The tech industry is notoriously dog-eat-dog. Breaking into the big time isn't just about having a good idea (although you'll need one), or having a strong work ethic (you'll need that too), it's about being consistently tenacious, creative, and forward-thinking. To celebrate those who exemplify these qualities, Kotaku and Gizmodo have teamed up with the Galaxy Nexus™ from Sprint to bring you the Tech Power Players series.
Over the past few days, our brother site Gizmodo has been profiling industry leaders who have transformed the world of mobile gaming. Today, Kotaku is featuring an exclusive interview with C.E.O. of SMERC Design, Brian Wane. Brian kindly answered a few questions about his company, industry trends, and, in the process, revealed that he thinks nostalgia is for the (angry) birds. Check out what he had to say below.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background. When did you start gaming?
A: As a kid I was Atari-obsessed and that lead to programming Basic at the school library pretty early on. I think I wrote my first game in third grade. It was a very boring, very stupid text-based adventure game that made me very proud. I played a fair amount of NES. I drew and painted a lot.
I rolled through Maryland Institute for painting and then on to Parsons for an MFA in Interactive Design where I rediscovered how much I loved making games. Art and games: those are my two great professional loves. I've been trying to see how they meet up my entire adult life. They share the attribute of being something your parents think is an impractical waste of education and a squandering of any hope they had that you would support them in their dotage. Surprisingly, those two passions paid off as they led me into interactive development and then on to found a game studio. Now I'm the CEO at SMERC. We make fantastic social and mobile games. I also lead game design.
Q: Are there any particular titles that acted as early influences?
A: Three stand out to me: Defender was the first game I ‘beat' on the 2600, as much as that game can be defeated. At least I can say I learned the system well enough to hide my spaceship, heed my mother's call to dinner and then pick up the game again. I felt like I had mastery over it, which is a powerful feeling for a kid. The original Zork on the Commodore 64 is the game that really opened me up to how rich and captivating games could be. I loved that world and did everything I could to explore it. The fact that it understood language (a bit) better than other games made it seem like a work of genius. And who can forget the feeling of victory when you finally figured out how to kill the Grue?
Then there was Oregon Trail played through a terminal at school. It was just brutal. I died all
the time. But it was the first time I was exposed to a game that had an ongoing puzzle with consequences. The fact that it was set against a real world backdrop and wasn't a fantasy invention made it that much more exciting.
Q: How did SMERC come to be?
A: In the beginning we made all sorts of interactive whatsits and it quickly became clear that
making games was the only thing worth doing. In 2005 our first independent game Moleculous was a finalist for the IGF best webgame. We've never looked back. Since then we've made over 160 games for the likes of MTV, Nickelodeon, and Dreamworks and, of course, ourselves.
Q: Which projects are you particularly proud of?
A: We just launched SELF Workout in the Park on Facebook, bringing the publishing world into social gaming for the first time. It's a very fun game and has the added trans-media coolness of being based on a real-world event and significant print tie-ins. Our latest mobile endeavor, XARM, is another pioneering crossover. XARM is a new sport from the folks who brought the world UFC. XARM is essentially arm wrestling where the combatants can punch and kick one another at the same time. It is just as crazy at it sounds. Besides being a great game, XARM is unique in that it helped the sport launch digitally first with live events and TV to follow. So far, so good. It could be the new model for how media properties develop in the future.
Q: How has mobile gaming changed over the past few years?
A: It's more democratic. It's more ubiquitous. It's more powerful and more social. That's the top-line, obvious stuff. Clearly, it has also coalesced around two platforms, iOS and Android, but more interestingly it has become about where you are. That's the most important development I think: The ability to connect your game to your real life though check-ins, photos, friends and sharing.
Q: Do you think the casual gamer has gotten savvier in terms of the types of games they choose to play?
A: I think the production values of casual games have recently gone up significantly. Look at what FarmVille launched and compare it to Sims Social. Sims Social is much richer in depth of gameplay and look, but relies on a lot of the same basic game mechanics and social hooks.
Let's take Angry Birds, the All-Star Superhero of Casual Games. It is essentially a clone of a
catapult and castle game, but a really nice clone. So the short answer is that in terms of production value: yes. In terms of game design: no.
Q: How do you predict the proliferation of smartphones and tablets will change the industry?
A: They'll make gaming more embedded in our lives and more connected to the real world. We'll pay taxes as a game. We'll drive to work as a game. We'll take this embedded experience across more devices seamlessly. Through all of this, play will help bring us together socially in new and exciting ways. It is the final evolution of the social media development that has blossomed in the last few years. As part of this change, mobile and tablet devices will propel gaming as a mature mainstream media. Gaming will come into its own.
Q: Any recent gaming trends that you hate?
A: I'm not a fan of nostalgia in games. What is the point of making faux 8-bit games other than for 30-somethings to wallow in their youth. No boundaries are pushed. No new ground is explored. It just infantilizes the experience. Gaming doesn't have to be about being obsessed with what we used to be. It can move us forward.
Q: Any upcoming developments at SMERC that you're really excited about?
A: We're launching a new white label game portal platform called Game Cloud Network. We're taking social gaming out of the portals and moving it to the rest of the web. Expect great things.
The Tech Power Players series is inspired by the Galaxy Nexus™ from Sprint. Featuring unlimited entertainment from Google Play on the latest version of Android, the Galaxy Nexus is changing the world of mobile gaming. Head here for more info, and check out the Tech Power Player series on Gizmodo.