Founder of PlayJam Jasper Smith brings TV games into focus

Interview: PlayJam

As more devices in the home become internet-connected, companies are finding more ways to distribute entertainment to us.

PlayJam, the world’s largest connected games network across digital TV, mobile and online platforms, is one such company.

We contacted CEO and founder Jasper Smith to hear about how PlayJam got started, some of their plans for progression and what they think about Apple TV.

PlayJam started in the nineties – during the era of Ceefax games. Where did the idea for the service come from?
We ran a digital consulting business that was working on new Sky set top box technologies and starting to think about games. We developed a few, went to see Sky, did a deal and launched in 1999. Six billion game downloads later the industry is now entering its most fascinating stage.

You’ve created over 300 casual games. Do you own the IPs for these titles or have most of them been contract work?
In fact we have over 500 games and yes, all of these are owned by the company. That’s a lot of late nights. Recently we have started distributing third-party games across the PlayJam network – such as Puzzlers library. We expect to announce others over the coming months. The reason this is attractive is that PlayJam now has global distribution deals with many of the leading CE vendors including Sony and Samsung. Ultimately we expect the PlayJam games network to reach well over one billion CE devices.

Earlier this year, you switched to a free-to-play model giving Sky viewers access to some of your most popular titles. What prompted this move?
The idea was to fundamentally change the games on TV model that had become locked to pay-per-play. We wanted to liberate ourselves from this by seeing if we could attract lots more players to engage with us if the games were free, which they did. We then offer players points and incentives to pay for content through PlayJam $, a virtual currency for the PlayJam network.

As a result of your new free-to-play strategy, how are you making money with PlayJam?
PlayJam offers free and pay games now. The free games generate revenue through offers and ads. The pay games are either premium games or skill based games where players can win prizes for playing. This gives us a more diverse model and allows us to flex the model at different times of day or around key events.

Players can earn PlayJam points in every game they play that can then be redeemed for prizes. When did/will you begin offering this to players?
We started this some time ago on but have only very recently started integrating in on the TV platforms.

How important is it to offer users incentives like achievements and points in the casual gaming space?
In our view the points based reward model is key to TV games because of the frequency of use. It’s a bit like being a frequent shopper or flyer. Loyalty needs to be rewarded.

Matchplay and tournaments are two other incentives you have planned. Are you relying on advertising and sponsorship deals from these to cover your costs?
In essence, we are creating a casual games exchange where competition between players is encouraged and where the prizes are funded through a combination of models including advertising and sponsorship, but also including pay-to-play. We have begun to do some interesting work on tournaments whereby a consumer can bet on the outcome of a game they are playing against another player. Similar to a betting exchange. It’s not a big part of the mix today but it’s an interesting area to explore.

You’ve also begun to offer some of your titles, like Wee Wee Kitty and Kurakku, on the iPhone. Do you have plans to bring the rest of your games to the iPhone or other mobile platforms?
Yes, we are gradually taking our most successful games to the iPhone. The issue is that it’s tough to stand out. We have some neat ideas and having PlayJam on TV and using it to market the mobile apps is a useful tool. We are also launching a raft of android games in conjunction with some major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

Apple recently announced their second generation Apple TV media receiver. Do you see their service as a competitor or a possible platform for PlayJam?
Apple really need to accelerate the development of the Apple TV product such that it supports apps. There is little doubt that they will but PlayJam really only focuses on volume platforms. I think between Samsung and Sony they sold around 60 million flat screen TVs last year. Next year most of these will have PlayJam as a feature. Apple in comparison is small… for now at least.

There’s a lot of talk that internet-connected TV is the next emerging entertainment platform. Where will PlayJam fit into this new landscape?
At the core of this transition is a shift from operator based business models (such as the cable and satellite pay TV operators) to an over-the-top model, whereby anyone who buys a TV is able to get a raft of services on an on-demand or pay-as-you-go basis. Services might include video on-demand, catch-up TV and, of course, games. The TVs themselves are becoming more and more capable and our view is that within a few years they will be able to act as virtual games consoles. Because of this we have formed partnerships with many of the leading TV vendors to deliver the PlayJam Games Platform – an API that allows games to be published across all major Connected TV devices.

Additionally, and to corral the games industry in to action PlayJam partnered with Accedo to launch the Connected TV Games Forum at CES in 2009. The Forum is focused on working with the TV vendors to create the richest possible TV games experience. In our view the next few years will be seeing something of a revolution.

Find out more about PlayJam.

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