Q&A: Belia Portillo, international and partnership lead at Jackbox Games on Jackbox Party Pack 9

Vince Pavey had the chance to ask questions to Belia Portillo from irreverent party game developer Jackbox Games about their latest release, Jackbox Party Pack 9. Here’s what they had to say about the company’s latest collection of game night mainstays.

How would you describe the Jackbox Party Pack games to our readers?

Jackbox Games is a unique studio in that we release five games every year. We split our studio into five game development teams that all come together into one big Party Pack. We just released our ninth instalment. With this much variety in gameplay, every game in a Pack is guaranteed to be someone’s new favourite.

There’s a good amount of replayability with our games and the only limitation to the outcome for many of these games is your own party’s creativity.

You’re on your 9th Jackbox Party Pack – how do you keep them fresh, and audiences interested?

Our studio has an abundance of talented writers, designers, writers, and a complete audio team. We do nearly everything in-house from the beginning of the development cycle to the publishing stage. This means we have many creative liberties and inter-departmental collaboration which helps facilitate the creative process.

We are highly responsive to audience feedback. Every year we publish a public feedback survey that provides many good insights that we strive to meet.

Some of Jackbox Party Pack 9’s games are new, while others are sequels. How do you decide when to do a sequel to something like Fibbage? Do you have a formula for new-to-old with each pack?

We’re very receptive to audience feedback. In our annual feedback survey, we ask which game people would like to see a sequel to, which certainly factors into our decision. We also look at which games are being played more than others, and what people are talking about on social media. If we were to poll Twitter today, you’d likely see overwhelming support for Word Spud 2, for instance.

How many people are on the Jackbox Games team?

We’ve grown a lot over the past few years. Currently, we sit in the 50-100 range of employees, but they never sit still long enough to give an accurate count.

How many work on each game in a party pack?

Each game team consists of around 10 core members. This includes a game director, lead writer, lead QA, lead engineer, lead artist, lead audio engineer, lead producer, and many other supplementary team members to make these games happen.

Do you hire a lot of people that have perhaps have worked more in board games than video games?

Many of our team members have a stronger penchant for board games than the average person. We draw a lot of experience from the Chicago improv comedy scene.

What tools are used to develop Jackbox Party Packs?

We use many tools that are built in-house and not publicly available. With the exception of maybe some artist software like Photoshop, everything that goes into the core design of our games is completely bespoke.

How long is the usual development time on a single party pack game?

We release five new games every year, so the short answer would be 365 days, or 366 if it’s a leap year.

What is the approach to designing a new party pack game? Where does it start, and when do you usually realise you’re on to something?

We’re constantly playtesting new ideas year-round, but after a major release, we’ll start ideating in earnest. The “a-ha” moment is easily identified by the laughter you can hear in a playtest. That’s a key indicator of a good game.

When you bring the many different games together, what’s the process like to make sure each Jackbox Party Pack feels like a complete package?

We try to find something for everyone in each Party Pack. Whether you’re an artist, a trivia buff, a grandmother, or a rowdy teenager, we try to bring everyone together under one roof. Our goal is to create weird memories regardless of who you are.

What have you learned from developing Jackbox Party Pack 9?

We’ve been in the process of growing our audience outside of the United States. Beginning with a filter in the settings menu that allows players to exclude U.S.-centric trivia questions, to today where we have launched a Party Pack in Spanish, French, Italian, and German for the first time.

This comes with many unique challenges; some jokes just don’t land in German the way they might in Italian for example. If we could do it over again, we’d love to incorporate more feedback from our international audiences to tighten up some of these titles that are intended for a more international audience.

Did you have any big development issues this time around? How did you address them?

Our industry is plagued by crunch. It is a frequent topic at any studio and ours is no different. We have taken great strides in ensuring that employees never feel pressured, especially with such a tight deadline of five new games every year. We have a wonderful team of producers who help to ensure that teams are on pace but not overwhelmed. We also hired many new team members to help alleviate the pressure. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at our studio and we take these measures very seriously.

What has the audience reception been like? Are there any new fan favourites in the latest pack?

We visited a few conventions this year and the one game that got the loudest reception was Quixort. There’s something very exciting about a room full of people who have never seen the game before yelling “LEFT, MORE LEFT, RIGHT” at a player trying to sort films based on their release date. Trivia is never trivial here at Jackbox Games.

Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?

One thing we always say is that if you have an idea for a game, do it! It can seem overwhelming at first but the only real limitation is never starting.

This is more of a personal request than anything … When are we getting more You Don’t Know Jack?

You Don’t Know Jack is one of our flagship titles that has been around since the 90s. We have revisited this title recently in The Jackbox Party Pack 5 and if fans want to see more, we would certainly take a serious look at what a modern successor could look like. We aren’t making any announcements or confirming any future sequels at this time, but if you’re passionate about a specific title, let us know!

About Vince Pavey

Vince is a writer from the North-East of England who has worked on comics for The Beano and Doctor Who. He likes to play video games and eat good food. Sometimes he does both at the same time, but he probably shouldn’t.

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