Detonator Games is set to blow Facebook apps sky high when its games finally hit the ‘Net. Founders Corey Dangel and Matt Wilson, formerly of Sony Online, took some time to sit down with WarCry to expose themselves….er…expose Detonator’s comprehensive plans for Facebook fun! Read on!
Follow the Detonator Games guys on the official Facebook page.
Please introduce yourselves and tell about your positions at Detonator.
[cd] Hi Suzie (Kalia). Thanks for taking some time to talk with us. I’m Corey Dangel, co-founder of Detonator Games. All three of us wear several hats here but in descending order of focus I’m responsible for the Art and Art Direction, Brand Management, Public Relations, Marketing, and I collaborate a lot with Matt on Game Design.
[mw]I’m Matt Wilson, co-founder of Detonator Games. I’m the game design, business man, coder guy. My primary role is to drive our business development and creative direction at Detonator Games. In addition to those roles, I’m also doing our client coding on our first game. One of the most fun parts of doing a startup is that it pulls from all your talents of previous jobs you have had, and allows you to continue to build on talents you never thought you had.
What are your game development histories? What games have you worked on and for what companies?
[cd] I’ve worked at Microsoft for 10 years, Cavedog for almost 2 years, and Sony for 4 years. In that time I’ve shipped over two-dozen games. I was the first Art Director hired in the games division of Microsoft and a founding member of Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone. That’s where I met both Matt and John. Some of the more interesting games I’ve worked on at Microsoft include: Mind Aerobics with game design legend Alexey Pajitnov, Asheron’s Call, Psychonauts, Dungeon Siege, and Mythica. At Cavedog I worked with another game design legend, Ron Gilbert, on Total Annihilation ’99, the Boneyards & Galactic War, TA: Kingdoms, and Iron Plague. And at Sony I helped to create the greatly anticipated cross-platform action/MMO called The Agency.
[mw] I have worked in the online gaming space for over 15 years and I have worked with Corey and John for 12 of those years. I worked for 10 years at Microsoft, and was part of the original DirectX team, Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone, and part of the original Xbox launch. I met John and Corey at the Internet Gaming Zone where I was managing all of Microsoft’s MMO’s. After I left Microsoft, I started up a company called FireAnt Games (John Smith was one of my co-founders of FireAnt), and it was acquired by Sony and became Sony Online Entertainment’s Seattle division. I worked at SOE for 5 years serving as the Director of Development and Creative Director for The Agency. Some of my favorite titles I have worked on include: Ultra Corps, Fighter Ace, Asheron’s Call, Allegiance, Dungeon Siege, NightCaster, Sudeki, Mythica, and The Agency.
When was the decision made to leave SOE-Seattle?
[cd] I decided to leave Sony right around June. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was the right one for me.
[mw] I left on July 3rd from SOE-Seattle, and co-founded Detonator Games on July 4th. I had been thinking about the social gaming space for a while before that time. When the opportunity presented itself this summer, I just felt it was the right thing to do. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my career, but now that I’ve jumped back in the pool it’s time to start swimming again!
When was Detonator founded and by how many people?
[cd] We formed Detonator Games on July 4th, 2009. The 3 founders, John Smith, Matt Wilson, and I, share a common appreciation for the power of connected gaming and we want to bring our brand of over-the-top fun and excitement to as many people as possible.
The opportunity to make a big impact on the world of gaming is better today than it has ever been. Forming a company dedicated to connecting people through play seemed like the obvious next step for all of us.
[mw] We founded our company on Independence Day, a day filled with lots of booms, blasts, and explosions. It just seemed appropriate for a company named Detonator. An additional benefit is that we get to shoot off fireworks for our company’s anniversary each year.
May we see some nifty pictures of the new swanky Detonator digs?
[cd] Does that mean tidying my office? Oh dear.
Sure thing. Right now we work remotely about 60% of the time and we gather at my house for meetings and brainstorming. This way we can keep very flexible hours and enjoy the benefits of face-to-face communication when needed.
[mw] We have found that the tools for working remote are finally at a place where it actually works! Thank you Skype! Once we start growing we will be moving into a more permanent office, but right now Corey’s house is a fairly swank place to work.
Was Detonator specifically created to produce games for social websites such as Facebook and MySpace?
[cd] Yes. Precisely. <whispers> You know…there’s a revolution going on? Ok, it’s not much of a secret: Social Media is now the number one activity on the internet, surpassing pr0n, with nearly 300 million accounts are registered on Facebook. If Facebook were a country it would be the 4th largest nation in the world! Now THAT’s a massive audience! And we want to entertain them.
[mw] Yes, we are targeting social websites, but I would contend we are still making MMO’s, just on a smaller scale. The types of games we are interested in producing will still contain ongoing updates, community events, and a perpetual revenue stream with micro-transactions. We are starting with some very small experiments in this space, but our goal is to take our learning from the MMO space and continue to translate it to make very sticky, community driven games that have a live component after launch. You won’t recognize our first few games as MMO’s, but trust me, it’s just the beginning.
On how many social websites do you plan to maintain games?
[cd] The plan of record is to at least hit the big 3: Facebook, MySpace, and hi5. But we’ll evolve accordingly. I can foresee challenges in giving equal attention to all the different networks, but we love challenges. And having too many players is a problem we will gladly embrace.
[mw] As the market evolves, we will evolve our platforms. Right now, it’s the typical social platforms, but I expect that to change to both the mobile platforms (iPhone & Android), and consoles over time. These will become social platforms of the future, not so far away.
What about mobile games?
[cd] We’re very excited about the potential to connect the gaming experience between multiple environments and Mobile is a very important component of the social experience. I just read that 80% of Twitter posts come from mobile devices.
[mw] The main issue with mobile right now is the distribution model. I expect that to change as they sort themselves out. Social platforms are an incredible distribution system, and I expect that to become the driver on mobile and the consoles as it has on the PC. Our goal is to be on as many connected platforms as possible.
How many games does Detonator have in development?[cd] We have two games that are currently in development, with 90% of our resources focused on the one. We have a hopper of about a half dozen ideas we’re anxious to get to as well. We’re nearly ready to make an announcement about our first game. We just had a super-select alpha preview this weekend so we’re getting close to letting people come in and check it out. I suggest becoming a fan of Detonator Games on Facebook. We’ll be determining our alpha invitations by looking to our fans first.
[mw] Join up on the Facebook fansite and become one of the first to get a sneak peak.
Someone really needs to make a Pirates vs Ninjas game. How about you guys?
[cd] That’s so funny you should mention that. I was just talking with Matt about…<gack, thwap, Arrrrrrr…..>
[mw] Wait! You forgot two of my favorites, Monkeys and Robots! Hmmm. How about Pirate Monkey’s vs. Ninja Robots! I could honestly be had by any combination of P,R,M, and N. Corey, get on it Now!
If it’s not Pirates vs Ninjas, would you tell us about the first game you plan to release?
[cd] No official announcement has been made yet but I will leak this much information. We’re focusing on short-session gameplay with fundamental sticky features like level progression, achievements, collections, and a simple economy. We’re getting very close to letting in more people to the alpha. So hang out on our fan page and invite lots of friends so we can all have a blast together.
[mw] This first game for us is our driver for core technology and infrastructure. This is really a quick learning game for us to do some experiments and build our deployment systems. I still think folks will have a “Blast” with it. Hint hint.
This quote is taken off of your web site. Would you explain it please?
We’re totally dedicated to creating entertainment overflowing with the attitude, emotion, and fun that drive players together. In short, we connect people through play.
[cd] To paraphrase Jack Black, “who doesn’t wanna ROCK?!?” As the social space continues to evolve it’s important for us to establish a unique identity. We’ve always maintained that attitude and lifestyle are as important as the actual game mechanics and graphics. This is every bit as true in the social space. If you love how a game makes you feel, you are going to share it with your friends. If playing WITH your friends makes you enjoy the experience even more, you’ll share with more friends. And so on…connecting people through play.
[mw] Corey is absolutely right, we want to make a fun way for people to connect together, and then give them the tools through play to bring their own personality through. As games evolve, you’ll see it more become the reflection of the player and less the reflection of some designer.
How many developers are currently on staff at Detonator?
[cd] Just the 3 founders right now. We all work really hard and wear many hats so we can cover a lot of disciplines. The 3 of us are like 9 regular people. I just love what I do, too. So I’m always working on things….but it has never once felt like “work”.
[mw] Our first game is just the 3 of us, but as we start on the next game, we will start growing our team. Great flash developers are always welcome.
How does designing and developing a game for social networking sites differ from ‘traditional’ game development?
[cd] In many ways it is remarkably similar. We have code and asset libraries structured just like we would with a traditional game. We have morning scrum meetings. We have very similar discussions about game design, usability, and player feedback.
And in some ways it’s very different. The tools we’re using to produce the final product are the things we used in the past to rapid prototype. We’re using tons of off-the-shelf solutions. We’re also developing super fast, not needing to worry about the decision that we make today haunting us by crippling some pipeline 6 years down the road. Most significantly, I think we’re way more involved with the community than we would be with a traditional game.
[mw] From a production standpoint, it’s remarkably the same. The most successful social games from Zynga or Playfish are no different than MMO’s. They have an extended live beta, they focus on microtransactions to support an ongoing live team. They have exploiters, and farmers, and rely on a strong community to grow. They are just done on a much smaller scale. From my perspective this is a very healthy thing for the gaming world. This will allow for some very cool innovation in a much smaller time than the typical 5 year development cycle of current large scale MMO’s. Also, we are thinking of gamers in a completely different light. It’s great when your best customer doesn’t consider themselves as a gamer.
Is it ‘easier’ to develop mobile and website games than it is to develop a traditional computer game? Why or why not?[cd] Well, yes. Emphatically. Without a doubt it is easier. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, or that just anybody can succeed in this space. We’re uniquely positioned because of our combined experience in first generation web games AND AAA blockbusters. But the scale of the challenges is manageable by much smaller teams and in a radically compressed timeframes. And we’re able to iterate so much faster that we can get to the gems much quicker than in traditional development.
[mw] We still develop in the same way, just much quicker scale. As the space evolves, you will see it getting closer and closer to traditional games. The lines will start blurring fast.
How will your experiences at SOE enhance Detonator and its games?[cd] We learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. What systems scale and what systems do not scale. We learned more about the importance of servicing the community. We learned about large-scale infrastructure and we learned about how the culture of teams evolve as you grow from a dozen employees, to twenty, to fifty, and to one hundred. That experience is priceless because there’s no way to learn it outside of experiencing it for yourself. So I think Detonator Games will benefit by knowing how to grow our company wisely.
I think we’re also poised to make games with more global appeal. In our combined travels (so much travel!) we learned what kinds of experiences people are looking for in games…not just here in the shadow of Microsoft, Nintendo, Valve, and Bungie, but all over the world.
[mw] You learn a lot from successes and mistakes. It was great to be at a company that dedicates its life to the online space. SOE tried a lot of different approaches from PSN, PSP, Free to Play, Mobile, etc. I learned a lot from every product that they shipped. It was almost like dog years. I feel like we got 7 years of experience for every year we worked there. I enjoyed my time greatly while I was there, and it has transformed my thinking of how games should evolve in this new space.
Will Detonator games go through ‘beta testing’? If so, explain the process.[mw] We just did a super double secret limited alpha this weekend. When the game is ready, we’ll open it up to a selected wider audience. Each week we’ll make adjustments (add or drop features, fix bugs) and, soon, we’ll be ready for beta. And we’ll start letting everyone play. It’s difficult to predict an exact timeline because it depends a lot on audience reaction.
Your Facebook following is growing quickly. Do you have ‘pages’ on Bebo and/or MySpace?[cd] At this time we’re only maintaining the Facebook site but the plan is to expand into the other social networks. Either way, invite your friends. The more the merrier!
How much player input will Detonator solicit?
[cd] Wow! It’s like you’re reading my mind or something 🙂 I’d say we wan to solicit tons and tons of feedback. It may sound corny but I’m being very sincere: we want to establish a real relationship with our players. In fact, we’ve already conducted three surveys with our fans on Facebook. This is something we’ll continue to do.
[mw]Obviously we won’t be able to implement every individual suggestion but we’re going to look at trends both from written feedback and what we learn from the gameplay instrumentation that John hooked up. We will know which skills (for example) are used most commonly and when/where but we’ll be looking for feedback from players to tell us the things that the raw data can’t express.
What are your current favorite games on Facebook and other social networking sites?[cd] I have played every game that I can find on Facebook. I started out a little over a year ago with Mob Wars (level 228) and Pet Society. Now I play about a dozen games semi-regularly. In terms of active accounts I have a 407th level Maniac in Mafia Wars, and a Farmville character in the low twenties, a Café World in the mid-30s, and I just started the Fish Ville game. I love the Playfish games! Pet Society (29th level), Restaurant City (32nd level), Crazy Planets (18thlevel), Country Story (13th level), and I own the premium versions of Word Challenge and Who has the Biggest Brain. I’ve been checking out games on hi5, too. Their Organized Crime game is pretty good.
[mw]I really enjoyed FarmVille, until I practically got carpel tunnel when they had the magic berry weekend event. Is it possible to grind and power level your farm??? The answer is a resoundingly Yes! I really enjoyed Mafia wars, but one day awoke from the haze of the never-ending progress bar and asked…”where am I?” I still love that game, it’s the epitome of why people play MMO’s, but the realization they never want to be faced with.
Want to join my Mafia?
[cd] Hellz to the yeah! Dose udda guyz is pushovahs. Letz go do some crimez!