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How are casual devs responding to a glut of PC competition? MumboJumbo VP of sales Brian Garrison tells Gamasutra that the future is on console and handheld, discussing casual games within Sony's Home and a push onto the Wii, and their game based on The O

Christian Nutt, Contributor

October 11, 2007

13 Min Read

As the PC casual space changes and becomes increasingly competitive, how can casual devs respond? At the recent GameStop Expo, we spoke with MumboJumbo North American sales VP Brian Garrison about the strides it's taking into the portable and console realms. Garrison says that, having seen the success of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Luxor, the company is aggressively moving into more of the console space with discussions in place for a move into Sony's Home. The firm is also excitedly preparing itself for the Wii -- including its previously announced collaboration on its first licensed title, a casual game based on the hit sitcom The Office, and discusses a host of other issues with Gamasutra here: Can you talk about how the company started? Were you originally a web and casual game company? Brian Garrison: Actually we started out on the Mac space! We started out as MacPlay, and started to develop AAA games on the Mac platform. That's how we got started. And then our founders, back in 2002, actually ran into the guys over at PopCap, and saw that Bejeweled was not doing much in the retail space. They said, "Hey, we wanna take this to the Mac. Are you guys interested?" And they said, "Sure, why not." It did great on the Mac, so they went back and said, "Hey, let's do it on the PC." Next thing you know, we've got a 100,000 unit seller, plus. Does the MacPlay business still exist separately, or has it "morphed" into MumboJumbo? BG: MacPlay has morphed into MumboJumbo. Basically, we do several games, hybrid -- so we do them on multiple platforms, but it's all under the MumboJumbo brand name. Now, do you distribute everything at retail, or is there some stuff on the web, like PopCap's style? BG: The majority of what we do is all at retail. Our main business plan is that we like to take things online first, and see how they do. Then we can either add things or change things for the retail versions. If they do great, then we take them to retail. And you've had a couple PSP games. BG: We have. We've launched three PSP games. We actually have a game launching next week on the PSP: Super Collapse 3. We're very excited about it. We also have a DS game launching next week as well: Seven Wonders. Do those games all come from the same source? Are your developers external or internal? BG: The majority of what we do is internal. Some of our beginning games -- and actually, Super Collapse being one of them -- are external. But the majority of our stuff is internal development. We have studios based in Dallas, LA, and we just recently purchased a studio out of Vladivostok, Russia. You're gonna stick to the casual space with your development right now? BG: That is our core. We've actually had some developers approach us from outside that space, and we've turned them down. We really want to stay with what we know. OK. Are you satisfied with the portable space right now? Is there something that you prefer? Between Mac, PC, and portable, what's working for you? BG: You know, what we're noticing just in the last few months is that the console market is really where the boom is starting to happen. I don't want to say the PC market's saturated, because I don't think it's really saturated, but so much of it is online that we're still getting a lot of online traffic, but PC retail has kinda flattened out. The majority of the pickup is on the console software. I'm sure you've been reading industry publications, talking to other people in the industry, and everyone's caught on to the fact that they can put up games on the web. It's no secret, and now the big players are really moving heavily in. Where do you see yourself going, with that being the case? BG: Well, we were kind of first to the market, with all the casual games and taking them to retail. There are still plenty of developers who haven't caught on to the fact that retail is where the majority of the business really is, in terms of revenue. You know, the numbers are online, and you can say that you have 700,000 downloads of something -- but at the end of the day there's a 1% conversion rate? 7,000 units isn't quite doing it. The retail numbers are still where it's at. Now EA and Ubisoft are jumping in, but they don't have the same quality product that we do. Do you think there's something that your company understands or fosters that is more tailored to the casual space, that other publishers don't quite get yet? BG: I think since we started out with it, and we've got some of that history, there is some of that, definitely. You know, there's a secret to keeping a game this enduring in the casual space. There's a difference between the casual space and the hardcore space, and when a AAA game comes out, it's on top for two weeks, three weeks? A month, maybe? Unless you're a WoW of the world, you really don't have those long-term hits, where in the casual space, it pretty much jumps up, plateaus, and stays there. You don't see the fall-off for twelve to eighteen months. When developing games, do you approach it as, "This is going to be a PC game," or, "This is going to be on a handheld"? How do you differentiate that? BG: We'll absolutely look at that. Ideally we end up with a property that we can put on multiple platforms. Realistically, not everything translates as well, which is really something in our 'green light' meetings that we're starting to look hard at. "OK, is this PC only, or can we take this to the console? Or maybe this is console first, and PC comes later." We're looking at it on a title-by-title basis. It was interesting that you guys went for the PSP first -- because the DS seems like a fit. BG: Yeah, and it absolutely is a fit. The interesting part about the PSP is that about 18 months -- it's almost been two years ago, now -- we looked at the market, and at that point it looked like Sony was going to end up being the long-term winner. So we hedged our bets, started with the PSP development first, and now we're playing catch-up on the DS. Were you happy with the performance of the first two PSP SKUs? BG: The first two SKUs, I can't say that we were. Seven Wonders released in April and it's actually been a pretty good seller for us. Super Collapse, the pre-orders look very good. So I think that as it matures, and as we mature as a publisher on those platforms, we'll see much better results. In the traditional game space, companies work to get people hyped for the fall and holiday season. In the casual space, do you think that it's agnostic to the season? BG: You know, two years ago I would have said 'yes', but we're actually starting to see some seasonality in the games in general. The online stuff, not as much, because it's always there. But definitely at retail we're starting to see that seasonality. I think that has as much to do with retail as it has to do with our products. July is not a great retail month, regardless. Is GameStop a big destination for your product, or is it more the big-box stores? Target, and so on. BG: Absolutely, the big-box stores -- the Targets, the Wal-Marts, the Best Buys of the world -- are top-tier retailers. GameStop's been a great partner for us, especially on the console side. They were the first to take in our console titles. They always want to be first to market, so it's actually been a good partnership for us. The numbers on the PC side aren't as big as the numbers from the big-box retailers, but the console numbers have been decent. How do you feel looking at this huge show, filled mostly with hardcore games? BG: Well, it's interesting. What we've found out is that generally, hardcore gamers will stop their hardcore game every once in a while, and play a casual game. Whether they're in-between games, or whether they just need a break to let their mind rest a little bit. But we also find out that casual gamers don't play hardcore games. Our marketplace is much larger than just this hardcore gamer. We've actually had some come by our booth today, several of the hardcore gamers that you mentioned, saying, "I love playing Luxor on my Xbox Live." So they'll be playing an Xbox game, jump over to Xbox Live and play Luxor, which is great, and then jump back on. So we're kind-of a casual break for them. Is Luxor the only game you have on XBLA right now? BG: Right now, yes. We actually have two more slated between now and the end of the first quarter. Xbox Live also has Zuma, which is a similar game. Do you find that competing there is tough? BG: Well, according to Microsoft, there hasn't been much competition. So, we're glad of that. How do you feel about the Xbox Live marketplace in general? BG: It's actually been a great thing for us, and we continue to do well there. Like I said, we've got a couple more games planned. We're working with Microsoft right now, and they're very happy with the results we've gotten out Luxor. You know, I was asked earlier whether we planned to do something for the 360, but right now it makes sense because of the size of our games, to continue to go on Xbox Live Arcade. There's less on our end -- we turn the game over to Microsoft, and they do all the heavy lifting. There aren't currently any SKUs that are allowed to sell for under forty dollars on the 360. At least, their MSRP being lower than forty bucks, though games will get marked down. It doesn't seem like a proposition that would fit. BG: No, but actually we're doing Luxor for the Wii, and that will come out at $40. It's a bit more of an in-depth game than some of the other ones we've done, but right now the Wii is so hot. I am extremely excited about how that game is gonna turn out. That audience, I think, will potentially be more excited to see Luxor when they're walking into the store. It seems that if the Xbox audience walked into the store and saw Luxor next to Call of Duty, they'd think that's not a big shock. They're going to get excited about big games, and then play Luxor between sessions. Whereas, someone with a Wii will go in and say, "Ah! That looks exactly like what I want." BG: That's part of why we're so excited about it. Our audience is definitely the Nintendo audience. Luxor is an existing game, and doesn't really take direct advantage of what the Wii can do. Have you've worked in some personality there, but are you looking at the Wii and what you can do in the casual space? BG: Yeah, we're definitely seeing what else we can bring to that, whether it be an original game or a port. That's definitely a platform that we're researching heavily. Have you been working with Nintendo in any way? BG: Actually we have a person whose full-time job is to talk to third parties -- Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony -- and he has spent an inordinate amount of his time lately with Nintendo. Do you really think it's inordinate, or maybe it actually might pay off for you guys? BG: Definitely hope that it pays off. It's definitely weighted more towards Nintendo, though. Is that the way that you're looking currently, at least for the 'set-top box' consoles? That Nintendo would be the way to go for you? BG: Yeah, it looks at this point. Unless Sony figures something out with Home. I think, long-term, Sony wants us to be part of Home, but at this point, who knows when that's going come out. The Playstation Network -- irrespective of Home -- have you done any looking into that? BG: We have. We're actually looking at doing Luxor for the PS3, Playstation Network. Luxor is kinda where you start from. BG: That's been our "base franchise," if you will, so yeah. We generally start with everything there, then move out from there. Has Sony approached you to be in Home, or only in a vague way? BG: They have approached us. Honestly, I can't speak about what those conversations have been, but they've definitely approached us. Do you see an opportunity there? How familiar are your with Home; do you see that it fits? BG: Well, I think that it would fit similar to how Xbox Live fits. In terms of getting people in, creating that community. Their idea is basically to create that community, similar to what the Wii has done, and I think we're gonna do great on the Wii. Do you think that the social networking aspect of Home, and the fact that it's recognizable in that you have an avatar that looks like you instead of a text 'friends list'; do you think that it's something that works in its favor? BG: Oh, absolutely. And right now we're building a game for The Office, and at some point we plan to take The Office to the Wii. The sitcom license? BG: Yeah, correct. We're doing that for the PC right now, and we'll expand that out to consoles. But having the opportunity to maybe make an avatar look like one of the characters from The Office, so there are some opportunities there. What kind of game is The Office? BG: It's a task-based management game, similar to Diner Dash, where you're actually in an office and you're doing tasks. You'll be playing as Jim, battling Dwight. You'll be able to play pranks, there'll be video in the game, and actually, writers from the show are helping write the game. Is this your first licensed game? BG: Yes, it is. How has that been working? BG: It's funny, they actually came to us. We also, actually, are working with some licensing right now with MTV Networks for their Nickelodeon properties as well. So, you know what, because of being a leader in the casual space, people are coming to us because they're not wanting a hardcore game created for their property. They're wanting more of a casual game, to broaden their audience. When you're looking at things like Home, there are a lot of online spaces that are really popular, like Habbo Hotel, and Gaia, and things like that which offer an online space for mostly teens to play. Is that something that you've looked at as an opportunity for you guys? Either to work with them, or to emulate, or something? BG: Not currently. I mean, we're always open to opportunities, but it's not really something that we're looking at right now. Seems to me that most people see your games as a retail package that someone can play and enjoy, and it doesn't require connectivity. BG: Absolutely. You can play stand-alone, or online. We are looking -- actually, we bought a company about three or four months ago, out of the UK, that is basically a server farm. We are looking at some multi-player functionality online. Like, competitive, or cooperative? BG: Yes, both. Are you designing new games to take advantage of that, or retrofitting games? BG: We're starting out with kind-of a retrofit, to make sure we know what we're doing, and then we'll expand from there.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt


Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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