Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Interview with Michael Witz, Mob Science
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
What does it take to take a social gaming firm to the next level? For San Diego-based Mob Science (www.mobscience.com), an injection of cash, some key advisors--and a deal with Zynga. Last week, the firm announced a funding round and a couple of key advisors, as the company looks to ramp its social gaming efforts and leverage a deal with Zynga. We spoke with CEO Michael Witz about the company.
Tell us a little bit about Mob Science, games that you develop?
Michael Witz: We're building social games. We have one, major original IP game in development, and a couple of weeks ago we announced a publishing deal with Zynga to publish our new game on Facebook and Zynga's own platform.
What's the story behind Mob Science and how you got here?
Michael Witz: We've been building smaller, lightweight games on the Facebook platform since early 2008. We were really there in the early days of the Facebook platform. We had lots of success with that strategy, in terms of reaching a large audience. By December of 2009, with our little portfolio of simple games such as Snowball Fight, we were at 27 million monthly user son Facebook, and we were one of the top 10 developers on Facebook in terms of pure reach. That was great, but at the same time, we had fairly lightweight games, which didn't have lots of retention or monetization. We looked around at the industry, and we saw a company like Zynga which was making really amazing games, that were both keeping users and making lots of money. That was always our aspiration, which was to make bigger and better social games. So, since that point on, we have been transforming ourselves slowly and steadily into a studio which is capable of making those sorts of social game titles. We had a little success with Coffee Bar, Magic Mall, and Sony's Infinite Anarchy, and those games keep getting better and we kept learning about the framework, and added more talent to our team. A year ago, we decided to do a really big game, to elevate ourselves in the space. We started working on the new IP, and that's the game we announced the deal with Zynga on. As a result of that, we decided to raise capital from strategic angels, to really accelerate the opportunity there to develop our partnership with Zynga.
Having developed games for the social game market, what do you think makes a game successful or popular in this market?
Michael Witz: For us to be successful, the game has to be innovative, and it has to have really high production values. It needs to capture a space of game play that hasn't been done before. But, at the same time, it can't be totally new and unique, because that doesn't allow it to have the wide accessibility to new users who want to try it out. That's really our focus. We found a space in the market that we felt there was an opportunity to build a great game. We identified a great space, and it's an original game that no one has done in quite the same way. I think, if it all comes together, and we get some luck and magic, that it will allow us to be successful.
How did you start company?
Michael Witz: I originally wanted to do a game on MySpace, so we started developing a game for MySpace. At the time, in 2007, Facebook had just announced they were opening up their API to third party developers. We were having some difficulties on MySpace when Facebook made that announcement, and we recognized and understood the big difference between Facebook strategy versus MySpace's strategy. We recognized early on, that Facebook was going to take apart MySpcae. So, when Facebook became friendly to developers, there was a great opportunity. Unfortunately, my first attempts weren't as successful as Zynga's in building games, and we've remained a small player in the space for some time. We finally got all of our stars aligned, so that we can scale up and build a more significant company.
It looks like you've got the entire Joyent executive team as investors. How did that happen?
Michael Witz: We've been a customer of Joyent for a number of years, and have developed really good relationships with those folks. They're exceptionally talented and bright people. We approached them, explained to them what the opportunity was, and also approached them about investment. We were very fortunate in that they also saw the opportunity, and it was a really great fit.
What kind of hurdles are there in making a good social game?
Michael Witz: Games look deceptively simple to develop, but they really are hard. I've made a lot of consumer facing, online products in my career, and I think that games are extraordinarily difficult. Lots of things have to come together to make them successful. Frankly, there's a little bit of magic there. No one knows what a little pixie dust does to make a game like Temple Run or Angry Birds so successful. Before those games went live, no one predicted they would be these outstanding runaway kits. It's an interesting dynamic. Beyond that, for a really social game, you have to have a whole underlying economy and data structure, which needs to be really well designed. We have a dedicated system game designer, whose sole purpose it to design our economy, and to design the flow through the game. That's a really critical piece. The industry hadn't understood, and we ourselves hadn't understood, how important that was in this space. We're studying how Zynga has been successful, and I think a large part of that success has been their ability to take and analyze the structure and data that flows through their games.
Finally, what are you doing with that new funding?
Michael Witz: Building out our team We're actively looking for product managers, artists, engineers, PHP engineers. We have several openings in our team in Carlsbad. That's really the primary purpose, to put more capital behind our development and give this game every opportunity it can to be successful.