What Makes Us Different?

This might be a little rambly, because frankly, I'm just writing this as part of a process of thinking it out, but since feedback and input would be great, I'm doing it here where you can read it. Heck, part of the goal of this was transparency. We recently had a chance to show our investor pitch to someone who we knew could give us great feedback, and indeed, we got it. Part of it was simple - what are we pitching? Our previous pitch was mostly focused on pitching the game we were working on, because through that, we were able to talk about our experience, and our strengths, but because most investors that we might talk to aren't necessarily experts in gaming, it might make sense to instead talk instead about the studio, and what make us different. Strangely, it's advice I just gave to someone else - why are you doing what you're doing? What makes you stand out, because in the current game environment, if you're not doing something distinctive, you really don't have any reason to exist.

So in the following bullets, here's why I believe we're different. I'd love either input or feedback on what feels good, bad, relevant, etc.

  • We are on the cutting edge. We aren't on the cutting edge of graphics, because that's not our strength, but with every game that we've made, we've focused on doing something that hadn't been possible before. Whether it was cross-platform multiplayer on mobile to creating a giant, synchronized single-world MMO on Google Maps, we've never made something that hasn't been surprising and new in some significant way.
  • We are focused on genuine social interaction. Every single one of the games we've made has had a significant social component. And it's not just about slapping a Facebook icon on some friends and asking you to spam them. For us, "social" has always been about having an experience you can talk about later. Doing something together that builds new memories and strengthens relationships. Sometimes that's with old friends. Sometimes that's with people you met in-game. A friend recently said that this, as a bullet point, is so overused that they glossed right over it - but the thing, to me, is that while it's ubiquitous as a bullet point, it's incredibly rare in actual games that friends are anything more than a tool for viral growth. For us, it's a foundational part of what we do, and something that we feel is one of the best elements of modern games. It's near and dear to us, and games that foster actual social interaction are exceedingly rare.
  • We build rapidly evolving games. One of the things that is starting to become more prevalent is the idea that games are services, and that they need to change over time. "Free to Play" has forced a lot of companies into this model, but even then, in most of these cases, we're talking about evolution that takes place over a span of weeks or months. We've got years of experience making games that evolve on a timescale of days or weeks for major features. There have been times where the time between having a thought & having it implemented and live in-game was hours, not days. The ability to react quickly let us beat competitors with 10x our team size with many, many more resources. While this level of speed is something that is fairly common among web developers, it's surprisingly rare in games, where there's a long history of dev cycles where developers go for years without any feedback at all. For us, "years" between releases is such an alien concept, we can't even conceive of an environment where we'd have a game that goes even a month without significant changes.
  • We build games people love. We have always tried to make things people will love. This is always difficult, because you never have the resources that you want, and you never have the time you need. And you're always fighting to balance business and pleasure, which is a really difficult line to walk. But philosophically, we believe that craft matters. That passion matters. That giving people something they know was built with love is how they can also grow to love it. Sappy, sure. But when we have a choice, we want to give players something that they value. And while a lot of companies have made short-term gains by making games that make money first and foremost, we've built games that have lasted for years not months, by focusing on giving players something they genuinely value - whether that's through fun, surprise, delight, or deep, lasting social connection.
  • We value our team first and foremost. This means maintaining a great work-life balance. It means giving people creative input and ownership over what they're building. It means trusting their expertise. It means giving them long-term growth & evolution. It means building a team of people who treat each other with respect and compassion. It means saying "no" to a lot of stuff we all want because maintaining a sustainable pace over years is more important than getting that one feature out right this second. It means making mistakes is okay, as long as we learn from them and grow. It means that part of our time spent working is spent learning and helping each other.

I think those are the most important things, some of which are important to players, some of which are important to people on the team. I don't know how much of this would necessarily be interesting to investors, or how coherent a message this is - it's a lot of things that are very, very important to us on different axes of the game development/business process, but each of them is vital, and I don't think we'd be "us" without every one of them. And probably a bunch of other stuff I'm forgetting.

Actually, one thing that I'm pretty certain would be interesting to investors: While a lot of this stuff sounds fluffy and idealistic, it is the philosophy that we used to drive the development of one of the most successful apps in iOS history. While it's easy to say that Big Fish Casino was a success because it was a casino game, the fact of the matter is that we beat out a lot of other casino games, and sustained our success over a tremendous period of time because we cared about the experience of our players, moved really fast, kept the team engaged & passionate about what we were doing, had a userbase that had built up a population of friends in-game, and we were constantly trying things that had never been done before. We didn't do the "fluffy" stuff because of our success, we succeeded because of it.