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Building the Electronic Arts of Casual Gaming: PlayFirst CEO John Welch (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Aug 3rd 2007

SM: What was the market landscape like when you founded the company? Competition? Competitive Positioning?

JW: There was no formal publisher in the casual games space prior to PlayFirst’s entry. It was like authors not only writing books with no editor and no research staff but also having to scurry around from bookstore to bookstore to sell their wares. We looked at how publishing worked across forms of media such as books, movies, music, and of course games, and realized there was an opportunity. There are huge efficiencies and great risk diversification to be had from running the largest portfolio in the industry.

Some developers became our partners, such as Gamelab in NYC whom we financed to develop the original Diner Dash game. Some were our competition, vying for shelf space on the major portal sites. We now license in games from many non-affiliated developers to sell on our web site. The craziest thing about the casual games industry is that everyone, both partners and competitors, competes with everyone. This is starting to change, though, as some of the more mature companies are starting to specialize and diverge. Competition is becoming more fierce in some areas, and less so in others.

SM: Describe the value proposition, including differentiation versus the rest of the market.

JW: There are a lot of casual game developers and now publishers. PlayFirst has a unique depth of focus on story and character building that has helped produce some of the top IP in the market. Our Diner Dash was the first casual game to both inspire and educate players by giving them a story describing why they were playing: help the lovable heroine Flo, who quit her high-stress financial job to become an entrepreneur, open a diner in a broken down shack and fix it up by earning tips, ultimately running a 5-star restaurant. Now, hundreds of millions of people have played as Flo, people we can channel to many new games that will emerge under the Diner Dash brand – such as Wedding Dash, which just launched on www.PlayFirst.com.

This depth of character, story and brand-building is our most visible differentiation today, in Diner Dash titles as well as our newer hits Chocolatier and Dream Chronicles. The big new direction for us that you have not seen yet is how we will expand out from the $20 single player downloads to embrace new models of game play and monetization. Stay tuned!

SM: So, the differentiation is in that your games are more character and story intensive, targeted towards the mass market, not teen and young adults, as in the video gaming industry. Is there some thematic cohesion in your games as well? Like this Flo story … story of an entrepreneur?

JW: No, but we do make stories and characters approachable, with more mass appeal, and not so much teen appeal. Also, the character of Flo, our Diner Dash heroine, is going to be reused and referred to in subsequent titles. Other game developers cannot use the characters that are ours.

SM: Like Mickey Mouse in Disney.

(to be continued)

[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]

This segment is part 5 in the series : Building the Electronic Arts of Casual Gaming: PlayFirst CEO John Welch
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