Jesse LaVigne was getting tired of working in retail.
The California native graduated from Wheaton College in 2004 with a degree in sociology. Then, he spent seven years working in retail. A few years ago, he realized he needed to engage the creative side of his brain.
LaVigne, now 33, received a second bachelor’s degree from Wilmington University this spring in video game design and development. Along the way, he took an influential co-op class and formed a friendship with fellow student Thiago De Oliveira.
Then, Wilmington University’s Scott Shaw, chair of game design development, had an opportunity for LaVigne and De Oliveira. The job: to design video games for Exalt Games. The only catch: the opportunity was in North Carolina.
“We went to Charlotte to talk to Exalt and they wanted us to relocate down there. It didn’t seem like the best idea,” LaVigne said. “We had a talent pool in Delaware and we knew what people could do and knew they would be appreciated. We argued for trying to find a space in Wilmington. They reached out to the school to see if they could help us with the business and provide a safety net.”
This semester, a business incubator was launched at the university, with Exalt Games being the first tenant. LaVigne said the space is open and the university is looking to fill it with companies connected to or run by students or graduates from the university.
“Wilmington University seems very focused on ‘how do we make this benefit the students?’” LaVigne said.
LaVigne, De Oliveira and five students — who work as independent contractors — have been pumping out new video games.
- Puzzlesque — which LaVigne described as a jigsaw puzzle game where users are tasked with solving a movie, not a picture — was recently launched in the App Store and on Google Play. The game took 12 weeks to develop, he said.
- Fruit-Slinger, a Wild West shooting gallery with fruit, was also recently released on both mobile platforms.
The team is also working on Stellar Harvest Proving Grounds, which should be released in the next month or so, LaVigne said.
Under LaVigne’s watch, games are finished quickly. He plans to have his team pump out a couple more games before year’s end.
“They understand very well how to make what they’re working on. We get a very cohesive approach and build quickly, LaVigne said. “Our passion and our speed comes from our willingness to work hard at it.”
Each of the students employed by Exalt has a specific function — student’s roles vary from working on menu design, to character design, to 2D artwork and more.
LaVigne said he hopes to collaborate in the classroom by tasking students in the undergraduate program with creating levels of a came. This can add greatly to their portfolios, LaVigne said.
Even with most of his staff currently enrolled in the undergraduate program, LaVigne said there is no lack of work ethic or diminished performances due to the demands of studying and completing school projects.
“The great thing about work in retail is that I understand seasonal work. Here, I’m managing creative people and I like this better,” LaVigne said. “Working around schedules — most of them want to do this work and we have to make sure they’re not neglecting their school work. Some of this is careful hiring, but the rest is talent — we’re working with people who just do amazing stuff and as a result, we get people who can balance work and life reasonably well.”
The team is planning a trip to MAGFest — a music and gaming festival in Baltimore — in January. Exalt Games is also looking to host a small networking event in the coming weeks to coincide with the launch of Fruit-Slinger. They’re also interested, he said, in connecting with other local businesses in Delaware working on creating video games.
“Technology is in Delaware already,” LaVigne said. “But we’re waking up to that fact that it could be unique and I’m excited to participate in that.”