Daniel Bernstein is President and CEO of Bothell, Washington-based Sandlot Games (www.sandlotgames.com), a firm that develops titles for the casual gaming market. We spoke with Daniel to get the perspective on where the firm fits into the market, and to get a sense of where the market for casual games is going.
Northwest Innovation: Where do you fit into the online gaming market?
Daniel Bernstein: Sandlot Games is one of the leading developers of casual games. The casual games market is the fastest growing segment of the video game industry. It's not as big as console games in terms of revenues, but I believe in a number of years it will surpass it. It addresses a demographic that hardcore games do not address, which is everyone except 18-25 year old males. We're like a number of other companies located here in the Seattle area--the area is a hub for casual games.
Northwest Innovation: What are your most successful titles?
Daniel Bernstein: Our most successful titles are Cake Mania, the Tradewinds series of games, Westward, the Super Granny games, and Glyph, to just give you an example. Tradewinds has just been covered in Self magazine--the woman's magazine--which is an interesting place to see a video game review--it's a whole new demographic.
Northwest Innovation: Why did you start the company, and why focus on casual games?
Daniel Bernstein: I was working at WildTangent in 2000 and 2001, and started Sandlot in 2002. At WildTangent, I put together the casual games strategy for the company, which was selling online game. I saw the market evolve very early on, and participated in its evolution. I was excited to be joining in working in the casual gaming space, as I had started in the traditional gaming space. I worked on Blood, Shogo, and other titles at Monolith. After working on those games, I decided that this is the type of game I wanted to do, as I'm older and I wanted to work on something more family friendly and which had more of a wholesome type of experience. It turns out the types of games we have apply to a different demographic--women and men, mostly over the age of 30. It was an evolution of my personal taste and where my career had taken me. After WildTangent, and after a year and a half, I decided to give it a try and get together a team, and here we are now.
Northwest Innovation: How's the company funded--did you fund this yourself, or have you had external funding?
Daniel Bernstein: I funded the company myself. It's been a self-funded effort, and profitable from the very beginning, and continues to be so. We got some angel investment early on after we had a little bit of track record, but I continue to be the majority stakeholder.
Northwest Innovation: What's different from Sandlot from the other casual gaming firms out there?
Daniel Bernstein: The main thing is we have the most diverse portfolio of games. In the casual game industry you have arcade and action games, adventure games, real time strategy, puzzle games, and certain game developers may focus on one specific type of game. We are very well diversified in our content. From a consumer perspective, that's what we're known for. We've been innovating and taking chances in genres that have not seen a lot of activity recently--Westward is an example of that. We took a game, in a genre considered a no-no--which is real time strategy--and made it a hit title. We continue to innovate, and to create hits. A fairly large developer or publisher can't make these bets on a very large scale. Part of the reason why we can is we've made some very smart decisions in evolving the company. We're based out of Bothell, Washington and have people in St. Petersburg Russia, and contractors around the world--which means we can leverage low costs of development alongside our own production expertise.
Northwest Innovation: Where do you see the most interest in casual games--is this being driven by the portals, or from elsewhere?
Daniel Bernstein: You can get us essentially from any of the bigger portals, whether that's Yahoo, MSN, Shockwave, or the other big players. On top of that, we are very well distributed outside of the traditional online medium, meaning you can get them on retail--Cake Mania for the Nintendo DS is coming out, you can get us on mobile, and you can get our games on your actual cell phone. We partner to get that to happen--we're partnered with Majesco on Nintendo DS, and Real Networks and others on the mobile platform, and also partner with Egames on the retail platform.
Northwest Innovation: Where is the casual gaming market now, and where is the industry going?
Daniel Bernstein: I think it's a very exciting time for the industry. To use a paradigm I've used before, casual games are the new TV. The market is only going to continue to grow and evolve. As programming evolves---to use another TV term--you will see the industry take it to the next level, evolve new types of games, new genres, and make games much more complex and interesting--and at the same time, tap into an existing audience segment. It's will exciting time to be in this space.