As Director of Business Development, Marketing Director and Evangelist with GarageGames, Jay Moore helped to establish the Torque engine as a serious choice for independent developers, also advancing the community with his work on IndieGamesCon. After leaving the company in August of last year, Moore commented that “as GarageGames has grown to a place of stability, new opportunities have captured my imagination; I look forward to revealing my next venture to the planet”.
That next venture was later revealed to be The Strategery Group
: a consultancy firm that aims to help games studios with business and brand development, as well as making clients “smarter, more popular and better looking”, according to the company’s website.
We spoke to Moore about the group, what he aims to accomplish with the company, and how he feels about the current state of independent development.
Why did you decide to leave GarageGames?
I saw an opportunity in the market to lower what has become one of the last barriers to entry for indie game developers - business development. My vision was beyond the scope of what fit for GarageGames, and so it made sense to spin-off my own venture.
When and why did you decide to form The Strategery Group?
I had the opportunity this summer to do some personal vision and mission setting for my own life when I spent three weeks sailing in the San Juan Islands. I realized that I'm most engaged when I get to work with teams of talented developers on strategic planning and business development. My background as an entrepreneur and marketing consultant, along with my relationships in the game industry, bring a much needed resource to new game studios.
I believe that the game industry is at a pivotal moment where the balance is changing to give more value to the game creation side. I think that will be an important part of the new economics of digital distribution.
Why did you choose the name? Does your use of the word "strategery" suggest anything about the way you are approaching the company – I'm assuming your title as "Head of Special Ops" certainly does?
In the game industry, we should be creative. And, we should be having fun. I really enjoy what I do, and I wanted a name that embodied that. Strategery is a word that has become part of many people's vernacular - particularly anyone who watches The Daily Show, The Colbert Report
and Saturday Night Live
It's been said that entrepreneurs are the guys who print their own business cards and pick their own titles. When I had my own design firm, I was the Time/Space Continuum Coordinator. At GarageGames, I was an Evangelist. While at nVidia, Chris Donahue had the very enviable title of Director of Covert Operations. I felt Special Ops describes how I like to treat all my client work.
You commented that your aims as part of GarageGames were to "change the way games are made and played"; do you have similar intentions with TSG?
I do. I think players are looking for more connection to the games they play. Independent game developers are in a perfect place to leverage that desire with more player-created content, more collaboration on persistent play experiences and a closer understanding of building games that connect with new players.
I believe that the talent behind great games (designers, producers, and even engineers and art directors) should be as well known as the stars in music and film. Building strong developer brands will help achieve that awareness. Players are looking for a less recycled play experiences and more innovation. Independents are better able to explore some of those opportunities because for them success isn't measured in days on the shelf and scrutinized by analysts on Wall Street.
How quickly after forming the company did you find people interested in utilizing your services?
This probably sounds like sales hype, but I had contracts with a variety of developers even before I'd gotten my company announced, let alone launched. It re-affirmed my belief that there's a strong need in the industry for what we do.
Who are you working with at the moment?
Some are still not announced because we're just now getting pitches finalized, but I'm working with Roxor Games in Austin, Texas, known for its dance games. Roxor is launching a game called Road Rebel
. I'm also working with Roxor and some indie developers who have games on XBLA to take some of their games to distribution in coin-op with full cabinet integration.
In February, I'm headed to Amsterdam for Casual Connect and to work more with Steamline Studios. Streamline has a game called HoopWorld
in production. I'm also involved with Zeitgeist Games, Velvet Jacket, Frozen Codebase and Envy Games.
What kind of services do you find people are most interested in?
Business development is definitely the area most people are looking for assistance with. And, part of that is helping them find them new opportunities. Although, my assistance with marketing “strategery” and positioning are also services that are quickly leveraged. And while I have done things like venture fundraising, full PR services, and web design and development in the past, those are services that I engage other providers for. But I can definitely help people make connections with the right people for those jobs.
Are the developers you work with generally aware of the kind of strategies you use, and if not, do you feel this suggests a kind of naiveté within the independent market?
Naiveté is the wrong word. Just because you can't excel at every portion of the business equation, doesn't make you naive. Most developers don't spend a lot of time studying marketing. So, no most aren't familiar with the strategies that I use. But, they're very smart people...and quick studies. A lack of highly developed branding and business development is true of a great deal of start-ups - even those that are venture funded. Bringing someone with my background and experience in-house is rarely a fiscally viable option. By aggregating services across multiple clients, The Strategery Group can bring the right market intelligence, opportunities and outside perspective to smaller developers.
To be competitive in this industry requires you to be good at every part of the creative and business side of the game business. Bringing what has to be the most sophisticated form of entertainment experience to market isn't just a matter of throwing a designer, a producer, an artist and an engineer in a room. Developers who can build strong teams that can build high-quality commercial games despite limited resources are amazing talents.
Why is brand development important for start-ups?
Branding is important for any company. At any stage in their growth. But for start-ups, good branding is a crucial way to build both the real and perceived value of their organization. Good branding ties the consumer in more tightly with an organization. It creates an affinity factor just like a favorite star or director makes you more likely to go see a movie. Good (or bad) branding affects how much a customer wants to do business with you. You're always building your brand, whether you intend to or not. But unless you're managing your brand correctly, you can actually end up devaluing your business.
Companies are valued on their "current present value" - or you could say at their brand value - even if a company isn't building with acquisition as their exit strategy. The same disciplines that create strong brand value translate into profitable business practices for sustainable independents.
One easy way to think about this is what studios would you most like to work for and why do you feel that way — how have they communicated their quality of product or work environment that makes you believe they'd be a great place to work? If you don't promote and build your own brand, you'll be less likely to create a sustainable studio. And if you do sell, you'll have far less value than a well managed brand.
Do you believe brand development has become more important as the industry has grown?
Certainly as the industry has matured, the necessity of good branding has grown. But I believe good branding has always been important. I think that the discipline of branding has become more accessible to smaller enterprises and that consumers expect organizations to have clear brand promises and messaging.
The disciplines involved in building strong brands translate to gaming entertainment in an extremely dynamic way. Consumers build strong affinity with games, and the IP value of a game accelerates very quickly with a hit title. But they can build broadly over time as well. Online distribution, with its much longer shelf life, helps games find their audiences and can connect studios and talent directly to the players.
For developers today the art of branding should be a foundational part of their understanding about the market opportunities that help refine game designs.
What do you think of the state of independent development at this point in time? Do you feel things are getting easier for independent developers?
It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times. The game industry can be war, but it's mostly simulated war...which can still be hell. If it was easy everyone would be able to launch a successful game studio. We're in a very good point in time.
Has it gotten easier? Well, on the plus side there are more entry points right now. There are some lower cost opportunities to innovate (which the industry is starving for and is usually the domain of start-ups). There is more talent that can afford to take risks based on prior successes. And, there's even some funding sources that understand the game industry.
On the challenge side, the production bar, technology bar and amount of competition is very high. Building revenue from work-for-hire contracts, and still having time and talent to do your own IP farming, is the most common start-up model. But it is fraught with failure. Funding for individual games and start-up studios is still very difficult to find. But publishers are doing more third party deals right now, and there is a healthy acquisition appetite that should continue for some time to come - which, if you do get funding, is an important exit strategy.
Do you foresee anything that will dramatically change the way independent developers are able to do business?
Online distribution is already making that change. But like most transitions, it doesn't happen overnight. A few of the smaller trends that create new business opportunity are: social networking; episodic or persistent content; micro-transactions; accessible talent pools and non-proprietary technology; more immersive and innovative input devices (think Wii); and collaborative networks to outsource production and business services.
How are you able to help companies with "Strategic Partnerships", and why is this important?
Like a lot of things in life, it usually boils down to "who you know." Beyond publisher and distribution opportunities, even getting the right recruiters, PR teams, outsourcing talent, testing resources and licensing opportunities frequently requires the right referral.
Much of my initial assistance is simply leveraging my network and knowing who will be a good value partner for whom. It's not just being able to get into the right parties at GDC. You need to be able to form the right partnerships. That's how you generate success.
What hopes and plans do you have for TSG in the near future?
I'm currently in a talent search mode. And I'll be able to announce some new clients and studios I'm working with in the near future. I'm headed to Amsterdam to Casual Connect
from February 7th to 9th and am looking forward to GDC right after.
I'm also working with Thomas H. Buscaglia, The Game Attorney, to take a one-day seminar on start-up issues, branding and contract negotiation to key cities around North America.
Will we see the company expanding, and if so, in which ways?
Right now I'm spending a good deal of my time in Austin, TX, Seattle, WA, and the bay area. Over time, I'd like to expand the team to have small teams located in key cities in North America...and possibly around the world.