GamerSafer - Rodrigo Tamellini
10 min read

GamerSafer - Rodrigo Tamellini

Interview with Rodrigo Tamellini of GamerSafer
GamerSafer - Rodrigo Tamellini

Today we have Rodrigo Tamellini, Co-Founder and CEO of GamerSafer, which provides software for games to prevent online fraud and toxicity using computer vision and artificial intelligence.

Brian Wei: Tell me about yourself and how you got into the tech ecosystem.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My life really changed when I was about 12 to 13 years old when I got my first PC, and I fell in love with technology. I started fixing computers as my part time hobby. I became an electronics technician and then my first actual job was fixing computers in a computer store. I then went all the way up to the engineering and corporate ladder. Afterwards, I became an awarded veteran from the Brazilian army. I went to college, and studied electrical engineering. I started working as an engineer and I was the first headcount of AsusTek in Latin America. So I basically help the company go down to Latin America. I did pretty much everything from sales, engineering, acting as product manager, building the team, and starting local manufacturing. After that, I became a general manager of LG Electronics and I was pushing mobile phones to the market. At LG, I was pushing about 14 million phones to the market every year and launching over 20 products. By now we have smartphones and we just launched one per year before we have many models.

After that, Intel was starting to play in the phone market, and they needed a specialist on that for Latin America. I was hired to be the one responsible for the mobile product line of Intel in Latin America. I was working over there for a couple of years and everything went well. They basically brought me to Silicon Valley, where I was sitting at Intel’s headquarters at Santa Clara. Shortly after, I was relocated and there was this opportunity inside the gaming business unit of Intel, and I thought, “Yes, that's for sure something I want to do.” I was one of the guys responsible for strategy inside Intel’s gaming business unit. Intel makes a lot of money in gaming. This unit drives almost $5 billion in revenue per year, and we were highly profitable because of the high end CPUs that we have on games. Intel was always very keen to understand the market trends and the possible constraints on the market and they invested a lot of time and resources in research. Every time that we went through a single scenario on research, we saw that games are getting more and more social. And with that, several problems are just materializing inside games such as bullying, harassment, hate speech, sexism, racism, scams, bots, fake accounts, duplicated accounts, smurfing, groomers, and predators. All of these kinds of things were happening.

I had an idea how to approach the problem from a different perspective on the technical side. I thought the idea was good enough for me to drop off a corporate career as an executive of a blue chip company to go to the startup world. And, of course, my co-founder is also strongly responsible for that because she's a second time entrepreneur. She is a specialist on social impact. So we became this power couple where I'm the gaming technical guy and she's the entrepreneur with a social impact mindset. We are gamers ourselves. Our kids are gamers. So we saw, of course, a massive business opportunity because gaming is a gigantic market, right? But, more so, it is a great opportunity for us to make a major difference. And the more that we got into the space, the more we knew that someone needed to step up. We conducted several interviews with players, parents and the industry and the more we learn about the challenges and the scenarios, the more we think someone needs to do something about the issues because some stories are really terrifying and really bad. That's how we found GamerSafer 14 months ago. We were affiliated with UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck, which has an acceptance rate of under 2%. And we joined their program with just an idea, and barely a PowerPoint. because I was working at Intel and I cannot work in parallel with other thing, right? So we basically had to drop everything that we were doing to pursue this dream and I think we are evolving pretty well. We have a product, we have customers and we are seeing a good landscape moving forward.

As a gamer myself, I always wondered why games couldn’t prevent all toxicity. Why haven’t game studios created strong solutions to account for severe harassment?

I think this is a combination of various factors for a challenging question. And the answers are not very simple. I'll point out some things. First, for many years, I think a good part of the industry has this growth hacking mindset to accumulate growth and generate users. They truly believe they are creating great experiences for players and most of the experiences within gaming are really amazing. They are just not really paying attention to the collateral effect of what they're putting together. I think secondly, it is a fairly challenging scenario, because you see the range of the challenges that I addressed (bullying, racism, sexism, etc.) involves complex social interactions that can lead to fraud and potentially criminal activities. So it's not a very simple problem to be tackled by smaller game companies. They don't really have resources to do that. Gaming is a very competitive market segment and they don't really have the bandwidth and team to be super proactive. For the bigger players, once they already have this massive user base, this is not something that was easy to tackle and to solve on their own. They try to put some measures on it but there is space to do it better.

There are trends changing on the regulatory perspective as well. So think about what happens with data privacy regulations. They're just trying to adjust as they go. In my experience working within the industry, I think there are people who really care about it. We want to come up with solutions that are scalable, easy to integrate, and don't really compromise user experience, but increase engagement and lifetime value. With this mindset, they will look to those points not as an analysis of friction, but as an opportunity to drive a better community and increase their revenue and bottom line.

How does the GamerSafer’s product (Digital Gaming ID) work? I understand computer vision is leveraged to verify and authenticate players.

Our approach is that we have to address two major challenges that drive most of the problems that we described before. One of them is the high level of anonymity that we have inside the platforms. So while you are anonymous, you're not really mindful about what you say and what you do. We understand that many online experiences are not really player centric in the sense that the matching systems could be improved. We see most of the matching algorithms are focused on leveling the game in terms of skill level, and minimizing technical challenges such as latency. So that's basically how most games are deployed in terms of matching. But we believe that if you want to deeply understand your users’ preferences, such as how they like to play, how they behave, and their objectives, you can improve the matching experience and, by doing so, you can minimize or eradicate the problems that we described.

For our technology, we enrich the user profile and collect and verify more data about players. During the login process into the game, our product uses a selfie and in less than one second, we verify and authenticate the player. All of this personal information is anonymized, so the platform still doesn't know anything about the player. We send this information straight to the matching systems, so with more context around the player, they can improve the matching and minimize many problems.

So let me give an example. You were playing Fortnite and you needed one other player for the squad. If you have 100 players at ages between 13 to 15 years old, why should you match them with a 40 year old guy? It is just a potential open door for child exploitation or sexual exploitation. If you have a player that was previously reported as being sexist, why should you match him with a girl that plays much better than him? She will basically kick his butt and he'll just speak his mind.

You're a very casual player and I'm very competitive. You are very game focused and I am more off-topic. These kinds of small nuances of how we like to play are important to improve our overall experiences. We are basically stacking those kinds of insights about the player which are not identifiable so we are fully compliant with every single data privacy regulation, and we are helping games do a much better job. Once we do this using computer vision and facial recognition, we can also bring accountability back because if someone misbehaves and is banned for whatever reason and put in a block list, this person cannot create a new account or a smurf account. We cut and break this vicious cycle of blocked individuals recreating accounts in two minutes. Sometimes the person that's coming back is a criminal, or a groomer, or a professional scammer, or a cheater (if you are looking into the more competitive side of the story). So yes, eSports is important. People are devoting their lives to become pros. And whenever you are in the top 1% of pro players, you have several people looking into them and scanning things but in the semi-pro scene, there are a lot of people exploiting the systems and cheating to take financial advantage in spite of great players. So, we are told that what we are doing helps you see many different touch points in a very elegant way, I would like to say.

What do you look for in a founding team? I understand that you and your co-founder are a power couple.

We are a power couple for sure. We came from different backgrounds. I am the technical gamer. She's an entrepreneur with the social impact mindset. But I think what really makes a difference is, of course, domain expertise, level of preparedness, a passion for what you do, and grit. I also value the capability of getting things done because in the beginning of the entrepreneur life, you have to do a lot of things, prioritize the challenges, and improve your connections. I think a good founding team is when the team members don't have much overlap in terms of capabilities. You see that my co-founder’s background is completely different compared to mine, and sometimes we disagree on things. But that's the beauty of it. That's what makes us grow. We are looking 360 degrees around us. And if you do have a team of similar people, you just copy from your buddy that has exactly the same background and perspective as you do. This could be limiting.

What are the most challenging aspects of founding a company within the gaming space?

I think it depends on what exactly you are doing. I think, in general, gaming is a highly competitive and dynamic market. So you really have to to be prepared. Some trends that you see may not exist in the near future. You have to be prepared to adjust to the trends.

There is also a pretty strong social fabric on top of gaming by now. Many major companies are doing great jobs and creating new things all the time. You have many entertainment options originating from streaming scenarios. We see strong community ties and real, passionate people who offer strong voices on top of everything that happens around gaming. So this is a very unique dynamic in terms of the voice of the user, the size of the user base, and the dynamic that's happening around the industry.

How do you think about approaching funding?

Yeah, originally we bootstrapped our company. Right now, we are experiencing market validation and we are raising in the middle of our seed round. We already secured initial investors. The round is still open but I think we are evolving well. I think the key idea behind funding is to make sure that you need it and have a clear plan or why do you need it. I saw many entrepreneurs falling into the trap that yes, that's easy money so let me get it. But everything comes with a price, right? As we mentioned before, we are a very mission-driven company. Not only do we want to create a big business, but also we want to create a business that makes an impact. So we are cherry picking who we want to work with, because you really cannot jeopardize your mission for a funding path. And likewise, sometimes I see startups overspending. Understanding the use and terms of funding is important to determine whether or not funding will be a hurdle or fuel for a company.

What are other problems you see within the gaming space?

We think about the customer journey as never-ending. The customer jourI think that we have several challenges to tackle from a technical perspective, such as how to improve players' experiences. I see many companies doing things like this. I think the key challenge that we have in the industry is making sure that we are creating an environment without the problems that we have in our real society.I think it's a pretty crucial moment to think about what we want to do about gaming. This also goes down to the design level of games. It goes down to the community guidelines from streamers, for example. What kind of streamers do we want to empower? Who are the heroes of the new generation? In the past, professionals from traditional sports were the heroes for many youth players. So who are we empowering? Of course, he or she probably is a pretty good player, but what is this person’s values? What are his or her core beliefs? I think it's a pretty good conversation to have.

We can also point out the case for diversity and inclusion. So we know that women are underrepresented by far within the gaming industry. I don't think that's a good idea. There are several business cases proven that having a more diverse workforce will improve a company's outcomes. I think we're starting to see more diversity inclusion inside the games. It is time for us to do this better.

What is your favorite game series of all time?

Oh I would probably enjoy a marathon of Zelda! I started playing Zelda many, many years ago. I would start from the beginning and work to what we have now. I think it would be a good investment of time and bring much fun for sure!

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