Wednesday, September 26, 2012
How Wedge Buster is Building A Sports Gaming Empire, With Scott Philp
How do you convince guys to start playing social games? For Wedge Buster (www.wedgebuster.com), you do it by pulling together a huge collection of sports-related social and mobile games. Wedge Buster just raised a $2.2M round from the NFL's Drew Brees, skating's Rob Dyrdek, and a number of local venture and angel investors to create what the company hopes is the dominant provider of social and mobile sports game. We spoke with Scott Philp, the company's CEO and Founder, to learn about its plans.
Explain what Wedge Buster is?
Scott Philp: At a high level, Wedge Buster was created to go after the sports gaming, in social and mobile, in a big way. We are building a robust social gaming platform with a specific focus on sports games. We have literally acquired over one hundred lightweight, fun, and addictive games. I have spent the past ten years in social gaming, fantasy sports, and casual gaming. If you look at the marketplace, and the people who are just doing sports and social, the sports games market is very fragmented. No one has hit a home run. Our focus, is to go after becoming the sport gaming leader. We've started with a robust platform in Facebook, and now we're pushing hard in mobile.
How long have your games been available?
Scott Philp: We've had an early alpha out in Facebook for a few months, and that's been very successful. We've registered about a quarter million people, and our big push in mobile kicks off in late October. The big differentiator here, is the sports game we have gone out to buy or which we've developed are super lightweight. They're fun, addictive, and easy to play. We have invested in a very robust platform. It's not about putting twenty developers in a room and building one big hit game. Instead, we've invested in a platform which bring in all of the key elements of social gaming, including monetization, engagement loops, retention, and virality. The games we have can't stand alone by themselves, but they are proven content, which people are playing all over the Internet, but can't monetize. What we've built is a way to monetize them, creative virality, and more importantly, have a home where guys an play sports games.
Why pick sports games as your focus?
Scott Philp: No one else is doing this. We look at sports as a huge opportunity. Most casual game players are 40-year old soccer moms, and males are just now dipping their toes into the water, figuring out what these games are, and figuring out how they want to get involved. We're the only players in the space making a big push her. We think that sports is an easy, easy way to bring males into playing these lightweight games. Facebook is super supportive, because I think they're excited about getting males to play more sports games, and at a higher level to engage with apps and games in Facebook. It's a huge, untapped market. Our games have gotten hundred of millions of plays on the Internet, and we believe we can put them in one place you'll want to play these with friends.
Can you talk about your team?Scott Philp" My partner is Ryan Houston, who was formerly at Fanball, heading up sports gaming there. I was last programming social games for the NFL, including QUICKHIT NFL Football. I was the Chief Markteing Officer, the marketing guy, and scaled that to millions of users. We've really reached the masses with our projects. Ryan has built products that millions have played. Our CTO, Amy Yeh, was VP of Technology at Fox Sports, and built products that have scaled to millions of people. That team is significant, and a huge differentiator. Everyone wants to get into sports, and we've been there for several years, and really understand the landscape.
You have quite a few games you own now--was it tough to find them all?
Scott Philp: It's been tough as hell to find those games. What we look for, are great sports games, out of the gate. We are looking to find really hot games we can acquire and brand. Basically after we acquire a game, we hand them over to our team, which gives them some sex appeal, and makes them look and play a tad better. We buy most of the games, although there are a handful we've also gone out and licensed on a perpetual license. It's not a revenue share, but something we've acquired on a license basis. The third pathway we use is we have figured out a handful of games that aren't in the marketplace, but which we think would be big home runs, and we've gone ahead and developed them ourselves. It's not easy to find great games in sports. The important thing with lots of casual games today, which literally billions of people play, is they're almost all geared toward females. Those game mechanics and game engines are not geared towards males. We've also been looking for proven games that have unbelievable game mechanics and game engines, and acquiring those, and turning them into sports or male focused games. They might be proven games with huge hits, and we've taken and sport-ified them.
It sounds like this is a lot like Hollywood's studio model?
Scott Philp: Absolutely. Unlike the studio model, however, where they are aiming at producing and publishing big games, the games we acquire and develop are lightweight, three to five minute experiences. They are inexpensive to build, and we get lots of shots on goal. It doesn't take a team of twenty developers, it only takes one or two and they can crank it out in a month. It's all about virtual real estate, and figuring out what is performing.
What's interesting about that, is you had told me a year ago that Darts would be one of my most popular games, and that our first big mobile push would be Battle Darts, I would have laughed in your face. But, when we launched Wedge Buster and started driving people to our games, we found they were playing Darts. We got another Dart game, people went crazy, and a third, and people went crazy again. By our fourth dart title we had tens of thousands of people playing darts. Mobile is a big part of our business, but it's a different model, because it takes more time and energy to develop mobile games. Where this has led us, and what we get to do at Wedge Buster with social, is use data from our players playing sports games, figure out what they like, what resonated with them, and where they're challenging friends and spending currency to play. We get a really good idea of what can be successful with mobile, without taking shots in the dark.
What we've been doing for the past several months, is we're taking our platform in mobile, and building a very robust, asynchronous challenge-based mobile platform. We take what have been our most successful games in social, and basically take them to the mobile platform. They're not identical, but similar.
Can you talk about the asynchronous challenge aspect of your platform?
Scott Philp: An example is for Battle Darts, you might go in and throw a dart, and I'll send that off to you. You get a challenge on your phone, and you essentially throw a real dart and see what I did. The asynchronous part records and shows you, in real time, how you're playing against me. We've included all these fun hooks into the platform. For example, if I'm having a bad game, I can send you a beer, which makes your screen go blurry and throws suds everywhere. To clear that up, you can buy some aspirin.
Talk a bit about your investors and funding?
Scott Philp: We raised $2.2 million, and brought in some great investors. We have Drew Brees, the NFL quarterback, a local guy, Rob Dyrdek, who you might know as a skater and through MTV. We also have 37 Technology Ventures, the venture fund of Yuri Pickover, which led the round. Greg Martin, at Archer Venture Capital, is also investor, and we've brought in guys like Ed Zander, the former CEO of Motorola, Kevin Murray, the former State Senator, and lots of other prominent angels in town.