For an industry that is so focused on the mass-market consumer, there are very few game development shops run by business guys. That is why George Donovan of Gogii Games is unique. That, and the fact that he’s launched 3 hit casual games in the past 2 months (Private Eye, Escape from Paradise, and Nanny Mania) and he releases more games in a month than most developers release in a year. We talked to George about the secret to his success, his unique way of thinking, and the importance of history in the context of casual games.
What is the story behind the name Gogii Games?
Gogii came from a heavy brainstorming session between me and my kids. They really liked the name “Wii” and they were pushing me (go Dad, when we played with it and my friend call me “G,” so they starting saying “Go G” (for George). So, we came up with GoGii!
How did you get started in the game business and what have you learned along with way?
I started in the game business in 1996 as an agent and represented large studios, Phone companies, musicians and a great mix or brand and IP owners that owned everything to military weapon contracts, to early movie scripts from the 30-40’s. I have also worked with some incredible studios but I found my niche in the late 90’s making compilation packs and value games for value publishers.
Those compilation packs were all about numbers so we started creating 50, then 100 pack, then thousands of small “casual” games for those products. We had retro, board and card, puzzle, action and even some new different mechanics we saw in the middle-east. That laid the ground work for me to get a feel for all these different games and see what people liked and didn’t like.
What games have you developed that you’re especially fond of?
Well, the “Luv” franchise (Puppy, Kitty, Pony) has done extremely well for us, working in partnership with Activision and GameMill publishing.
From the casual side I say Escape from Paradise is our biggest and most ambitious product so far in terms of production values, depth, and features. I really like the fact that it is essentially a casual games pack built around a real-time strategy (“RTS) style and we have tons of new ideas for the sequel. I am blown away with the response to Nanny Mania as well, and we are already hard at work making a very content-deep sequel to come out in August.
What about other developers’ games? Anything new and interesting that has caught your attention recently?
Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor looks like it’ll be interesting, but I (like a lot of consumers) have a grave concern that hidden object games are killing the business. It resembles the FPS (first person shooters) of the 90’s, where there are way too many of these kind of games selling well, so developers and publishers will not stop wanting to make them.
I applaud PopCap Games with games like Peggle and Venice, their production values are untouchable and even though they may not sell as well as hidden object games online, I still feel they set the bar.
Private Eye, Escape from Paradise, and Nanny Mania. All 3 games have been hugely popular casual game hits. What’s your secret?
Can’t tell! I can say that being in the games business since 1995 helps. History repeats itself and my next series of games will build on the ideas that I have learned over the past decade. Now that I have my own studio, I can get the production quality that I want and know you need in this business to be successful.
Escape from Paradise is a clever mix of the simulation game Virtual Villagers and mini-game collection Tropix. What gave you the idea to put these two games ideas together?
I am analytical and I track trends. Trending-wise, these titles were both first-market movers that also tracked very well for a long time. So it made sense to put them together. I was also “inspired” by the Survivor and Lost TV series and liked what each offered, and their demographic is similar to our buying market.
As mentioned, you launched 3 games within 2 months and plan to launch a lot more by the end of the year. Aside from not sleeping, how do you and your team produce so many games so quickly? What’s the average development cycle of each of your games?
I have 6 teams (5 external studios) working on 5 casual titles, 3 PC retail, and 3 Console titles but am still looking for more studios as I have more game ideas than I have resources.
The average development cycle is quite quick for some games but much longer for others. Escape from Paradise was 6 months while Nanny Mania was 2 months. On average, I would say I can get a title ready in 2-3 months and online the month thereafter. Nanny Mania was a game mechanic that has been tried-and-tested, so we did not have to spend as much time on it as Escape from Paradise, which is a very deep game with many different types of mini-games.
I can say the sequels will be very content rich. Babysitting Mania (sequel to Nanny Mania) will have 20 houses instead of 1 as in the original, and the next Escape from Paradise will have many more objects to find and put together that will help you in your quest.
Part of the reason I think you and I get along (aside from the fact that we’re both strikingly handsome people) is that we both have a strong background in business and marketing. How does your business background help you in developing games and how does it hurt?
Well I think I don’t let the “game” get in the way of the business. I see some games that developers will not let go of and the extra 3 months they spent on post-production never brought in a dollar more of additional revenue.
I do rush my guys to market and pre-sell our games through the channel. This puts pressure on my developers to deliver on or ahead of schedule, which is traditionally unheard of in our business.
You have created two games, Puppy Luv and Brain Academy (name the game) that are clearly inspired by super-popular Nintendo DS (“NDS”) titles, Nintendogs and Brain Age, respectively. Do you think that the Nintendo DS and Wii are good platforms for casual games? How are the Wii and DS different platforms for casual games as the PC?
There is no question that the NDS is a casual device so casual games work well on that platform. On the other hand, I do not know how the 35 plus year old female demographic would take to the NDS so it has been difficult for me to project its success.
The Wii is a totally different bird. It is a simulation device so I think games that simulate the real experience to consumers will win (as Wii sports proved). Casual games are generally not simulation type games so not sure how well they will end up doing. But, as Cooking Mama from Majesco proves there are always angles that will work.
I can also say the Wii is a multiplayer machine. Games where the family plays together work well on the Wii but not well on the PC.
Having said that, I do think that there are a lot of great casual game styles that will adopt very well for the Wii. As always it will take great developers to come up with the answers.
How many games are you releasing at retail this year? How good do you think retail is as a channel for casual games compared to online?
I have 7-10 titles going out at retail this year for the console and PC. I leverage that space for the 95% of people that don’t buy my games online. For some titles it works and others it doesn’t. Retail is different than online in that it’s all about the box. Where with retail, it’s the box that sells games (through brand does help), with online the game has to sell itself.
You develop your games in Canada. Why Canada? How is the casual game community growing in Canada?
We live in a world without boundaries, so Canada, US, Asia — it makes little difference as long as your environment does not constraint your game.
Canadian currency is almost par now with the US and the US/Canadian cultures are similar so I never have to differentiate much. Because I distribute in 10 other languages and countries, I have to get more involved with the local distributor on each product to ensure that it appeals to those consumers. I also have 4 game development or design programs within 3 hours of my office and very few game studios around me to compete for game developer talent.
Five years from now (god willing), I’m still playing casual games. What do you predict my experience will be like?
My crystal ball has told me the path to success and it is. . . 😉
History always shows us the path to our future, in the games business and life in general. Know your history and you will have an advantage.
Can you give us any hints of your upcoming games?
Well, you can expect a sequel wave for past products (Puppy Luv 2, Nanny Mania 2, Escape from Paradise 2) with a significant investment in content, features, and game length.
We’ll be creating games for both PC and console and developing new concepts that involve movie screenwriters, heavy art development, story development, and even more tie-ins to very popular games from our past that have survived the test of time.
Also, forget what I said before about hidden object games hurting the business 😉
We have a great new hidden object series we are developing that I am really excited about. We’re going to add number of new elements like Paparazzi did and should prove to be a product that raises the bar.
Finally, any closing words for your fans out there?
I appreciate all that you do for us (not just buying our games) in the way of feedback and comments and hope that we can exceed your expectations in the future with new titles. Be sure to keep coming back to Gogii Games (http://www.gogiigames.com) for updates of new games that we are coming out with (there will be many).