“I think the one thing on poker though, in my experience with researching real money poker while I was at Zynga, 95 percent of the players in real money poker are fish, 5 percent are sharks,” Jeremy Strauser told his audience during a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “95 percent of the people who ever deposit money into a real money poker site never take money out. Those people probably would be better served in a social poker atmosphere that is based on entertainment, because that’s really what they’re seeking.”
Jeremy Strauser didn’t plan on going into the game industry. Rather, he was on the path to law school when a serendipitous event changed the course of his life. “Growing up in Philadelphia meant I was a sports fan, so I played a lot of Madden, NHL and Bill Walsh while in school,” Strauser says. “When I lucked into a conversation with then producer Gordon Bellamy on the internet, I unloaded, in fan page fashion, all of the bugs I had seen and design suggestions I could.”
Bellamy was apparently impressed with Strauser’s observations and ideas as he invited Strauser to apply for a testing position. “I figured it would be a good way to spend the summer before law school,” Strauser recalls. “I never made it to law school, but have had a fun 20-year career in video games, so you never know how things will turn out.”
Betting on the Bee
Now entrenched in the gaming industry, Strauser is taking on entrepreneurship as co-founder of Bee Cave Games. The team behind Bee Cave Games conception had a passion for casino games with AAA production values — something they felt the market was sorely lacking.
Mobile and tablet games with AAA quality happens to be Strauser’s biggest passion right now. “I don’t have the time or desire to sit down in front of a console and TV to play for hours like I once did,” he explains, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t want deep, engaging games in my moments of downtime over the course of the day.”
Bee Cave Games first product was a blackjack game, which they chose because there wasn’t an established leader already in that space. “We are glad we did (choose to do that), because it let us build a solid reputation in the industry and with customers.” They are now working to take what they did with blackjack and apply it to their slot games as well while they continue to broaden the AAA casino game market.
Bee Cave Games prides itself on its transparent culture “where star performers can thrive.” Everyone is open with how the company is run, and Strauser says their goal is to treat everyone well, “from big company benefits packages to profit sharing.” He also considers Bee Cave Games location in Austin to be a point of pride as well.
For Strauser’s part, he currently wears many different hats at Bee Cave Games due to the fact the company is still young. His day usually starts with a daily numbers review of the previous day’s metrics to identify any red flags that could change their current plans. If all is well, he spends the morning loading or optimizing ad campaigns and the afternoon focused on product schedules and game specs. “(That) is the fun part,” he says, “I get to collaborate with our artists and programmers to help make new features for the game.”
Strauser considers the move to create Bee Cave Games his greatest achievement so far. “I am proud of moving away from big companies like EA and Zynga to help form Bee Cave Games,” he says. “I am super proud of the team taking a risk to start something new and having a blast doing it.”
For Strauser, risk-taking is a “vitally important” part of business and gaming. “The best games have always come as the result of some type of risk,” he says. “Risk defines innovation and the gaming industry thrives on innovation. In any business, you have to create a unique selling proposition and in our fast moving game industry innovation is often that USP.”
Looking ahead, Strauser sees a sea of changes on the horizon. While the industry is on a VR kick right now, and Strauser thinks it’s an “impressive experience,” the barrier to entry needs to be reduced to make it truly commercially viable. Instead, he believes that continually blurring lines between home and mobile platforms is the bigger innovation to watch out for.
Already, he sees current cross-platform experiences as an amazing advantage and innovation with the ability to have the same experience from a TV to a PC to a tablet to a phone allowing for “ongoing engagement that a single-platform experience can’t compete with.”
He is also paying attention to the rising presence of social media in the gaming industry. He notes that people have an abundance of ways to connect with others for their basic personal interactions and ultimately that extends into gaming. “Having players interact meaningfully with their friends and fellow gamers is key to modern gaming entertainment and I think unlocking that ability in deeper and easier ways will lead to success for developers and publishers,” he says.
As for Strauser himself and Bee Cave Games, he sees potential success on the horizon. “We have had good traction (and) we want to have a positive outcome for our team, not just financially — but in terms of reception by customers and the industry.”