Today, for the first time, I am super excited and stoked to share details with you on a new mobile project that I have been working on with an incredible team, under wraps, for the last 2+ years. It’s a new gaming platform that brings casual, competitive games for money to the masses. For the first time ever, players will be able to compete for money in the games they know and love directly from their mobile device. We call it Sparcade.
Over my 25-year career in the video game business, I have been fortunate enough to work with amazing people on amazing projects. As the creator of Xbox Live Arcade at Microsoft, I witnessed the fundamental transformation of the video game space forever with the creation of the first ecosystem for digital game content on a console. At PopCap, we introduced some of the best casual titles in history. At Blizzard, as head of the Battle.net game service, we re-envisioned the legacy online platform into a modern game service. And at Activision I had the privilege of creating and leading the company’s burgeoning mobile business, delivering mobile games based on some of the world’s most popular console game franchises.
In short, creating games ecosystems is my passion, and all of that work has led me to GSN Games for one specific opportunity: I want to fundamentally transform how we think about competitive mobile gaming.
THE INSPIRATION AND VISION
Our inspiration for Sparcade stems from several industry phenomena that have been swirling around the games space over the last few years. We see the incredible popularity and ubiquity of casual games punching through and becoming a permanent fixture in our everyday lives. Multiplayer gaming on mobile is beginning to take shape, and “around the game” social features that drive daily engagement and build community are now the norm. At the same time, eSports and competitive video gaming are exploding, starting (as most things do) with hardcore genres and then migrating to mid-core, all with a slant toward skill competition, prizing, and embracing a vibrant community of passionate gamers. Finally, we see the state of mobile games, where the free-to-play business model works great for some genres, but not so much for others.
What’s more, the competitive skill gaming model has been around for a long time, but it’s predominantly web-based, with experiences built for a different era. That model is fundamentally sound, but it’s just sitting there, waiting for someone to come along and do it right in 2016.
All of these factors have combined to create what I believe is the perfect storm of opportunity for a platform like Sparcade: we leverage the huge market for casual and mobile games, tap into the energy and enthusiasm around competitive video gaming, and deliver an experience unlike any other — a single, free-to-download destination, offering high-quality, skill-adapted versions of the biggest and most popular mobile game franchises of all time. Franchises that players know, love, and think they’re pretty good at. An experience where players can compete with friends and the community for free OR for money, wrapped in a rich social layer and meta-game. Along the way, Sparcade has the potential to create a parallel monetization platform for certain genres of games that are awesome, but just not as conducive to the free-to-play business model on mobile.
We know from talking to players throughout the development process that the option of putting a little money on the line makes familiar games more interesting and fun. It adds a little bit of excitement to the gameplay that feeds friendly competition and keeps the game fresh. That is core to the vision of what we are building with Sparcade.
THE GAMES AND PARTNERS
Key to the Sparcade experience is offering players the biggest, most beloved game brands of all time, while unlocking a whole new way for them to compete.
Today, we are proud to announce that Sparcade will feature three of the biggest game franchises of all time: PAC-MAN™, SCRABBLE® and TETRIS®. We’ve teamed up with each brand owner and publisher to deliver a competitive twist on these beloved brands, including Tetris® Burst, the first-ever Tetris® branded game playable for money. Rounding out Sparcade’s initial collection of games, we will also launch a competitive version of GSN Games’ own Solitaire TriPeaks.
Having big names is one thing, but what’s most important is making sure games within Sparcade honor the legacy and integrity of each brand. Our dev team is working hand-in-hand with each partner to add a new level of competition to established franchises, while preserving the soul of what has made each game an important part of our lives.
In many ways, this feels similar to the opportunity that inspired XBLA over a decade ago. As a game developer, it’s not often that you have an opportunity to create an entirely new market and gaming ecosystem — one that developers, publishers, platform providers, gaming communities and players can all benefit from. The funny thing is, all the pieces are right there in front of us, staring us in the face. Someone just has to come along, pick up the pieces, and put them together.
What we have built with Sparcade represents nothing short of a transformative opportunity for mobile games. From an industry point of view, it’s an opportunity to introduce a completely new business model and monetization method for mobile. From a developer point of view, it represents a new way to enjoy and interact with (and make money in) your game. And from a consumer perspective, it represents a completely new and different way to enjoy and compete in the games they love, and be part of a passionate community.
As is the case with anything completely new, especially a new industry category, this will take time. It won’t happen overnight. That is why we are taking the long view on this business, as is our parent company, Sony. We have built Sparcade as a platform that evolves over time, layering in additional games and features. For us, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we are dedicated to building the product and service for the long term alongside our partners.
As I mentioned, Sparcade is an initiative we have been working on for some time under wraps. We have built the platform, and are hard at work finishing some of the unique Sparcade-level features. We have also been working with our development and publishing partners, and have a number of unannounced games ready to go for our launch lineup. We are deep into development and currently in our closed beta phase. Look for an open beta later this summer, with a full launch planned for later this year.
Today’s announcement is just the beginning. We could not be more excited to share this news with you, and more importantly, the Sparcade platform in the months to come. Stay tuned for more news on Sparcade, as well as new games in development. Head over to www.sparcade.com to hear about our progress and to sign up for access to our open beta. Also follow me on Twitter @gregcanessa for updates on our rollout.
See you soon in Sparcade!