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Interview: Big Fish's Pond Gets Bigger With Global Expansion, New Audiences

With 50% of revenues outside the U.S., casual gaming giant Big Fish Games is creating portals in five new languages. CEO Jeremy Lewis talks growth, the resurgence of adventure games and more.
With 50 percent of its revenues coming from outside the U.S., casual gaming giant Big Fish Games is moving to continue its expansion into international audiences, creating portals in five new languages for players of its popular titles like Mystery Case Files. The company's CEO, Jeremy Lewis, says over 100 million people worldwide have tried Mystery Case Files, and this big step into new arenas: Portuguese, Brazilian, Danish, Dutch, Italian and Swedish looks to bring the company's flagship brand and its many casual games to even more people. After just eight years in business, the company is set to reach revenues in excess of $100 million this year. "We continue to grow our business and it continues to be demand-led," Lewis tells Gamasutra. "We have a very substantial internal studio and hundreds of external development partners who work with us on an exclusive basis," he explains of the 400-person company. Big Fish Games' portal largely sells PC and Mac downloadable titles in wide-appeal game genres like hidden object, adventure and time management, with demo versions available and pricing from $3 to $20 per title, with a $6.99 monthly 'club' for game downloading that has more than 1 million subscribers. He adds: "Our direct-to-consumer branded portal now comes in ten languages, and consumers worldwide are downloading more than 2 million games a day from our portals." The company also continues to enjoy what Lewis calls a "fairly considerable" physical retail presence. But the shape of what's generally known as a "casual" game has changed enormously in the years since Big Fish was founded, with the rapid rise of social games, iPhone and console downloadables. What does it mean these days to be a "casual" giant as the market evolves? "Each of these new platforms becomes a means for audience expansion." says Lewis. "But gamers are also really smart, and are becoming increasingly so, and increasingly sophisticated. Really all of these things are wonderful ways that the audience is growing." The company is moving into both Facebook titles and iPhone games, with additional free web-based online 'teasers' for its downloadable casual titles. "The category leaders... especially those companies like ours that have the privilege of having an established brand, one that has grown organically, in our case for 8 consecutive years the category leaders... in a given market will earn the lion's share of the engagement with the consumers provided they continue to treat them well," says Lewis. That's why operating individualized language, region and culture portals is a good strategy, Lewis believes. And the reward is lots of diverse feedback: "Because we release new games every day in almost all of our languages, we have a very good sense for what it is people are enjoying. As tastes and preferences among consumers change, we have a pretty good understanding, and as a result we're able to work closely with developers to give them really good insight." And in what's sure to come as good news to traditional gamers, Big Fish's audience feedback is pointing them towards a beloved genre: "There's been a renaissance of the adventure game," says Lewis. "I think part of that is there's been such a huge new wave of gamers that have entered the market, both adult gamers and kids. The 'new thing' is really the thing that was new several years ago." "I don't think games are necessarily more complex now than they were," Lewis suggests. "In fact, the great challenge for us all is to continue to address the audience with games that are truly casual: playable by anyone, reprehensible by no one -- i.e. no violence and no foul language -- easy to play, super hard to master but not stress-inducing."

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