Press Pass LA recently attended The Book of Life film premiere which opened nationwide this weekend. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris DeWolfe (CEO) and Josh Yguado (COO) of SGN to talk about Sugar Smash, the official Book of Life Game and the future of gaming.
Chris DeWolfe is no stranger to the tech space. Having rose to industry stardom as the co-creator of MySpace, his latest venture SGN is already poised to lead the gaming world. SGN’s latest release Sugar Smash is the official game of FOX’s new animated film The Book Of Life starring Ice Cube, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum Diego Luna, and Christina Applegate.
We sat down with Chris and Josh to find out how the SGN-FOX partnership came about for this project and where they see the future of the gaming industry.
PPLA: Tell us what inspired you to create Sugar Smash and how did you go about translating the characters from the film to the game?
JY: First of all, we absolutely love the film so we were really, really excited to work with Jorge (Director Jorge R. Gutierrez) and the rest of the team. FOX has been fantastic,and they created this amazing vibrant world with characters who are larger than life. For the game, we started with what we think are the most important characters but do plan to add more characters down the line. Those are the characters voiced by Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, and Ice Cube. We just loved the personalities of these characters in the film and our goal was to try to find a way to bring their world into the game and really make the game feel like it was part of the cinematic experience.
PPLA: How closely did you work with FOX and Producer Guillermo del Toro? Did they have any say in the overall direction of the game?
JY: We worked very closely with Real FX and for the most part, we pulled from what they created in the film. We captured the narrative and the most central characters from the film in the game. The voices of those characters in the game are the actual voices of the talent in the film. We actually started creating the game after the film began.
CD: At any one time, we have four or five different creative briefs at SGN. We have a team that is constantly looking at different intellectual properties and content that we could create into a game. This is one that matched one of our creative briefs perfectly and that was one of the big decisions behind making the game. We knew we could incorporate all the great creative elements that Guillermo del Toro had created in the film into the game with very little additional work.
PPLA: When SGN sets out to create a new game, how do you decide what features will work in one game versus another, and on different gaming platforms?
CD: We create about 4 to 5 games every year that we expect to be top hits or do very well and be critically acclaimed. So we spend our time on making incredibly polished, super high quality games that can get to the top of the charts which means the highest revenue producing games out there. So what attracted us to this game was the animation, the art, the talent, and the whimsical nature of the film.
PPLA: I would assume there is a great potential to tie in a game when you have a big animated, nationwide release like this?
CD: Yes and also vice-versa. This game came out before the movie and we’ve had hundreds of millions of downloads for other games, games that we’re cross promoting with this game. So there’s this huge audience of people that are now getting introduced to this intellectual property that are now going to go see the movie. So for FOX, they get awesome cross-promotion and buzz for their movie, and they get a percentage of the revenues. For us, we get a lot of promotion from FOX, and we get all the art and all the content, so it’s really an amazing win-win partnership.
PPLA: How do you see the tech space continuing to influence the entertainment space? There are so many more games and apps now than before and it seems things will keep moving in that direction.
CD: I’m going talk about it super-specifically. What we’ve seen happen over the last couple of years is anyone that owns content or intellectual property of any kind is now thinking ‘Okay how do I fully monetize this from a 360 point of view.’ What is my merchandise strategy, what’s my TV strategy, what’s my movie strategy? In the past, games were always an afterthought. The thinking was that you could make a cheap game that would help market the movie. Now it’s the first thing we think of because often the game, as you know, can make more than the movie or a television show. Did you know that Kim Kardashian is going to make more from her game than she has on any other project she’s ever done. The other thing to point out is that the game is evergreen. It’s going to be around three years from now and can make hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years. So the big change has been big content owners and IP owners taking the game first type of attitude instead of as an afterthought so that everything is fully integrated.
JY: I would just add that fundamentally a film is a two hour activity and with our game people can play it for days and weeks and months and years! So fundamentally you’re able to immerse yourself in this world for such a long amount of time and you can get much closer to the IP. Your personal success or failure in the game is tied to the IP so there’s an opportunity as a user to come to really love these characters and get more and more involved over time.
PPLA: Traditionally animation is targeted at children. But over the last decade you see animated films being made for and marketed to older audiences. When you’re creating the game is that something that you have to take into account as well, considering who is the target demographic to play this game and how that affects things like level of difficulty and use function.
JY: 100%. What’s really important to us is creating a game that has a very broad audience. We try to make it accessible to beginning gamers or younger players, but also something where if you get really good at it, the game continues to present a challenge to you. That’s the hard thing to do. Perfectly balancing a game so that everyone can enjoy it at some level is one of the hardest things. We have a bit of an algorithm that we use. For example, in casino games there is reason why they work, because they are perfectly balanced. I think for casual games their are certain elements we have that make playing the game so compelling and so fun, so that everyone can enjoy it.
CD: I think that one of the misconceptions about this game is that it’s a game for kids and the primary demographic for this game is adults.
PPLA: I know more adults than kids that play games!
CD: This is the kind of game that the whole family can play but primary revenues will be coming from the adults. To echo what Josh said, it’s really about that broad audience. Another thing to add to what we are saying is that the whole business has changed. You used to talk about gamers seven or eight years ago and picture an eighteen year old kid playing alone or with his friends. Now we see everyone playing video games. Everyone has a console, a hidden console in their pocket which is a mobile device, and because that 80% of everyone in the United States has played at least one game in the last year. So now everyone’s a gamer and so the whole size of the revenue pie in games has increased so much. It’s why Facebook has grown so mush so fast. A lot of the revenues are coming from gaming companies.
JY: Just to add one note to Chris’ point, we did a survey and the majority of our users don’t consider themselves gamers. But they love playing the game. The session is completely different. You are not sitting and playing for two hours, you are playing for two or three minutes and that’s what we are looking for.
PPLA: Are there different tech challenges that come up when creating and marketing a game for different platforms like Apple devices or Android or tablets?
JY: From a technology perspective, one of our founding principles when we created this company was that we should be able to create a game once and create the technology that makes it easy to distribute across all platforms. We’ve done that and it’s a technology we call Master Key. So from a technology perspective we are covered. It’s very easy for us and it was super important to us that if someone wants to play from their iPhone or iPad or their Android device, or they want to be at home on their computer, or want to play at work, we want to enable that. We think that is becoming the expectation with the modern user.
PPLA: Do you think people are playing mostly on their phones? Is mobile taking over the gaming market?
CD: I just want to add that the strategy is to have all platforms pretty much come out at the same time. So when we talk about platforms we are talking about any of the iPhone family so the app store, the Android family which is Google Play, and then Facebook which people play on their computer. We think that one of the big mistakes that a lot of gaming companies have made is that they have stopped making games for Facebook and PC and there is a huge market left there. Because of the technology that Josh discussed, it makes it really easy for us to distribute those games within several weeks of each other on all the platforms.
PPLA: You have a history of taking interest in establishing new artists and breaking music across Myspace. For this game, you obviously have the voices of the talent but have you thought about trying to break musical talent through your other video games?
CD: I think it’s a super interesting concept. From our perspective obviously the audio is incredibly important, and we have separate folks in our creative department that have years and years of experience in choosing the audio that goes into the background of games. For this particular movie, we were able to take a lot of songs and audio directly from the film. But just to turn that around a little bit, my background is in any kind of consumer product. I just get really excited when I see people using the product. In the Myspace days, it would be people behind me talking about some Myspace drama that they’ve never seen before. Now it’s going to the airport and seeing someone playing Cookie Jam or Book of Life, just people using a product that we spent so much time building. That’s what interested me about music and it is the same with games.
JY: Just adding one thing to that, I think the biggest perk of working in a creative industry like we do is that your constantly on the lookout for people that are just wonderful, talented, interesting people. So if you happen to have an artist or a musician you love, you can potentially talk to them about working on a project with you. For instance, as Chris mentioned, we worked directly with a composer from Book of Life, the film, to do some original stuff as well for the game which was fantastic. I think finding an industry to work in where you can follow your passion makes it worthwhile. Both Chis and I love art, we love music, and we love working with creatives. We feel like this is the intersection of creative technology and putting it out their to the masses and so we love what we do every day.
PPLA: Last question, do you have a favorite character that you identify with from the film?
CD: I love the Ice Cube character, and I especially loved how we took his character and the audio from his character and integrated it so seamlessly into the game.
JY: That’s a tough one! I think my favorite characters, and they are not major characters, but they are the three musicians led by Cheech Marin. I think they are hilarious and just spot on every time they come on screen. I love them and they are probably my favorite.