Behind the Grape: Winemaker Extraordinaire

If you thought busting tables and milking cows were the only ways to satiate your inner foodie in games, get ready for Winemaker Extraordinaire, the latest strategy game from Merscom. After her grandfather’s passing, an over-worked city girl named Maria embarks on a journey to save his Tuscan winery and single-handedly reunite the world’s most important winemakers into their secret guild. Maria earns their respect by making wines that dazzle their palates.

We sat down with Merscom Chief Customer Officer Lloyd Melnick, who developed the concept, to discuss the vinous appeal for gamers and a possible future cheese pairing. We learned that Melnick is a bit of a wine enthusiast (his favorites hail from Georgia, in Eastern Europe).

We know and love Merscom for Party Down, Blood Ties and Righteous Kill. Now, a wine game? Can you tell us what inspired you to make Winemaker Extraordinaire?   

Melnick: We looked at our demographic and decided we wanted to give them something that hadn’t been exhausted. In other words, not mystery or chocolate. What we thought people missed in the games space was wine.  

What about wine and winemaking appeals to gamers?  

There’s a lot about wine other than drinking it. We saw the success of Chocolatier and felt wine had a lot of the same characteristics. It has a romantic appeal. Say, more than Steel Maker Extraordinaire. It’s almost like when you start talking about it you can smell it and taste it.  

Also, this is a fantasy that a lot of people share – giving up the boring desk job to run a winery in Italy. If casual games are about escape, at least to me, there’s nothing that’s more of an escape than owning my own winery with a villa in Tuscany.

What was the biggest challenge in making a game about alcohol? Were you concerned what kind of rating it would get with the ESRB?  

No, the ESRB did not play into our decision process at all. Fortunately, none of the online portals requires an ESRB rating. We did have the conversation internally and felt a game about wine is a lot less damaging than a Grand Theft Auto or virtually any other big movie or game.  

The only other time it came up is (when we were considering) integrating some real brands into the game, maybe even a couple of boutique wineries we personally love (at no charge) but then realized it would be considered alcohol advertising and subject to tons of regulation (not the least of which being portals would have to ask customers to verify age). So we scrapped that idea.

Maria visits a whopping 15 regions around the world, including exotic locales such as Greece and Argentina. But she missed New Zealand, and we love their Sauvignon Blancs. Any chance she’ll make some one day?

Depending on the success of this game and if it meets our expectations there will be a Winemaker Extraordinaire II. Cheesemaker Extraordinaire is also not off the table.

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