Small Ball: Your Turn Football, the Words With Friends of sports video games
Boasting the look and playability of an old-school classic, if Pick6 Studio’s Your Turn Football brings you back to the glory days of sports video games, it’s by design. And no wonder, as one of the brains behind the (virtual) ball is Pick6 Co-Founder Mike Saperstein, the gaming guru who played a key role in the development of the timeless High Heat Baseball franchise. By his side is David Fruin, another 3DO vet who also helped spearhead the studio at Digital Chocolate.
But what’s it like trying to tackle the crowded football market without a single player or league license?
Inside Mobile Apps went straight to the source to find out.
Inside Mobile Apps: How difficult is it to crack the sports app and gaming landscape these days without the NFL players or league license?
David Fruin: There are pros and cons with a license. I’d say if you were talking to me ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, I’d say it would be really hard. But today with the way social games work and the way consumers are more accustomed and desensitized to licenses, and with the more savvy customers realizing that licenses come with costs, I think things have changed, especially if those licenses put a drain on the entertainment value of the game. So it’s kind of a two-sided answer, really. I don’t think the product, itself, suffers from not having a license. It would be nice if we did, and it could add value, but to answer your question about breaking in and cracking the sports market, it’s hard no matter who you are, whether you’re sports, licensed or not licensed, or whether you’re just a regular game developer. So while I’d say breaking into the sports market without a license is difficult, I’d say just breaking in in general is hard, period.
IMA: Your Turn Football’s game design is brilliant in its simplicity. What was your inspiration in terms of making a turn-based, social sports game?
DF: There are two main categories of sports games that we saw that we didn’t think worked. The first is the major console sports titles that are being ported over to mobile and tablets. We just felt like that wouldn’t work because they’re making it for this huge, high-class platform and then they’re trying to stick it on a little one, and I think it’s proven out that it doesn’t work. The second style we saw, we found the entertainment value, but we didn’t see the depth in games that were simplified to be a one-off home run derby or something completely unique with a flick home run. And those types of games, they try to capture the spirit of the sport, but they don’t carry the authenticity of the game. So we felt there had to be a way to capture the authenticity of the sport while also keeping things simple and mass market.
I’m an avid Words With Friends player, and one of my co-founders is as well, and it’s really the only game out there where you can play with another friend on an on-going basis, and we see the value in that. I actually kept in touch with one of my friends solely through Words With Friends for like six months, and we noted the high retention value and the social value. There’s a simplicity to the game and it has such a mass-market appeal, and that’s really how we modeled our approach. We wanted to make our game as simple and as social as Words With Friends, while at the same time capturing the authenticity of the sport.
And while Words With Friends was the inspiration for the turn-based social nature of the design, some older football games, like Tecmo Bowl, Cyberballl, and even the old hand held Mattel Football game were games that shaped our idea of what a fun football game should play like.
IMA: A big thing for me is how accurate the stats turn out to be in each game.
DF: I think sports fans will really appreciate it the more they play and see how authentic the game is. When creating a sports game, you can go two ways. A game like Madden is built on a physics-based engine, and as a result, you can make things look really good, but you’re not going to get the statistical accuracy. One of the things that always shocked us in Madden is the average play-action pass is a net loss, where in real football, if that was the case, you would never see a play-action pass, but they happen all the time. So we were like, wow, that’s just not authentic. So what we did is, we built a stats-based simulation. Our engine is stat-based, so over the course of a game, everything is going to look right. You’ll average one or two turnovers, and you’ll gain around 300 yards total. Of course, just like real football, you’ll see anomalies, but if you play game after game after game, you’ll see that this looks like a real football simulation.
IMA: Why didn’t you include any sort of single-player mode? Sometimes you’re waiting for your opponent to jump back in and play and it would be great if I could get in some reps against the computer.
DF: We wanted to be a social game, driving the social aspect of playing against friends in order to drive the adoption of the product. We looked at Words With Friends as the example of, hey, there is no single-player game in there, so you have to play with friends, and that drive to compete with friends drove people to want to play the game. So that was our over-arching strategic choice. The more practical choice of not doing a single-player is that we’re a small company and we had to focus on certain things. We felt that we had to perfect a back-and-forth turn-based game first, then we could add a single-player game later if people were clamoring for it.
IMA: Is this the start of something bigger in terms of the Pick6 Studio? Are you in development of any other sports games?
DF: I can’t reveal our roadmap, but absolutely, our intention and our hope is to create an entire sports line. We believe we have the technology principles and design principles that can translate into any and all sports. If there’s a sport that we are better at in terms of an implementation standpoint, it is baseball, but there are other products that really fit in to our turn-based model, like golf, and we’d love to do them all. Our desire is to grow the studio, grow the product line, and not only capture, but disrupt the sports market. We feel that no one has really done it. No one has been able to cross that threshold of owning the sports mobile or social market, and we feel that with our principles of social play and turn-based play and with our ease of use and authenticity, there’s a huge opportunity there for us. We know that if you do sports right, you’re going to have a fan for a long time. EA really just cornered the sports market for a couple of decades and they’ve made quite a business out of that, and we see that as the opportunity here for us.