Online and mobile ads provide a great, frictionless way for people to download and play online and mobile games. However, there’s still something to be said for old fashioned outdoor advertising. PlayScreen thought so, and recently put up some billboards leaving Las Vegas and for those heading back to California and elsewhere. We talked with William Volk CCO PlayScreen about the marketing campaign and so much more.
[a]list: Give some background on your history in the gaming industry.
William Volk: In the age of the dinosaurs I worked for Avalon Hill in the Year of Our Lord 1979. The first game I ever wrote was Conflict 2500 that came out for Apple II, Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. Voyager I is a 3D FPS ahead of its time. It had a map that only showed you what you explored, and had randomly generated levels. It used some assembly and some basic. You could make more money in those days per hour than you could now!
Then I worked for Rising Star for a few years, then I worked for the Mac and I did Pyramid of Peril. I was at Activision for eight years as Vice President of Technology; I green-lit and produced Manhole, the first CD-ROM game. Bobby Kotick knew me from the Amiga days and I was probably the only senior person to stay on after he bought the company. There’s also Return to Zork and people are still complaining about the puzzles in that to this today. We made an unfair, ridiculous game – we had puzzles that were so crazy, you could break the game without even knowing it. It was literally cracking us up while we were doing it.
[a]list: Double Fine is trying to bring the genre back with their new Kickstarter.
William Volk: It warms my heart what Double Fine is working on. My answer on why adventure games went away is that they were too expensive and everyone wanted to do FPS. Anyway, I eventually I did some educational games for Lightspan for educators who wanted to try and have kids learn fractions. The whole project was over a million dollars and it ended up on the PlayStation. That company went public in early 2000 and the stock market crashed, especially for tech companies. Then I started dabbling in mobile. I met Sherri when she was working on a project for James Cameron. We worked on a big social mobile game at Bonus Mobile Entertainment called The Dozens inspired by the Wayans Brothers card game in the middle of the decade that worked on multiple platforms. We worked at mynumo, not a game company at first, but we started getting more mobile games; from 2007 to 2008 we were supported by those games we made.
Now Sherri made a poker game for AOL in the mid 90s and I was made the CCO. First title we did at PlayScreen was with Bocce Ball, and it succeeded because it was simple. If you want to learn why something does well, look at Draw Something compared to Ngmoco’s Doodle This; while ngmoco’s game had more features, OMGPOP made their game more accessible. Poker took a long time to come out but we always had in mind to do that.
[a]list: Tell me about how PlayScreen Poker differentiates itself in the mobile poker game market?
William Volk: It’s a beautiful looking product, and it has things like a practice mode even when you don’t have an online connection. But the thing that’s coming out is the ability to connect with people and make the game yours. How do you measure being the best poker player Against your own friends, and that’s what the game will let you do.
[a]list: What metrics can you talk about with PlayScreen Poker so far
William Volk: We’re about the ninth top title in the App Store. In the past we’ve gotten up to the level of Zynga poker but we’re waiting for the revision of our product and then we’re going to push it with more innovative advertising.
We have thousands of players per day and hundreds of thousands of downloads, but that’s not important. We have players that play the most, the whales. These are interesting players and they’re playing for a lot of times and they’re playing long times. Players wagered 18,000 chips apiece on April 9 but generally it’s in the thousands.
[a]list: Talk to me about the billboard promotion you had recently.
William Volk: We understand the iPhone marketing channels. We do video ads and incentive ads, but what you want are good users. We were spending all most ten times as much on online advertising as we are now with billboards. There are four full sized billboards – it’s not like it’s driven a huge number of users, but it’s driven people who play a lot. Statistically, we had one of our historic highs recently; the number nine category in poker and eight in free games.
We did on the way back from Vegas because people are going to Los Angeles and San Diego, their minds are on going back to work, and this helps them bring their minds back to Vegas, where they were having fun. We have more people playing the games a lot and Sunday in particular was a large day for wagering. We were driving people that were interested in poker. It’s not so much who you bring in, especially for social games, a lot of it is how players are attached to the game.
Right now we’re close to releasing a new version with PlayScreen Poker 2 and PlayScreen Poker 2 HD for the Retina display, we were trying to be where everyone was and we wanted to figure out what the players wanted to do. We’ve rewarded people who want to play with us. PlayScreen Poker 2 is about people who want to engage with other players . We make it easy to set up games with your friends. We’ve done a lot of engagement and we’ll let people earn chips by watching ads.
[a]list: It must be a challenge to try and go up against the Zynga’s of the world.
William Volk: I’m quoted as saying that Zynga made the casual game market really work. We think they’re a great company to work against. For us, we’ve unleashed achievements across our titles. We’re improving chats and invites and so that players know when their friends show up. It pushes us to make the best product we can.
[a]list: Do you feel like advertising can be a differentiator for mobile titles these days?
William Volk: There’s 22,000 new apps every week. You have to be better than the rest. The quality of games has gotten so high. The NES age, which I remember because I got to work then, during the whole era there was 700 games total and now there’s thousands games every day. It used to be you bid in Kyoto for your cart allocation, but now something like Tiny Wings can come out of nowhere and do great. So any differentiator is key.
[a]list: Where are you hoping to take PlayScreen Poker in the future?
William Volk: PlayScreen has a logo with IClops and you should see something with him soon. We have an amazing word game and strategy game coming and the new bocce game that you’ll see more about very soon.
[a]list: Thanks, William.
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