“Go play with friends” is now applicable to and executable with gamer kids too, through co-located social games – games you play together in the same physical space. Super League Gaming’s Andy Babb shared their story at Casual Connect USA of joining this side of video games industry, as well as discussed the future and recent successes of social play in the panel with Sleeping Beast Games, Mattel, GameCake and Jago Studios: from mobile games to mobile-physical hybrids, from tabletop games to interactive toys and ‘toys-to-life’, AI and family robots in the home to large-scale location-based shared VR play spaces.
Andy Babb is the Executive Vice President of Super League Gaming, managing the company’s game partnerships and overall business development. Getting involved with Super League Gaming all hinged on a meeting with John Miller, one of the founders of the company.
“My friend told me that John ran an international hamburger chain and had started a games company. I thought ‘really? A hamburger guy thinks he can just jump into the games business? Come on!” – detailed Andy. “I met John at a diner and after 10 minutes of him telling me about Super League, I could not sign up fast enough!”
Andy has grown to love the business and is very complimentary of Super League’s complete team. Along with the people he works with in the company, he notes that there are some “amazing folks” in top game publishers and developers as well.
From Playing the Dream to Living it
Like many other people in the gaming industry, Andy grew up a gamer. He has memories of playing Pong, Atari, Intellivision and the (at the time) revolutionary Mattel Electronics handheld game system. Andy also plunked down quarters playing Donkey Kong and Pac-Man at the local 7-Eleven. His all-time list of greatest games includes Q*bert, Shadow of the Colossus, Half Life, Quake II, Elite Beat Agents and Flight Control.
He worked in consulting before deciding to go to grad school in the ’90s, graduating in 1997 and finding an opportunity to start in the industry at SegaSoft. Andy worked on the online gaming network Heat.net that focused on socially competitive gaming, getting experience in both the rising businesses of gaming and the internet.
“Then working at Take Two/2K Games, I really got to understand the business from the publisher side. So now when I meet with publishers about Super League, I have a good idea of their pain points and how Super League can help,” Andy said before adding. “It’s a dream to be in this business.”
Andy later had to overcome tragedy in his personal and professional life in 2007. “My friend and mentor Bill Gross asked me to join him at Brandissimo to start his games business by building a kids MMORPG for the National Football League,” he detailed. “Four months into it, Bill had a heart attack and died. The team was devastated but we rallied around each other and six weeks later launched a virtual world that lasted eight years. It was my saddest and proudest moment in the business.”
Minecraft on the Big Screen
Super League Gaming is focused on playing games in a movie theater. Andy describes the main appeal as being in the same physical space, creating a special sort of camaraderie. Playing games on a large screen with a theater-style sound system results in a “special energy” according to Andy.
Single-player games can be fun in a theater, with the solo experience becoming social and a leaderboard showing progress dynamically. While there’s a wide variety of games that work in the theater environment, Minecraft is the primary focus right now.
“We do Minecraft with 100 players in the same map at the same time and it’s wild,” Andy describes. “We’re in beta with a MOBA where we run eight 5v5 games simultaneously, switching between games on the big screen based on the action (first blood, triple kills, etc). And we do 1v1 games, where it’s a massive round-robin tournament so everyone’s always playing, and again we switch between games on the big screen.”
Things are Different in Person
Super League Gaming is expanding at a steady pace at this point, determining which games work and convincing theaters to sign on. They want to make sure the experience is a good one every time, and they’re hoping to include more adults in the experience as well.
“It’s fun to play video games in a movie theater no matter what your age is. So far we’ve been all Minecraft but our next two games target adults,” says Andy. “In beta tests the feedback from adults has been awesome.”
While online gamers are not reputed to have the best sportsmanship, playing in a theater helps with the sportsmanship issue that can crop up when the anonymity of the internet allows it. “In general people behave much better face-to-face than when they are anonymously online,” Andy describes. “I can’t speak to the sportsmanship of Super League players when they’re online (I’m sure everyone’s an angel though) but in the movie theater we see great camaraderie, with players almost always cheering the winners after each game.”
Making Others Smile
Moving forward, Andy anticipates expansion in many of the same areas that others in the industry see: eSports, VR and mobile games. They still see opportunities there for Super League, however. “This might sound odd but I think even virtual reality will be more fun when you’re doing it socially in a movie theater,” Andy says.
Ultimately, Andy loves the business because he feels that what he is doing is something where everyone involved wins. “Gamers win because playing in a movie theater is simply tons of social fun,” he said. “Our movie theater partners win because we’re filling auditoriums at times when they would otherwise be empty. And our games partners win because we’re building social, in-theater communities around their games that last for months and years.”
“The most fun part is producing a game or experience that makes others smile,” Andy concluded.