Sebastien Borget provided his view on engaging a game’s community at Casual Connect USA 2014. “It’s really about what kind of additional value you can bring to the players so that they become that person who is more and more interested into what you as a developer is going to bring him in terms of experience and relationship with the developer through the game.”
Sebastien Borget is the co-founder and COO of Pixowl, a company he founded with three others in 2011. His interest in video games began with family visits to the home of his cousin who owned an Amstrad computer and allowed Borget to play games such as F1 Pole Position, Rampage, and Lemmings. A few years later, after he received a Super Nintendo console for Christmas, he became absorbed in the world of video games. Since then, he has owned every console ever released and has played many, many games, something he feels has definitely been a factor in building his personal culture in video games while a teenager and young adult.
From Hobby to Reality
He didn’t immediately aspire to a career in video games; he considered it more of a hobby or passion. He graduated from an engineering school in France in networks and telecommunications and became involved with new technologies and Web 2.0 startups with another of Pixowl’s co-founders, Arthur Madrid, whom he met after graduating.
As new platforms (iOS and Android) emerged, he saw the opportunity to apply his entrepreneurial skills and assembled a team that could make fun games both children and parents would enjoy. The result was Pixowl, created by a team of four founders who shared a passion for video games and had complementary skills in management, game design, marketing, development, and art.
Pixowl, created in 2011 in San Francisco, also has development studios in Buenos Aires. Borget says, “We consider ourselves a team of dynamic innovators: Arthur Madrid, CEO (Serial Entrepreneur, previously sold his first two companies), Sebastien Borget, COO (Industry Speaker, co-founder of Wixi.com), Adrien Duermael, CTO (King of Codes 2011 on VentureBeat) and Laurel (renowned French comic book artist).
Their initial mission was to build games blending exciting gameplay, comic book art, and character-driven story lines. It progressively evolved into a family-friendly entertainment brand of mobile games, with two major IPs: the Grub character and The Sandbox franchise.
In 2014, key advisors joined Pixowl, including Randy Breen (CEO of SGN, VP LucasArts, VP EA), Ed Fries (co-founder of Xbox), Eric Hautemont (CEO of Days of Wonder), and Sunil Gundera (former VP Disney mobile).
Borget says that he is really enthusiastic about how apps are changing the way we live, work, and play. Access to video games has never been easier; it is with you all the time with your phone in your pocket. The device is probably more powerful than traditional computers.
This super-simplified, universal access to games is a factor leading to the success of those who enjoy making them. He claims, “If your game is good and finds its audience, it can reach millions of players in just a few hours. This kind of success cannot be seen anywhere else, in any other industry.”
Pixowl’s latest title, Grub, a remake of a snake game with tilt controls, reached 2 million downloads in just five days. As he says, “It’s really incredible!” He concedes that making games is a tremendous amount of work, but it brings fun and excitement as they try to shape a product that will convince the masses.
Finding the First Hit
Pixowl launched its first game, Doodle Grub, in June 2011, and it was also their first hit. Players downloaded Doodle Grub more than 8 million times across iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Blackberry.
The game started with a team of only two: Adrien Duermael, the CTO and Laurel, the creative director. One of the things that made the game so great was the simplicity of playing it – just tilt the screen to control the snake. This was a totally new and fun way to play games using an iPhone. This type of control was perfectly fitted to a snake game, where agility matters and you need to move accurately using the accelerometer to eat apples and avoid enemies. With the combination of accelerometer controls and the cartoon graphics from Laurel, they had the first version of the game. They regularly updated it, adding new themes, each with its own enemies and obstacles, multiplayer game modes, and other new features.
Their most recent game, The Sandbox, is also their largest production in terms of team size and life time; it is now over two years old and has received 20 updates, almost one a month. Borget emphasizes, “Working on this title has been the most enriching experiences for the company, and we are benefiting from it as we are shaping our future games.” They have many ideas about what is still missing from the games industry; check out their future games to see how they will fill the spaces.
When developers are creating that first game, Borget feels they need to remember how simple and accessible some of the great games can be. “You understand them and get hooked in ten seconds. That is something I would like to improve and use as a guideline for our own future productions.” He also insists, “You have only ten seconds to convince someone about your game, so you should really polish your first impression. It doesn’t matter what a player can do after he reaches level 99 and has spent 100 hours if nobody gets to that level. Retention is key. But most game designers and developers make the mistake of creating contents and features for very elite players instead of focusing on that very first session.”
The Creativity Challenge
Borget claims one of the biggest challenges in the games industry today is lack of creativity. Flappy Bird-types of games inundate us, and when a new hit title appears, the window of time until a series of clones appears is getting shorter and shorter. This negatively reflects on the industry and projects a poor image of indie developers.
He reminds those just coming into the industry that it is one of the friendliest industries, so they should show a new game around and get as much feedback as possible from friends and other developers. As he puts it, “If your friends won’t play that game, why would total strangers?”
Also, developers tend to think first of creating a game for themselves. While this has been successful for some developers, most of the time, especially on smartphones, the developer is not the target for the game. Don’t make that mistake!
Borget tells us that Pixowl is now working on The Sandbox 2.0. They want to establish this game for the next 10 years among the references of world-building, blocks-crafting with physics simulation games. They expect to launch toward the end of the year.
They will also release a simulation game featuring the Garfield comic book character. For over a year, they have been working with Paws, the company belonging to Jim Davis, who created the Garfield character.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.