How NeverEnding is melding the worlds of tabletop games and entertainment platforms
Thanks to social media and the internet, it’s easier than ever for people to create and share content. But in the age of viral videos and live streams, most of that content comes with the camera pointed at your face. Original visual work is still popular elsewhere — just ask Netflix or HBO — so why not apply those principles to social media? That’s what Cleveland startup NeverEnding is striving to accomplish.
“We’re developing an entirely new kind of social media platform with tools that will allow the average person to compete with streaming platforms like Netflix without being an artist or animator,” said founder Jamie Van Doren. “We’ve seen a huge explosion of internet content on platforms like YouTube, Twitch or TikTok, but that content is primarily camera-facing. It focuses on the individual and how well they look and perform. But many of us aren’t comfortable in front of the camera and don’t want to be judged on our appearance or how we’re performing. So we want to give those people a suite of tools to get them out from in front of the camera and put their ideas in focus instead.”
NeverEnding is building a customizable library of tools that can allow users to create web comics, animated videos and more. Inspired by the ease of creation in video games, the goal is to create a platform that can be used by anyone in a more efficient and less frustrating way than buying and learning an expensive piece of professional software. Van Doren’s vision is to create a platform similar to social media, but with the ability to browse people’s creations like Netflix with a large pool of original content created with NeverEnding.
“The majority of the tools on the market are incredibly complicated and time consuming,” he said. “It takes about 45 hours to create one minute of animation using professional tools. We want to reduce that time to one or two hours using really simple and intuitive drag-drop, point-click functionality and making creating a video feel like playing a video game.”
NeverEnding originally started as a gaming company born out of Van Doren’s love of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. At the beginning, the idea was to give players a way to see themselves in their adventures, something Van Doren had not always been able to say about his own games as a kid.
“Growing up, I didn’t see people like me on TV — my dad was a Mexican immigrant and I wasn’t really connected with that part of my heritage and didn’t see a lot of poor, Latino kids on TV becoming successful,” he said. “As an adult, I’ve realized more and more that how we see ourselves portrayed in media impacts how we see ourselves in the world. On the other hand, I was a huge lover of tabletop games, which were my first opportunity to create social groups where being poor or Mexican didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was how well I co-created this awesome story with people.”
When he left his previous role as chief marketing officer of a nonprofit, Van Doren followed his passion for gaming and started NeverEnding. But as the company worked through its early stages, he realized that his initial plan was too limited in its scope. NeverEnding didn’t have to just be for gamers; instead, it should be about storytelling for everyone.
“As I talked to customers and people about it, I realized I’m not the only one who feels their story isn’t being told,” he said. “There are some fantastic story ideas out there with no way of getting them in front of people. So we went from being a gaming company to an entertainment and media company. Now, we’re focused on anyone being able to create something as easily as playing a video game and accessible to a five-year-old or your grandma.”
Van Doren’s early years were spent in southern California, but says his roots are now in Ohio, having graduated from Case Western Reserve and worked with JumpStart on NeverEnding. And with his project beginning to get off the ground, he has high hopes for the future. He believes that by focusing on user experience and capitalizing on subscription and micro-transaction models, NeverEnding can be Ohio’s next unicorn in a field ripe for innovation.
“Ohio provides a lot of resources at the idea stage; there are a lot of resources to help entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily have a lot of business experience develop that business and understand what they need to do to develop a successful company,” he said. “Online entertainment is a $200 billion industry and is expected to grow to $652 billion by 2027, and we have the opportunity to scale NeverEnding to $1.5 billion. We could be a unicorn within five years of launching the full platform, and we have a clear path forward for that.”