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Jack Thirteen interview – Why investing in indie games startup is hot again



Jack Thirteen ran Sony's gaming department in the United States for many years, and he helped PlayStation 4 stay up in this generation. He then left the company in 2014 and became an investor in gaming companies.

After 28 years at Sony, Thirteen was alone, and he formally announced his venture capital fund, Interactive Gaming Ventures, last year.

Thirteen focus on new indie game makers who have had commercial success in the past. He is looking for teams that need help to upgrade and more capital and experience to beat the big time. But Thirteen does not take a cookie cutter approach. No two developers are alike, just as no two snowflakes are alike, he said.

He has received more than 500 grants for funding, but has only invested in 1

0 deals in recent years. Of the 10, most are PC players, while one is focused on mobile. Nobody is in virtual reality. But he sees a bright look for game studies because so many platform owners are looking to recruit the developers to their platforms – like Google's new Stadia cloud gaming platform.

Thirteen will speak at the Casual Connect Europe game event in London. [19659002]

Above: Jack Tretton is the managing partner of Interactive Gaming Ventures.

Image Credit: Interactive Gaming Ventures

GamesBeat: It looks like you're going to make Casual Connect. What do you want to talk about there?

Jack Thirteen: I'm talking about the indie scene and the relationship between the big companies and the Indians. I have a lot of experience on the business side, of course, and I go into indies in five years. Just compare and contrast there. The emphasis will be on the indie scene. The other attraction for me at the conference – it's in LA and London, and the London event was a good timing-wise, as well as with the exposure of many European developers that I don't interact with so much, being located in the United States.

GamesBeat: What have you noticed after immersing yourself in Indian in recent years? What are some of the interesting possibilities?

Thirteen: The things that are interesting to me – you now have over a generation of people who have grown up with games integrated into their lives. Many of them have focused on everything through high school and college, getting degrees and becoming independent developers. There is more talent out there than there are opportunities to apply for it.

The second trend is that this generation of developers is much more comfortable and has much more opportunity to be independent. Back in the day, you had to go to work for one of the big publishers to keep your trade. Today it is not only the opportunity to be independent, but many of the younger developers prefer to remain independent. I like to work with as many of them as I can to try to help them get their products to the market and make them as successful as possible.

GamesBeat: Do you look at the great indie people? I wrote a story today about Lorne Lanning and his latest Oddworld game, Soulstorm, and he used the term "triple-A indie." Is it on your radar?

Thirteen: The term I want to use is "emerging indie." Not boys who work with their first project, which has just put their development team, but teams that have had some degree of commercial success. They have published a game. They have some experience. But they have not scaled to the level they want to. They need more experience and more capital. They need more time under belts. It's the sweet place for us.

Lorne Lannings of the World, the Triple-One Indies, has probably scaled past the point they are in in our governance, as far as the investment we are comfortable doing, and it's less we can relay to them with go-to -market strategies and fundraising. They have probably learned it along the way. It is in the midst of first-time developers and experienced developers who are the sweet spot for us. This is where we think we can borrow as much help as possible and find the most potential in the short term.

About: "Seed Stage Investing for Games" with
Charles Hudson, Ed Fries, David Gardner (left to right)
David Gardner from London Venture Partners,
Ed Fries of 1Up Ventures and Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and moderated by Eric Goldberg – Details – Hero Stage

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: I worked with Eric Goldberg from Crossover on the panels we did for investors at our conference. A few years ago, he had really trouble finding any active VC games, but this time he had no problems at all. People struggled to get on the two panels we had. It seems like in the US now there are quite a few game investors again.

Thirteen: Absolutely. I saw that trend emerging. There has always been interest in the industry because of its size and success and scale, but for people who do not have much experience in the industry, they have the money to spend, but they do not know where to put it. They are not comfortable with the degree of risk in their minds because they do not understand the development process so well.

It's a great time in the industry in general, because as you point out, there are more and more dollars flowing in. It's almost an endless access to talented developers out there. It is about matching people's investment philosophy with people's publishing philosophy. They are like snowflakes. No two are the same. There are enough investors and enough developers that it is about just matching the right people.

It has been one of the great challenges for us. We've had more than 500 submissions to our game fund, and many of them aren't a place right off the bat, but even when you spread it to those who have potential, it's probably less than 10 where there is a match for theirs. goals are and what our goals are and what our philosophy is and what their philosophy is. It's okay, because you find them, and frankly we find more than we have the time or money to invest in. But it's important to go through the process and make sure you're adjusted. If you are not in line with entering, you are certainly not about to be adjusted coming out. That's the big key.

GamesBeat: When did you start cutting checks? How many investments have you made?

Thirteen: I just figured it. We are involved in around 10 different games that are either on the market or in development. We started to develop and fund back in 2015. We have four years of projects I have been involved in. It has been M & A. There have been new checks written on projects that just kick off. I've done something for every platform, every active console on the market. Surely a lot of PC, and even one mobile project. I do not personally dig for mobile or VR, but we found a good project in the mobile room we are working on. To date, I have just not found anything that interests me on the VR page. Never say never, but it is not a focus of our fund.

GamesBeat: We had an interesting conversation over the major platforms and talked about the intentional gaming companies Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and as unintentional as Google or Apple. I wonder what you think about it now that Phil Spencer is running Google.

Thirteen: I haven't yet seen the business model on Google. For me, it's the biggest deciding factor in a streaming service. But I'm bullish on next-generation platforms from Sony and Microsoft. This generation remains very healthy. PC is integrated for not only PC development, but also for consolidating development. It's a very fruitful market, and I'm optimistic about Google and every other new player coming into it. It's just that I know what the profit potential and revenue streams are for PC and console. I don't understand or know what the business model is for publishing anything on the Google platform.

Depending on how it fits into the platforms we are involved in, it can be a good opportunity. It may be a deviation from the existing business model. It may be something that just doesn't fit into the strategy. It will depend on every publisher, every game and everybody's publishing philosophy.

  Azure collects many game tools in one place.

Over: Azure gathers many game tools in one place.

Image Credit: Microsoft

GamesBeat: We can now expect a new competition, with Microsoft and Amazon to respond to Google and such things.

Thirteen: It's a great opportunity for anyone involved in games. I have always said that a rising tide lifts all the boats. More people into the industry mean more choices for players and more opportunities for developers. It certainly increases the bar as far as a console publisher needs to do to have a leadership position. It's good for everyone in the business, whether it's a consumer or a hardware company.

GamesBeat: Does it make you think about investments in a specific way? It appears that the new platforms will also throw money on developers.

Thirteen: Absolutely. Any development decision or release decision is based on number one, if it helps tap your passion for game development and lets you put a better product on the market, and second, not only will you achieve artistic success, but you will achieve commercial success. Every relationship, if it is complementary or incremental, is good. If it comes at the expense of other opportunities, you have choices to make.

As you said, there is great interest on the platforms to develop relationships with individual developers. As long as it doesn't come at the expense of other opportunities, it's good. For me it is one of the interesting things with a streaming model. If I am going to make my game available for a type of subscription service, what makes it the potential for me to sell the game on other platforms at the same time?

It has been one of the major challenges for streaming services. People are absolutely willing to make the catalog games available for streaming services once they have run the course, but unless developed solely for the streaming service of the platform holder, most are resistant to bringing front line software to a streaming service that is subscription- [19659036] Apple Arcade, which is based on, before you get every opportunity to make money from it through individual sales.

GamesBeat: How do you look at other opportunities like Apple Arcade?

For me it is a great opportunity if you have a game that is mobile focused, iOS focused, and Apple decides it is the key to their offer and collection. If it fits the bill, it's good. It used to be a very strong business for physical retail sales of catalog games at reduced prices. Of course, the model has been dramatically changed, with so much product being sold digitally versus physical. The directory business is being replaced by opportunities to be part of subscription services or directory offers from the hardware platforms.

At the end of the day, once you have invested heavily in your development and you have created an IP that you have created, you are proud to protect that IP. You will maximize revenue from existing IP and build your audience for follow-up. You will not translate the product to where you damage the perceived value. It's about managing a product's life cycle. Things like Apple's service, Microsoft's, Sony's, and finally Google's, add that exposure to an IP and the ability to make money from it.

GamesBeat: Looking at Apple, do you see this as a defensive move because of something like [Google’s cloud gaming platform] Stadia?

Thirteen: No. Apple is iOS focused. There are mobile games. For me, I think Google is looking for more of a console model. Apple talks about all the games available on the iOS service, which are put together in a collection at a price as for me – it's a mobile-based model. It's not really a new platform launch. It is more of a bundle offer on iOS products that will be sold individually for, imaginable, a higher price than you would pay for the collection. For me, that does not resemble what Google is trying to do with Stadia.

GamesBeat: In terms of Europe, what is it exciting for you to meet some of these developers and become more involved in that market?

Thirteen: It was a time when there were games that had global appeal, it could come out of a region, and then there were games that were region specific. That is still the case, but largely in the West, games that are commercially successful in North America are also commercially successful in Europe and vice versa. There are a number of developers scattered throughout Europe who may not have exposure to the North American market, or more personally, I may not be so familiar with them as with North American developers. It's an opportunity to get more exposure to a market that doesn't spend as much time as I did in North America.


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