Interview with Igor Bukhman, Playrix Entertainment

By Erin Bell |

Based in Vologda, Russia, Playrix Entertainment is best known for puzzle games 4 Elements, Around the World in 80 Days, the Atlantis series, and Fishdom. Recently the company expanded its catalogue with a hidden object game, Fishdom H20: Hidden Odyssey. Gamezebo spoke with Playrix Co-Founder and COO Igor Bukhman to learn more about the studio, the making of Fishdom H2O, and the company’s upcoming projects.

Please start by giving us the history of Playrix Entertainment.

I started making simple shareware games as a college student back in 2002, nurturing a hobby and passion into a career. With some success from my earliest projects in 2004, my brother and I went ahead and founded a company, which became known in the casual games industry as Terminal Studio. In 2007 our company grew over fivefold, and we decided to steer away from the “not so casual” brand as Terminal Studio, to something that could showcase our creative vision and fun, exceptional identity. We changed the company’s name to Playrix Entertainment.

Today Playrix boasts a headcount of over eighty fun-loving, inspired professionals dedicated to creating captivating family-friendly games. Playrix has become known as a top-tier casual games developer and publisher with an extensive network of distribution channels, an experienced in-house development team and a number of talented external studio partners.

How did you come up with the name Playrix?

To begin with, we wanted the name to be strongly associated with fun and games. We ramped up our creative juices and brainstormed a number of names but nothing seemed to click. Then suddenly somebody suggested the name “Playrix” that everyone liked. As soon as we had the name picked, our lead artist came up with a picture of a cute little dragon that we all immediately fell in love with. We realized that this baby dragon epitomised exactly who we are and what we were about. This is how we got our name and logo.

Let’s talk about Playrix’s latest game, Fishdom H2O: Hidden Odyssey. Why did you decide to make Hidden Odyssey a hidden object game instead of sticking with the match-3 gameplay of the first Fishdom game?

The original match-3 Fishdom is a very special game to us, one that has a huge fan base. Just a couple of days ago we got an e-mail from one of our customers saying: “I am addicted to Fishdom. I have fully filled all three aquariums with fish, plants, and equipment. I have nothing left to purchase.” The screenshot attached showed a tank jam-packed with sea creatures, water plants and accessories and the money meter displayed $1008420 total. There was a note below: “Will you be mailing me a cheque soon? You can round it off to $1 million, if you like J”. This is the kind of thing that inspires us to make great games.

It goes without saying that match-3 games started us down the road to success, but we are not afraid to experiment. Our primary goal was to deliver the Fishdom fun far beyond the match-3 audience. We realized that there was a strong buzz about hidden object games, so we decided to give it a go. We strive to be at the forefront of the casual gaming experience and we felt like trying something different. Creating a hidden object game was a very exciting experience for us that brought about the inception of a new brand, Fishdom H2O.

Fishdom H2O: Hidden Odyssey

Are there any funny or interesting stories about the development of Fishdom H2O that you could share?

Frankly speaking, we had a hard time choosing the name for the game. It was provisionally titled Fishdom: Deep Sea Adventure and then we had a prolonged internal debate about whether it was wise to release a hidden object game under the same brand name that, according to some, has become known as a great match-3 and is strongly associated with that particular genre. So we came to the name Aquascapes. That seemed a great fit until we put it in the game. We quickly realized that people would expect a very different game from the original Fishdom, and that they might feel deceived. So we decided to stick to the Fishdom name.

The second challenge was to think of a name that would contain “Fishdom” but convey the idea of it being a hidden object game quite explicitly. All of a sudden the idea of “H2O” struck us – the molecular formula of water that also contained the letters “HO”, standing for “Hidden Odyssey”. And I would like to use this opportunity to thank our business partners who took an active part in this “naming challenge” and shared their ideas with us.

How do you feel about the iPhone and consoles like the Nintendo Wii and DS as game development platforms?

iPhone and consoles are a vibrant market that we are actively tapping into. We realize that our commitment to consoles can help us deliver the unique Playrix experience to the widest possible audience. We are positive that having a multi-platform strategy drives business growth and creates a loyal fan base of consumers worldwide.

Currently we are expanding our products onto the iPhone, having rolled out the iPhone adaptation of our flagship title The Rise of Atlantis via our publisher partner in late May. Now we are gearing up towards the release of 4 Elements for the iPhone via our partners later this month. Moreover, we are scaling up our efforts to bring our products to the iPhone internally.

At the same time we are exploring the opportunity of bringing our games to the Nintendo DS thus appealing to the casual gamers on-the-go. Around the World in 80 Days for the DS should be out in July with Fishdom next in line.

PlayStation Network seems to be another service of interest and we are considering taking the plunge into it.

In late 2008 Playrix announced that it was going to start publishing games as well as developing them. Can you give us an update on how that initiative is coming along?

We officially announced our plans to target publishing in October 2008 and our statement triggered a lot of interest and enthusiasm among talented developers of high-quality content. At the moment we are working with five external studio partners. Our expectations for the projects in development are very high and we are sure that they will live up to their promise. Our partner studios are mainly Russian-based, some of them having moved to the casual games market from the core industry. We are thrilled to share our knowledge and experience with developers passionate about making top-tier games. So stay tuned for the great new games from Playrix, the publisher.

Can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects?

This year we plan to unveil a batch of new titles. At the moment we are working on sequels and line extensions of the existing titles as well as creating new franchises. We are carving out a match-3 sequel to Fishdom where players will be able to create and design as many tanks as they wish and share their progress with friends by sending them pictures of their Fishdom. There are also a couple more Fishdom games underway. We also kick-started the work on the second installment of 4 Elements, which is scheduled for release in early 2010. I need to point out, however, that with every new title in each of our franchises we strive to produce cool new features and mind-blowing twists to create a seamless and fun experience.

Coming soon from Playrix: Fortune Architect (above) and Fancy Garden (below)

At the same time gamers get to enjoy major new franchises this year, such as Fancy Garden and Fortune Architect. These are still working titles! Fancy Garden is a smooth blend of hidden object and time management where players are challenged to create the perfect garden. Fortune Architect is a strategy game where you need to design and build cozy houses for the citizens of a magical kingdom. We hope that all the upcoming titles will live up to players’ expectations.

We are also throwing some resources behind a number of new and promising experiences, with a great project in the works.

Any last words for your fans?

On behalf of the whole Playrix team I would like to thank our fans for their loyalty and support. We appreciate your ideas and interesting suggestions and we try to take them into account while designing our games. We have a whole bunch of exciting stuff afoot for you and we’ll keep you in the loop on that. Besides, look out for our website this summer, as a major overhaul is underway.

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