Session transcript of the Casual Cash Cow? by Eric Zimmerman, Independent Games Summit

Attended the Casual Cash Cow? session by Eric Zimmerman, part of the Independent Games Summit

Eric’s the co-founder and CEO of Gamelab, a New York -based games company and an all-round nice guy. He’s also a great speaker, if you ever have the chance, I recommend you go and listen to him. As an added bonus he usually makes the audience do things.

Huge echo! Eric’s wondering if that’s just in his head. :)

What are independent games? What does the term really refer to? It’s all up in the air. The summit’s been exciting to Eric.

Eric’s a game designer, been in the businesss for 13 years. Founder of Gamelab, professor, writer, advocate, co-author of two excellent books.

Gamelab has grown steadily, organically. Nice-looking pictures from the office.

Showing a reel of games, partially new stuff that’s not out yet.

Out Of Your Mind, a new game that looks awesome. Arcadia, you play four minigames simultaneously. Diner Dash, obviously. Egg vs Chicken. Plantasia gardening game, light sim game. Shopmania, parody of mass market. Lego Fever. Subway Scramble action puzzle game. Junkbot, lego puzzle game. Blix, first game Gamelab ever did. Loop, second game they did. Lego World Builder. Transformers. Gamgs of GDC. New Gamelab website.

Going through history of the company: business models of Gamelab.

Started with Blix. Completed for Independent games festival. Blix got picked by A success story from independent festival. Before the internet bubble burst.

Staff Authorship. If you want to grow beyond two or three people, you have to operate in certain ways, just having passion is not enough. Priority for any creative company. People have to feel the work is their work. Doesn’t work if people just clock in and out. You can’t fake it, people really do need to be in control. Financial incentives are necessary but no sufficient.

Invent challenges. Peter Lee talks to people all the time, making sure there’s interesting stuff happening for everyoine at all time. People can shuffle roles.

This is scary and not easy. You have to let people make mistakes or they won’t learn. There’s no creative director, no “vision director” for projects. Nobody’s there to say if something is good or bad. People start to collaborate in this type of environment, everyone is desperate for feedback at all times. :)

Low hangong fruit: web games. Using Loop as an example. All companies should focus on something, can be a business model, content, anything. Can’t focus on all, a company needs to focus on something. Gamelab decided to focus on content, especially on gameplay that provides new experiences for players. Each game needs to have something new and innovative.

Gamelab has massive amount of games at the office. Showing photos of a massive stack of boardgame boxes. They have all the consoles, lots of games.

Staff should have rich lives outside the company. One of the programmers is a DJ. Someone does sculpture.

Culture = daily experience of your staff. Research is the key to innovation. Design your company culture. What kind of a company are you going to make? When running a company, you have to decide that right from the beginning. The games happen as a result of your company culture.

Employees are always reimbursed for purchasing relevant stuff for the company. Sculpture nights. Game Jams. Design excercises, teams have to do a game quickly based on a task set beforehand. Karaoke nights. There’s a company soccer team. Mass DS game play sessions. Anime nights. Roleplaying.

What we do for money? Consulting. Mattel, Lego, OPB, Disney, Ragdoll, Fisher Price, others. Possible because of the research.

How to be an honest hustler. Eric is the main hustler at Gamelab. :) He likes speaking. You need to designate someone. Know what are you hustling. It’s important you know how to hustle your company.

Hustle to context: different contexts require different hustling, speak differently for differently audiences. Academics and reportes are interested in different things.

Inveolve your staff in creating the vision. If your staff feels like being part of the company, they’ll do a hustle for you. It’s important eveone feels the same.

Be honest: don’t lie. Do great work and then point at the work.

Downloadables are the shareware 2.0. :) Play first, then pay for a download.

Casual Game Industry. Eric hates the term, which musician wants to say he plays “casual music”.

Has some deep problems. Low conversion, crowded with content, conservative portals. If 3% of players purchase, game considered a hit. Developer gets very little money if he distributes through big channels, too many levels of companies that take a cut.

What’s working: digital distribution, meritocracy, leads to other platforms, it is the future.

Continual Process Improvement.

Forget great ideas; focus on great process. Eric doesn’t believe in great ideas, a good process will solve all problems. Don’t put pressure on individuals to solve your issues. The process solves problems, not people. Do constant improvement. Have good tools and technologies that facilitate your processes.

Self-funding downloadables

Lego Fever. Out of Your MIND. Self-funded or limited funding from outside. Gamelab owns the property.

New Models

Multiplayer: looking beyond casual games. GameStar Mechanic: hustling MacArthur. An environment that teaches kids about how to design a game.

Gamelab Institure of Play – rethinking a game development company.

Playing with the system: How games work: rules -> play. A moder for running a company. A model for transforming the industry. We can change the rules, rethink that games are, how companies should work. Lots of opportunities. Thank you!

QA: A downloadable that sells 100k copies is considered a good success, depending on development costs. Eric belives there’s a huge market that’s being untapped, like college students. Casual Games Industry too concentrated on certain parts of the market.

So, Gamelab sounds like a nice place to work in.

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