a budget, if your game is broken and needs a new engine and new hardware to even barely run 9 years after the kickstarter then it wont matter. Infinity only needs half that time and half a dozen more features and some polish and it will beat all those games easily.

Good post btw very informative.

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This sandbox lacks sand though.

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The #1 thing that limits the “sandbox” part is the match and progression system. And it’s not gonna change, that’s part of the design of Battlescape. However to add more “sand” we can easily add more content when time comes ( likely after the EA release ), more missions, more things to discover. Even trading or mining isn’t entirely out of the picture, but it depends on how much success we have.


The game already has trading though. Players trade their ships’ bullets and missiles for pretty explosions!