Last month theme park giant Six Flags announced that it was riding onto Facebook with Six Flags Mascot Park, a game where players can create colorful mascots and make them dance and perform. The game is being developed through a collaboration between noise and Making Fun, whose co-founder is none other than casual gaming veteran and former PlayFirst CEO John Welch. Gamezebo chatted with Welch about Six Flags Mascot Park and what it’s like going from Diner Dash to social games.
You come from the casual PC downloads space as founder and former CEO of PlayFirst. What has the experience been like going from Diner Dash to Mascot Park?
Even though the platform and business model are very different, we used a creative process similar to what we did with Diner Dash.We studied what has worked on other platforms and media formats and adjusted those lessons to the emerging social games space. We specifically chose to bring ideas from outside rather than build yet another mafia fish game with a farming mechanic. Why?
There’s a shift in creativity occurring on the web from the publisher to the end-user as demonstrated by the popularity of YouTube, blogging, Facebook,photo sharing, etc. We embraced that trend with Six Flags Mascot Park. Once you customize your wacky Mascot identity and put on a Show, you get your friends involved in the experience. They can disrupt the show with, well, pranks and body humor, which is pretty darnedcool. This is the next level up from passive sharing.Most “social games” are really single-player experiences with viral hooks plastered everywhere.Our wager is that a game centered on creativity and sharing will provide a more naturally viral experience andobviate the need for9,000 dialogs per hour.
My personal mission in the early PlayFirst days was toengineer a “meta-structure” into the experience to motivate users outside of the actual game mechanic. Ichallenged the Diner Dash team to tell our audience the same story that sold me on the concept. How could we make this new “time management” thing approachable for the most casual players? How could we show progress and dangle a carrot to keep users engaged over ten hours of playing essentially the same game mechanic? Thus Diner Dash became the first or among the first casual downloads to present comicstelling a story, to show a map conveying progress, and to utilize upgrades, achievements (gold stars for “expert”), and (social!) high scores to incentivize progression and repeat play.The evolution of these devices is the meta-structure that today defines social games. We took advantage of that progress and started innovating in a new direction.
With all the fun stuff there is to do at Six Flags (roller coasters, waterpark, etc.) why did you choose to focus on mascots for the game?
Mascots – and more precisely the Shows you can put on – are the key area of innovation in Six Flags Mascot Park. That’s where the user creativity and inherent social interaction comes from. Noah Kerner, CEO of noise, was the visionary behind this central concept.
We discussed starting with a more traditional theme park simulation and then later building more unique feature attractions, but we felt the first game should be more innovative. A theme park is fun because you get to enjoy the rides and the shows with your friends physically next to you. Online your friends are not right next to you, but in the real worldyou don’t control the rides and the shows. Six Flags Mascot Park puts the end-user in control of the experience. It is a new level of agency that brings your friends who are not physically with you closer to you.
In what ways will this be a “Six Flags” branded game? How important do you think branding is, or will be, in social games?
The Six Flags brand is prominent throughout the game. It resonates well with the target demographic, communicating a fun and edgy vibe. We would be crazy to not use that. However, beyond these things it also brings massive marketing power. We are fired up thinking about how we can present a social game to millions of people in the parks in ways never before seen.
The massive marketing power wielded by brands like Six Flags will be the single most important trend for social gaming over the next year. Today brands must interact directly with their audience across the web. In addition to bringing users to their destination sites, they must go where their users are: apps, the edge, social media, etc. Making Fun and noise were both founded specifically to address this opportunity.
One of the features about Mascot Park that caught our attention was that players will be able to jump into their friends shows. Can you explain a bit more about how this will work?
You have a lot of places to goto watch cartoons, whether that’s on the web or on television. If you want to see an outrageous show created by one of your friends – and throw an ax at him to cut off his armwhile he’s trying to perform – you’ll need to come to Mascot Park.
We use the standard Facebook social hooks to spread the message, but we’re not just giving you a pink bunny for your farm. We’re giving you a sidearm that lets you shoot pink bunnies at your friends. Remember how JibJab took passive physical humor to the next level by taking on the web by making it creative? Similarly, we take it to the next level by letting you take what your friend has created and build on that, giving rise to new cycles of humor, creativity, virality and fun.
Are there any other sneak peeks about the game that you can give us?
One of the first features we’ll be integrating after launch is a rag-doll physics system for the central create-and-share feature called Showtime.Initially, Mascot movements will be animated via a manually crafted “rig”. We’ve put a lot of work into this, and there’s a large variety of moves, but with the new system, you’ll literally have an endless variety of physical effects at your fingertips, including chain reactions. For example, set off TNT in your friend’s Show and watch his Mascot fly across the stage and get impaled on a spike. Heh, heh.