Great Falls, Montana brothers Trevor and Josh Hughes have been dreaming up video game ideas since they were kids. In fact, Josh can’t remember a time when he didn’t plan on making a career in the video game industry:
“My mom remembers me telling her that when I grew up my job would involve video games in some way when I was in kindergarten...she may have been skeptical at the time.”
That skepticism has likely given way to pride in the 2+ decades since Josh’s initial announcement. of his career intentions. Josh started following through on his ambitions at an early age, earning an internship with a video game development company in Canada while he was still in high school.
It was during Josh’s internship that Trevor, then a 7th grader, experienced serious health complications. The family was told to brace for a long road of treatment and expensive medical bills. Josh moved back home to take what he describes as a “dead end job” to help cover expenses. The family was struggling. That’s when he decided it was time to pursue his dreams instead of accepting the status quo.
“My family was told the ‘normal’ thing to do was to accept that assistance programs were the only way we would ever be able to pay the medical bills and survive. I told my mom that ‘normal’ wasn’t working for us - that we needed to try crazy.”
“Crazy” was Josh and Trevor starting a video game development company and making a living from what they both loved to do. In 2006, the brothers founded Add-A-Tudez Entertainment and formed its first video game development studio, Team KAIZEN. The brothers were working furiously on their own, coming up with game ideas, designing interfaces, and doing all the programming work required to make a 3-D image move seamlessly across a screen. They had a lot of passion...and very little business experience. The Great Falls Development Authority found out about their work and offered entrepreneurial assistance and business training. Working with GFDA, the pair developed their pitch for investors and learned the basics of financial management that would help keep their young company afloat.
The vision the brothers brought to Team KAIZEN, combined with their new business savvy, led to some major successes. In 2009, the brothers were invited to participate in E3 - one of the world’s biggest promotional gatherings for the video game industry - as guests of global industry giant Sony. The E3 judges were so impressed by their work that they were invited back on their own merits in 2010.
“That experience was really huge for us. It gave us great initial exposure to the type of investors that are interested in what we do, and we met a lot of talented people to collaborate with.”
Team KAIZEN is unique in the video game world for putting an equal emphasis on “normal” (non-educational) video games and educational games that are increasingly being used in classrooms around the world to engage a new generation of young learners. The team is currently working on two games: a “educational lite” experience with fireworks exploding to the beat of music (the educational component is the ability to build fireworks from a periodic table of the elements at the bottom of the screen), and a fully developed martial arts game. The brothers are excited about the investment and player interest they’ve already seen, and anticipate bringing both games to market later this year.
But, perhaps nearest and dearest to Josh and Trevor’s hearts is the educational project they’re working on with Great Falls Middle School students. The Hughes brothers currently dedicate time and energy each week to 50 students learning about video game design and development issues through Sony’s Little Big Planet educational game platform. While Team KAIZEN is certainly a fully committing endeavor at the company’s early stage, Josh relishes the opportunity to give back and sees tremendous value in what they’re creating with the students:
“There’s a general attitude in our industry that there are two distinct sides: educational games and non-educational games. We think we can successfully span both sides and get more young people involved. Games are incredibly valuable learning tools for kids today - it would be a lost opportunity not to engage them like this.”
The middle school students are understandably excited about their opportunity to learn about how to build video games and work through the bugs that come up along the way. The program has been received so enthusiastically that Josh and Trevor are looking at expanding the project across the state and hope to hire a full time educational project staff member once their Team KAIZEN game projects have launched. More immediately, students across north central Montana will have the opportunity to take part in game design and development with the Little Big Planet system during a summer camp at Paris Gibson Square Museum in Great Falls.
Team KAIZEN is receiving global attention and validation for their games, and plan on making north central Montana a video game industry mecca down the road. Until then, they’ll continue focusing on the valuable intersection of education and entertainment with their projects while taking time to advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education around the state. Josh has a simple reason for putting in such long hours to take it all on:
“We love what we do and we want to get more young kids involved. We also love Montana, and want to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to have a career they’re passionate about here.”