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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference online in Austin, Texas and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Chip: I’m Chip Overstreet, CEO of Thump Games.
Interviewer: And what’s Thump Games about?
Chip: And so, we’re all about making the viewing of live sporting events more fun, by getting the fans engaged in the game. We’ve developed our first game called Thump Football which allows you to pull out your Smart Phone and predict what’s going to happen next in the live football game. And we score you in real time, based on what actually happens.
Interviewer: So, can you give the audience more detail exactly how this works? This is almost like overlaid on top of a normal football game. This isn’t its own football game. You’re actually taking live data from the football game to process this.
Chip: Exactly right. So, while you’re watching the game, you can be at home. You can be in a sports bar. You can be at the stadium watching the game. What most sports guys do and it’s typically guys, we boast about our knowledge of the game, and we let each other know what’s going to happen next. So, we just basically wrap the game around that.
And we give you the ability to select whether it’s going to be a run or a pass. You can predict the yardage, less than 5, 5 to 15, or 16 plus. You can pick whether it’s going to be a first down or a touchdown.
Provided you get your picks in before the ball is snapped, you’re eligible for that play, and you get scored in real time. We’ve got a partnership with a company called Stats Inc. that has people in the stadium recording the data, and we’ve got a real time feed from them into our back end. And it gets pumped back out to all the gamers.
Interviewer: So, to clarify, the game starts and, maybe, for the first play or a second play or something, a player who’s playing this Thump football game busts out their iPhone. They have the app running. They’ve chosen that game from the Thump interface and they just say, “OK. What’s going to happen is they’re going to run 10 yards.”
They put in that guess, and the play has to happen after that. And then, they get the results of whether they earned points based on whether they were accurate on that play or not.
Interviewer: So, they’re kind of, almost in a way, playing coach. Well, not really coach, but they’re predicting what will happen.
Chip: Offensive coordinator or even defensive coordinator.
Chip: You’re looking at the game situation. You’re looking who’s in the game. You’re looking at the formation, and you’re saying, “This is clearly going to be a pass.” You know what? It’s not always clearly a pass even when you think it is, and that’s what makes it fun. The content is always fresh. The games are live.
Interviewer: What inspired the idea then?
Chip: About ten years ago I was running a company called RTIME. We developed technology for massively multiplayer online games. We licensed the technology to game developers and publishers, and everyone that licensed our tech was building Twitch Games. I’m not a Twitch gamer. I never have been, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what are games for the rest of us, the non-hard core gamers.
I thought it would be great if I were sitting in my living room, watching a game, and I could predict what would happen next in a football game. As a consumer, I’ve just been waiting for someone to come with this. And last summer sat down with actually the same team at RTIME, and we built a prototype.
We had it up and running midway through last football season. Then we had eight weeks to test, and we had a group of about 30 people that got together every Sunday night for Sunday Night Football, and people calling in and people in my living room. And we’d play the game and I got the feedback and spent the week iterating and building out new capabilities and fixed the stuff that just wasn’t working. By the end of the season, I had something that was really fun. Yeah, go ahead.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about that testing process. When you first had that prototype out, what were some of the issues that you ran into? What were some of the surprises that you ran into while you were testing this out? And did people play for the full game, or was it for a quarter, or what was the attention span?
Chip: Good questions. So, after the very first time that we played this, I was depressed. I thought, this is just not fun. The game had been in my brain for ten years, and I thought, how could this not be fun? But, we made it way too complicated.
Now, you’ve got about 30 seconds, 30 to 40 seconds in between plays, and that seems like a lot of time. And so, we gave people a lot of options. What we learned very quickly was make it simple, just make it really simple, and the game has to augment the football game.
When you get together with friends, you’re not doing it to play Thump football. You’re doing it because you want to watch the game. You want to socialize. This has to be something that augments that and makes that experience more fun.
Interviewer: Yeah. And that’s what different about this game versus even other games is that this is really taking a real world experience and augmenting that real world experience versus choosing between, oh, do I play this video game, or do I watch this other game?
Chip: Exactly, exactly. You know, it’s interesting. One of the primary use cases we found is people playing this when they don’t care about the actual game. So, ESPN’s got games every night of the week now, even Tuesday night this year. They started televising football games, and a lot of times they’re games that just are not that interesting to a wide audience.
So, when you’re playing Thump alongside, it makes the game interesting. If the game’s a blow out, a lot of people lose interest. But if you’re playing Thump, you’re still interested. So, it makes the experience even more fun.
Interviewer: So, moving back to when you were testing it, so you were depressed the first time. What are you thinking at that point? How do you turn from this kind of perceived, “OK, I thought this was going to be fun. It isn’t working” to actually making it fun and provocative.
Chip: Well, we just had eight weeks and we spent each week in between those Sundays making changes and coming up with new ideas and new approaches. And we got the feedback the following week, and we just kept narrowing our focus and making it more and more simple.
Interviewer: What were you seeing from the testers or from the users throughout those eight weeks? Can you, maybe, talk about the response the first week and then the response the fourth week and the eighth week?
Chip: Yeah. I would say that their interest and excitement just got greater and greater.
Chip: You know what was really interesting is the game tests really well. It tests really well with kids which was not our thinking, but we had a couple of guys that are in their 40s, maybe, early 50s with 8, 10, 12 year old boys. We even had a 13 year old girl that was in the beta test group. We had about 30 people in the whole group.
They were calling in. You could just hear them squealing every time the ball was snapped because they’d just made their picks, and they’re excited about what’s happening. It’s fun to watch.
Interviewer: So, by the end of the season you find something that’s more fun. What was the next step after that?
Chip: So, about eight of the people that were in the test group came forward and threw about $150,000 into the company. They said, “Look, you can do this on nights and weekends. But why don’t you get the people that can really put their heads down and focus on this?” So, I brought in the two guys that really were the core engineering team at RTIME, and they’ve been heads down focused since February.
Interviewer: Were there any challenges while you were developing this? How do you coordinate all this real time data? How do you make sure that… What are the other design challenges because this is a bit different, you’re actually requiring real world data in terms of those football plays actually process the results of the game.
Chip: That’s certainly one of the challenges is dealing with the real time feeds and the inconsistencies of those feeds because we’re relying on a third party partner for that.
Another challenge is we had to design a system that could scale to support a million people hitting submit at the same time. The third challenge is we want this game to be ubiquitous. We want it to run on any device. So, we built a whap cline [sp] and then basically put a wrapper on that for the iPhone. We’re doing the same with Android.
The game will soon be playable on five Blackberry devices, and it’s available on PCs and laptops. And soon it’ll be running as a game inside of Facebook.
So, we want to meet people where they are. We’re big believers that social games, particularly multiplayer social games, can’t be effective if you require everybody to be on the same device. It’s just not real world. I should be able to play on my Android against you on your iPhone and my wife playing on Facebook.
Interviewer: I met you through the Joyent booth. So, is that why you chose Joyent then versus other systems because of the scaling? You’re right. The one thing about this game is that literally if it grows to scale people are going to have to be hitting the submit button at the same time.
Chip: Right, right. That’s exactly right. So, we’re working with Joyent because they’re like EC2 but for scaling, for serious back end engines. They’ve got dedicated hardware. It’s newer hardware. You’ve got access right down the middle. They’ve got big Ethernet pipes connecting the boxes.
Interviewer: Were you able to actually test out or do mock tests to make sure that this thing could scale really large or really highly on these systems?
Chip: Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And we did a lot of AV testing on Joyent, on EC2 and a couple of other providers. Joyent has got a great solution and great customer support as well which is important to a small company. You need a partner.
Interviewer: And so, what’s next in store then? So now, you have this game ready to go and football season is starting up.
Chip: Well, we’re just cranking up the marketing engine now, and we’ve got more games in store. The relationship we have with Stats Inc. covers major league baseball as well. Baseball is going to start a couple weeks early next year in mid-March. So, there’ll be a small gap between football and baseball, but we’re looking at other sports. We’re thinking about Thump Golf and Thump NASCAR and Thump Cricket and Thump Soccer.
We designed the engine to be… It’s a real time prediction platform, and it’s been designed so that we can very easily support just any sport. We’re still on the fence about Thump Curling, but we’re going to hit all the major sports.
Interviewer: Have you tried it, or have you tested it out on baseball because baseball is a slower sport? So, I don’t know. It seems like it would make it way more fun.
Chip: I couldn’t agree with you more. Sitting in the outfield on a hot summer day, drinking a beer, just being able to predict whether the next pitch is going to be a ball or a strike or whether the player’s going to get on base or steal. I think it’s going to add a lot of fun to the game, particularly for those people who are at the game.
Interviewer: Where can people find out more about your game or even start playing your game for their favorite football team?
Chip: Well, if you’ve got an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, you can go to the App Store and download it. If you’re on an Android or just a PC or laptop, just open your Safari browser, your IE browser, your Firebox browser and go to thump.com.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.