EXCLUSIVE: Chris Case – a long-time writer on shows such as Spin City, Titus and Mad About You who is exec producer on Yahoo’s new Sin City Saints – ended up with a very different writing assignment recently, punching up the story line, characters and emotional engagement of a new mobile game, Juice Jam, from SGN.
“Mobile for me is the Wild, Wild West,” said Case. “It was an opportunity to understand what’s happening here. It’s really cool to try to innovate. It’s wide open and yet obviously, it’s not a movie screen.”
SGN’s biggest hit, Cookie Jam, was Facebook’s Game of the Year in 2014, and has remained perched in the iTunes Store’s Top 20 for much of the year since it was released. The game has been downloaded 42 million times across all platforms. Replicating that success was a challenge for SGN in the hugely competitive, hugely lucrative sector of free-to-play mobile games.
SGN CEO Chris DeWolfe, the former MySpace CEO, and several others at SGN knew Case from around town. Informal conversations turned into a more formal role for Case as the company looked to build another blockbuster out of the most modest of story elements.
Juice Jam, like Cookie Jam, is a so-called “match 3” game, requiring players to match three similar items among many on a screen. Because it’s a free-to-play title, the company has to make money in other ways, whether it’s advertising, in-app purchases (typically of resources or capabilities that boost a player’s success) or other tactics.
“They had a hit on their hands,” said Case, whose screenwriting work on numerous shows beginning with Bill Maher has drawn five Emmy nominations. “But they were looking for more. More narrative, more comedy-based work, a little more story.”
Because the game is typically played on a smart phone or tablet that is tied pretty much to that person, the game can know a lot about a player, like how long they’ve been at it, said Josh Brooks, SGN’s SVP of Brand Strategy and Marketing. That means it’s possible to build different experiences for different players. The aim, though, is to make sure people stay entertained and engaged whether they play five minutes or five hours.
“You have to be really disciplined,” Case said. “You can’t write a 12-word joke. It’s a fun challenge: how do you make this character interesting with five words or a funny voice? It’s like a mini-Twitter, if you can be funny in four words.”
The game also knows when people are dropping out, and what areas should be tweaked to keep them playing over time, crucial for a mobile game’s long-term success, Brooks said. Bringing in Case in a more formal role helped expand the game experience into something closer to what he called the writer’s room of traditional entertainment. And that sort of melding will only continue.
“I think it’s inevitable we’ll have the best of all these worlds come together,” Brooks said. “We’re lucky to be in the hot zone for creators. We need to be thinking about that in making games for the future.”
The game launched this month for for iOS and Android mobile platforms, with versions for other distribution outlets to come. Watch a brief trailer for the game below: