This is the last of 10 profiles provided by the North Carolina Technology Association highlighting its newest Beacon Award category, Ten Startups to Watch. The companies were recognized during the organization’s November 6th NC Technology Awards Gala.

By Ann Revell-Pechar

Cliff Bleszinski, CEO of the new game company Boss Key Productions, wants everyone to know that he chose North Carolina as Boss Key’s headquarters over dozens of other options. 

He sees our state as having the right geographic location, but also thinks it’s akin to a mini-Austin “without the same problems.” 
And besides, he loves it here. He even owns a Raleigh restaurant called The Station and will open a local “barcade” next year.
Bleszinski left his creative guru position at Epic Games after 20 years to start Boss Key, partnering up with former co-worker Arjan Brussee, now COO of the new company. Their goal is to create a new free-to-play games—the first isn’t yet released but is a sci-fi first-person shooter game code-named Project: BlueStreak
Funding came from Korean gaming giant Nexon, which is looking to establish a bigger stake in the US market. 

Growth Challenges 

Both founders have learned what it takes to make a successful gaming company. But there are challenges balancing product development and growth. 
“Learning how to make a great game in the ‘Free to Play’ market, especially when it isn’t “Pay to Win,” is probably the biggest challenge facing us right now,” says Bleszinski. “Also, growing at the right rate is essential. Not growing too fast, or not fast enough, can be a major issue with any new company.” 
They have been meeting these challenges over the past year, growing slowly but steadily—a pace they expect to keep for the first few years. In July, they announced a bunch of new high-profile hires. Bleszinski says that growth rate is meant to help him develop an agile family, where people are valued over process. 

The Boss 

Where did that name come from? Apparently, there are three answers to that question. 
The emotional answer is all about power (boss) and mystery (key)—things that gamers can’t seem to get enough of. The other two references are smack dab in the center of gamer ‘insider’ lore. 
In the Legend of Zelda games, one must search for the “Boss Key” to unlock the “Boss Door.” 
Why do you need a Boss Key? Of course: you have to fight the boss. 
Finally, it’s an old computer reference. Some old games designed for the PC had a button that helped you disguise the fact that you were playing games during work hours. 
Apparently this type of ‘Boss Key’ would launch a random spreadsheet to make it look like you were actually working. 

In a Year… 

“We’d like to be at a few dozen fantastic developers as employees,” says Bleszinski. “And we’ll be getting ready to release an early (but fun!) version of our first game, codenamed Project: BlueStreak.” 
He admits that, while recruiting can be a challenge at times, there’s a whole group of people who are moving to the area and learning that there’s something great about living and working in Raleigh—and all of North Carolina. 
Gamers will understand his reference when he says: “it’s much like the Oculus Virtual Reality headset. Once you experience it, you get it.”