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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 18, 2011 at 4:36 PM

Casual gamers invade Seattle, Big Fish hosts mini confab

Georgie Peck, a retired Seattle accountant and enthusiastic video gamer, has quite a following.

Game developers from around the world came to Seattle’s convention center today to spend time with Peck and other women and men who love online PC games — specifically the ones distributed by Seattle’s Big Fish Games.

Big Fish’s event piggybacks on the annual Casual Connect game industry conference that’s drawing 2,400 people to Benaroya Hall from Tuesday through Thursday. Today’s event was smaller, connecting 30 developers to about 70 devoted casual game players to get user feedback on upcoming titles.

Studios from as far as Siberia, Brazil, India and Malaysia participated in the event, which also included workshops and presentations by founder Paul Thelen and Chief Executive Jeremy Lewis.

Big Fish has a studio of its own and a distribution and analytics platform used by more than 700 game developers. It’s a giant business that has distributed more than a billion games through its Web portal.

But it also faces growing competition from app stores that developers can use to distribute games, so it’s stepping up programs like the developer event, which providea intensive support to developers using its platform.

Among the developers participating was George Donovan, founder of Gogii Games in New Brunswick, Canada. Donovan said he has worked with Apple to directly distribute games via iTunes, but said Big Fish was able to generate more sales with cross promotions and other marketing efforts.

“Anyone can throw an app on a store, but in today’s world it’s like throwing a website up and expecting people find it,” he said.

Donovan’s big franchises include “Princess Isabella” and the “Escape the Musuem” series, which have sold more than half a million copies. Gogii is now working with Big Fish and iOS and Android titles; last year it released one iOS title and this year it has 27, including the hit “Empress of the Deep.”

Donovan said the overall casual market is thriving.

“We’ve seen nothing but growth from it,” he said. “All the flash and zing of Zynga and social games, it’s taking away from some of the real success stories that are happening in casual.”

At the Big Fish event, Gogii was getting feedback on three titles — two for the PC and one for the iPad — that will be released around the holidays.

“It’s one of the few opportunities we have to deal directly with customers,” Donovan said, explaining that the team is making changes in real time based on input from players trying the game today, relaying changes to the development team.

“If we were to do this on our own, it would be tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

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Guarav Mirchandani, co-founder of ChaYoWo Games, brought team members from India to participate in the event. (Here’s a picture of testing in its booth at the event today.)

Mirchandani’s company started in 2008 to support other studios that outsource game art projects. It now has 98 employees in Kerala and Bangalore and produces its own titles. Today, it was testing the latest version of “The Royal Scepter,” a series of hidden object adventure games designed with art styles from different states in India.

Lewis introduced a reporter to Peck, who said she used to play games at Pogo.com and GameHouse until she found Big Fish, which introduces a new game every day on its site.

“It’s the best website in the world,” she said.

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