We reached out for an Interview with ‘Big Fish Games’ Developer Sean Clarke and this is what he had to say, a big thank you to to Sean and Big Fish Games for the time and answering our questions.
1. Firstly, I just want to say that I am a big fan of Big Fish Games having grown up playing the likes of Chicken Invaders and Mystery Case Files. For our fans who may not know about your games though, how about you start by giving us a little history lesson and explain to us how the name Big Fish Games came to be?
Big Fish Games is the world’s largest producer and distributor of casual games. Founded in 2002 in Seattle, Washington, Big Fish has distributed more than 2.5 billion games to customers in 150 countries from a growing catalogue of 450+ unique mobile games and 3,500+ unique PC games. Without forsaking our successful legacy, PC-centric business, Big Fish has successfully transitioned to mobile and emerged as a top grossing mobile publisher worldwide.
2. Now you have recently released three new match-3 type games; Gummy Drops, Cascade and Greek Gems. This is an area of the gaming market that as developers, you’ve had some great success in. What can people expect from these three new titles?
Each of these games is unique and a different gaming experience. Cascade is an interesting and fun blend of Match-3 and Slots, Greek Gems is a collapse-style game with a fun Greek Gods theme, and Gummy Drop! is a classic Match-3 game, but with many twists and layers of activities and goals.
3. An issue you face however is that people will look at all three games and could just think each one is the same game with a new coat of paint. What can you say to enable our readers to understand that is not the case?
They are absolutely different games. I think they all look quite different and certainly when you play them you will realize how different and unique they are. And unique within the App Store, too.
I wouldn’t actually refer to them as all being Match-3 games. As I mentioned, each of these games actually has a different mechanic and theme, and a very different user experience. I suppose they all have attractive and shiny gems (or gummies) to tap on, and they are all high quality and well-polished games, but the similarities tend to stop there.
4. Although you’ve had great success with the match-3 genre, the market is almost plagued with these types of games now, especially on mobile devices. What separates you from your competitor’s games like Candy Crush Saga by King?
You are absolutely right – there are a lot of Match-3 games, and games with shiny gems as part of their main mechanic out in the App Store. Very few of them stand out as unique while most of them seem quite derivative. And even the unique ones tend to be one-dimensional. By this, I mean that you play a level, eventually beat that level, then you move on to the next level.
One of the things that make our games different is the emphasis we are putting on giving players choices. As players, we find it frustrating to only have one choice in the game – play the next level over and over until I am finally successful. In Gummy Drop!, for instance, the player has many choices of how to play every time they come back to the game. Moving forward, level by level, is of course an option, but there are side quests, rewards and resources for replaying levels, and a per-level leader-board so you can compete with your friends. And much more.
5. Speaking of mobile devices, more people than ever before are now using their smartphones and tablets to play games. Have you seen this as a positive move for the gaming industry and how have you had to adapt to this new and growing market?
I think that any new device that helps bring games to the mainstream is a positive thing for the overall industry. The mobile devices allow more people to discover games, as well as allowing them to play at times and in ways that weren’t an option in the past. Setting aside time to sit at a desk in front of a computer or TV to play a game is fine, and I do it all the time, but having the ability to play a game while standing in line, riding a bus, relaxing on the couch, etc., really creates a lot more potential gaming hours in the day and gives players a lot more flexibility about when and how they play their games.
Adapting to this market has actually been fairly straight forward for us. We have been developing and publishing great casual content for over a decade, and great casual content works very well on mobile devices. In many ways, it actually allows us to add new and innovative features that we couldn’t do for traditional gaming devices.
6. Another factor that you face as developers as well is that it’s becoming easier than ever for indie developers to make and release games, and quite often you find cheaply made replicas of already existing titles. How has this affected the way you have to go about designing and marketing your own games?
It really doesn’t affect us much. There are great games out there, both indie and published, and as you mention, also a lot of clones and replicas. As easy as it is to publish something to the App Store, it’s just as easy for consumers to try it and grab something else if they don’t like it. For content to stand out, it needs to be great, it needs to be fun, and it needs to be an experience that players want.
In terms of marketing, we have built a large audience and we continue to find new ways to reach and grow that audience. We view publishing as much more than just distribution.
7. Moving on, I know you’ve only just released three new games but are there any more projects currently in the works that may get our readers excited? Potentially a new Mystery Case Files with me as one of the characters (I don’t mind being killed off)?
Ha! I’m sure the Mystery Case Files team will appreciate your offer!
Aside from the Matching games you’ve mentioned, we’ve had a tremendous positive response to some of our earlier games such as Fairway Solitaire and Midnight Castle. All of these games are still being developed – we’re adding new features and content regularly.
For the future, we’ve got a very robust and interesting list of games in our pipeline. I think mobile game players will be quite surprised by the diversity of content we will be rolling out over the next year. I’m personally very excited about the quality and innovation I am seeing in the games, whether they be live or in development.
8. Big Fish Games questions aside now. Many people who enter the games industry are often inspired to do so by playing certain games during their childhood. Were there any games in particular that you played growing up which made you fall in love with gaming and think “I want to make these one day”?
Oh, man. I played a lot of games that inspired me. I still do. But, let’s see… here’s an abbreviated list from my childhood: Pong, Adventure, Missile Command, Galaga, Seven Cities of Gold, M.U.L.E., Zork.
9. This is a two part question now. Firstly, what was the first ever game that you worked on as a developer, not including projects you may have worked on during your education? Secondly, with all the games you have personally worked on to date, what one would you class as your greatest achievement?
My first project as a “professional” was a demo disk for LucasArts that combined parts of Loom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Secret of Monkey Island into an interactive demo experience. During my first couple of years at LucasArts I worked on a lot of porting projects and lent a hand to new games, but my first new project, beginning to end, was Sam and Max Hit the Road.
I don’t know if I could call any of my projects a “greatest achievement”. I’m proud of them all in different ways, and critical of them all in different ways, too. Each had their own challenges and their own successes. I know it sounds like I’m dodging the question, but I don’t really have a favourite.
10. Since you started developing games how have you seen the market change? Has your job gotten easier over time thanks to new technologies, or is it more difficult because of the vast amount of competitors that are around?
One thing that’s been consistent over the last 25 years is that things are always changing. Companies have come and gone; competitors have come and gone. Technologies, platforms, distribution models, revenue models, design fads… you name it, they’ve all changed. I wouldn’t say that it has gotten easier or harder – just different. I enjoy learning new things and building stuff, so all of the evolutions of the game industry have been fun for me.
11. Finally, because the majority of our writers are students, and some are graduates to, what advice would you give to those budding young people who are looking for a career in the games industry?
The industry used to be populated with hobbyists – people who were passionate about games and did pretty much everything. They designed, programmed, made art, and scored their games. Now there are specialists for everything, as well as whole new layers that never had to exist before for things like distribution, monetization, analytics, etc. My advice would be to really think about what you are good at, what you naturally find yourself attracted to doing, and work towards a job that lets you do that. The industry is now big enough, and the games complex enough, that there is a lot more room for people with different experiences, educations and skills. The way to be happiest is to determine what you most like to do.