During his last semester at Carnegie Mellon, Anthony started building games but found that there was some major challenges facing indie game makers: discoverability and distribution. Now he’s gone out on a limb to solve those problems and has built Jump Gaming, which is poised to become “The Netflix of Games.”
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Anthony Palmer he's the founder and the CEO of Jump. Anthony welcome to today's show.
Anthony: Thanks for having me Alan
Alan: So Anthony for the listeners can you give us the background of how you came to be where you are today?
Anthony: Of course so I'm originally from West Virginia, I was born in Georgia and grew up from the time I was four through high school in Wheeling West Virginia, up in the Northern Panhandle close to Pittsburgh- so I don't have the accent. And went to West Virginia University for my undergrad degrees in computer science and computer engineering. So I come from a tech background. Went straight to Carnegie Mellon for a Master's of Entertainment Technology, which is what got me into the gaming space.
Alan: Wow so the level of your degree was a Masters.
Anthony: Yeah it was and it's a really unique degree. So it's a Master's of Entertainment Technology, not a Masters of Science and it's a degree that's conferred by both the art and computer science schools at CMU.
Alan: So let's expand because I'm intrigued by the Masters of Entertainment- I'm dropping the technology but how do you differentiate into that into that space which is just a regular computer science degree?
Anthony: It was a really interesting program. It was separate from main campus down by- more of the business campus in Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and so the program was three different semesters of just doing projects. So the first semester was mostly classes and getting us up to speed and then the last three semesters were projects where you would work on an interdisciplinary team that simulated what the real world would be like getting out into an entertainment company. Or you could also do a co-op and actually work at a company like Electronic Arts or Disney to get real-world experience and that would count as a semester of school as well. So it really tried to prep you for getting into the entertainment industry whether you went into film or themed entertainment or video games.
Alan: Now coming right out of school, was Jump at the top of your mind? Or how did you come to be in this new company?
Anthony: Hadn't even thought of it yet so we actually founded this company as a game development studio when I was still in my final semester at Carnegie Mellon and we were able to do a co-op with our own company so that's how we did our final semester and we started building games for platforms like PC and for PlayStation and in certain other ways where you would just sell games directly to consumers even got into a program out here in Silicon Valley called the plug and play startup camp out in Sunnyvale and that allow us to bring the company out to Silicon Valley and learn more about the game industry out here and really get plugged into the community but it also made us realize that building games individually and selling those consumers was a very hard business to actually make a living in. It's very volatile and it got harder and harder to break through as a company particularly with no name recognition. We were all fresh out of college trying to build a game. So what we did was we kept ourselves to float through contract work and whatever we could do to keep the company alive through 2014 and at the end of 2014 we realized that there really wasn't a good solution for a game subscription service. All there was, was really selling your games on different platforms and in the process I had actually gotten hired to be the director of an accelerator program called Core Labs out of a company called GSVlabs in the Bay Area and what I did there was I helped game development studios understand the business side of game development because a lot of them like me came from development backgrounds. So running that program made me realize that not only was there not a subscription service for games but there were two major problems that game developers face and that was both discoverability- so people actually being able to find their games and distribution, especially across multiple platforms. So around the end of 2014 we started building the idea for what would eventually become jump and fast-forward a couple years and here we are getting ready to launch this summer.
Alan: You know there's quite a bit in this gaming distributions as you outlined the two aspects, there's the development and then there's a distribution. And when developers start in a venture saying hey I want to write a game on this topic, how much research they do to make sure that it's actually something the market wants?
Anthony: I think there's a wide range depending the size of the company. One thing that's happened over the last few years is what we call the democratization of game development which means a lot of the tools that people use to build games have dropped to be basically free. And so what happens now is we get anything from hobbyist building random content and trying to throw it up there to make a quick buck all the way up to still the major companies like Electronic Arts and Activision and Ubisoft who spend millions of dollars on market research to make sure that people are actually going to buy their game. So for small developers like us, a lot of it is really passion in putting ourselves into the game. You see a lot of independent developers that really feel that their games are art rather than just trying to make something that people want to play. They put themselves into the game so that people can feel emotions that they feel or experiences that they've been through. So it's a really interesting gamut of across the spectrum of what's being built in the game industry.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Anthony Palma he's the founder of Jump and Anthony, I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back and visiting here today with Anthony Palma, he's the founder and the CEO of Jump and we were talking about the vision for jumping being in the gaming industry and you're jumping into this relatively right out of school- Master's in Entertainment Technology Computer Science Degree out right out of Carnegie Mellon. What communities is jump designed to serve?
Anthony: So there's two different sides to what we're building with the subscription service. The first is game developers and specifically the community that we're serving at launch is these independent game developers or indie developers. These developers are having a harder and harder time being able to distribute their content and actually be discovered in the market because there's so much content launching and without a significant marketing budget which most of these guys don't have, it's really hard to be able to break through and let people actually find your game let alone convince them to buy it. So we're working directly with these developers to bring us their games to put on our service where discoverability is much easier, people can find your game much quicker and since we're a subscription service the people that are subscribing to our service will be able to just pop into a game and click Play and that developer will be able to generate revenue just when somebody plays their game. We do payouts based on a per minute basis. So it's a very pure experience where I load up and play your game and you make money. So there's no more purchase anxiety or try and convince somebody to buy your game, you can just generate revenue when somebody plays it. So we're trying to help those developers find more people not only just to play their game and experience it but really to be able to generate more revenue for their content and then the second side is these gamers that are just swamped with the number of games that are coming out in a year- as an interesting statistic is that 40% of all PC games that have ever launched on this one particular service on PC called Steam, launched last year. And that service has been around for 10 years. So there's this huge flood of content that's coming to the market and gamers just can't keep up. Spending hasn't really changed per gamer they're just spending the same amount- there's just more games that they're missing. So our service intends to help them find those games and take away the purchase anxiety of buying one game at a time. Now they can ten bucks a month and be able to play all the games they want on our service.
Alan: I've heard the analogy that Jump is the Netflix for games,
Alan: Which is interesting because it seems that the market has moved away from what it used to be going to a store buying a game off a shelf and taking it home, kind of like the old blockbuster you rent. I've noticed recently and went to a technology store and looked at the game section and what used to be rows of games are now on a single shelf.
Alan: So market timing, is what you're doing right for the market? I mean is Steam a competitor or how do you view steam relative to where you're at?
Anthony: Well to build an analogy, Steam would be more like the iTunes of games where you go to purchase games one at a time and you can play those on PC, Mac or Linux devices. We are more the Netflix of games- which the Netflix experience is you subscribe for a monthly fee you get unlimited access to the content that's on that service rather than buying them once at a time and the other part of that that I feel is the most important part of Netflix is you can boot up whatever device you're on, go to the Netflix app and be able to watch content that is part of your service part of your subscription. So what we've built is essentially the same thing for the gaming world which doesn't exist at this point particularly across multiple platforms so as a subscriber to Jump you're able to play games on any platform that we support which at launch will be desktop with virtual reality support and then we'll move into mobile and eventually consoles and even ancillary devices like smart TVs as well. And that really doesn't exist in the gaming world even though movies and music and even data have moved to these unlimited access subscription models so the market is really ready for something like this in the gaming space and all other indications of every other consumer technology have moved to unlimited subscription models so we're fitting it at a perfect time for this.
Alan: So Anthony I'm again running up against the break, but when we come back and want to talk about virtual reality and how this is playing into the gaming market and where do from here. I'm visiting here today with Anthony Palma, he's the founder and the CEO of Jump. We'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Anthony Palma he's the CEO of Jump and before the break we were getting the model of Jump defined as subscription-based service and you know the and this whole gaming industry has transformed. I remember the early days it was Pong then Atari did their games then the Nintendo and then Sega and then it kind of evolved to where we are today. But recent companies we've seen like Unity coming through the virtual reality aspect of it. How's that play into what you're doing with Jump?
Anthony: So Unity is one of those booming companies in the space that really has defined that democratization of development that I was talking about before. Unity is a tool the game developers use to build their games and what it allows you to do is build once inside of it and kind of have your core code base inside of unity and then export to various platforms that you want your game to work on so PlayStation, Xbox, the Oculus Rift for VR even PC and for Jump's purposes, a web export. So what we work with is an export out of unity that's meant for the web for browser use and we can take that build and distribute it to multiple platforms. So unity is one of the biggest tools that we work with, and we work with developers that have already built games or are building games in Unity so the export to Jump is actually a very simple process thanks to engines like their platform.
Alan: Okay so when we're looking out into the future and you're coming on, you have big I'll call them gaming warehouses like the Sony's and Nintendo's, the Electronic Arts; I imagine that there there may be some view that they could be in competition with Jump, how do you look at what you're doing and differentiate the collaboration of the industry towards you?
Anthony: So ultimately we'd like to work with those groups because we see ourselves as complementary to premium sales. So to make an analogy to the movie industry if you think about how movies run their sales cycles they go to theaters first and they run premium sales. We buy tickets one at a time for their movies and as those sales starts at the boss they eventually pull it off and take them to services like Netflix or HBO or Hulu where you can then generate more longtail revenue for them after their premium sales have dipped off into nothing. We see ourselves in the same vein where games should run their premium sales cycles on things like Xbox or PC or even phones and then once their sales dip off which is typically very steep in the game industry, they can then bring them to jump to extend the long sale revenue of their games and be able to generate more revenue over time. So rather than bumping up against Nintendo and Sony and even steam on PC, we see ourselves as the complimentary next step in the lifecycle of content where developers should be bringing their games. So when we go to work with groups like Nintendo or Xbox we'll be bringing available revenue or additional revenue to the games that they run on their services as well instead of trying to compete with their sales.
Alan: So you're relatively young in starting this company, you just finished your seed round and when you look to the future- I guess building a company is much different today than what it used to be- a technology bringing it to fruition, but how do you manage the balance of time, your work space and trying to get to the next level because you're in an ear in an industry that moves very very fast.
Anthony: So one thing I think is really important is work-life balance. I have a beautiful wife and she makes sure that I get out of the office from time to time and that we find time to relax and turn my brain off and I think that makes me more efficient when we're in the office. So in building the company we've tried to build a culture of not what's typical in the game industry which is these insane long hours and crunch and things you hear like that. We want this to be more of a company where you're here because you want to be and you're getting your work done because you're excited about it. And I think it's because we have such a unique opportunity in front of us to build a Netflix sized company in the game industry, so everybody that we've hired up to this point is an industry veteran really being able to drive their own divisions and what that allows us to do is focus on the important things which is a balance of your life than actually your work.
Alan: Now when you look at the vision of Jump and moving through the game industry, what role will an advisory board play for you?
Anthony: Well it's a really crucial thing especially for me as a first-time entrepreneur. I like to say that I know what I don't know in most instances, instead of I don't know. So when I run up against something where I'm not sure, I'm able to defer to these guys and we put together an excellent advisory board of industry and valley titans like Tom Kalinske the former CEO of Sega, Mike Fischer former CEO of Square Enix, Mike Williams former CFO of EA Games; some really incredible people and these guys all have expertise in different areas. So when I run up against something that I don't know, I'm able to defer to them and get advice from them, from based on their years of experience in the industry. And it really helps me grow as a leader so that I'm able to manage my team who largely is older than me and has a lot more experience in the industry. So it allows me to more confidently lead and push forward knowing that we have the sage advice of these gentlemen.
Alan: So when you look at the challenges of overcoming technology issues what role does the team that you have in place provided to helping you out?
Anthony: I think with the experience that each one of them brings to the table, it allows me to rely on them to push forward where we need to be able to push. We're starting to get into uncharted territory as far as some of the technology we're building and we have some things we will be patenting and putting in place to protect it, but I've hired people that are smarter than me. That's one of my core philosophies, is I always hire people that are smarter than me and can do better than I can at certain jobs. I like to know a little bit about what everybody does so that I can have constructive interactions with them but largely I let them run their own divisions and manage their own project so that they can drive it forward. And so by hiring people that are better than I am at certain aspects of the company I know that they're going to lead us in the way that we want them to lead and I can just more focus on the overall vision and execution at the high level of the company. Now you're considering yourself to be more at a development stage company?
Anthony: Yeah correct
Alan: And then transitioning over to the revenue stage, at what point do you say okay now we're ready to start launching?
Anthony: So we're going to be rolling out subscriptions this summer, later in the summer, on desktop with virtual reality support. So we're finishing up the final touches on the technology now. We're in the process of onboarding developers via final contracts and we're working on our PR and marketing plans to go to market very soon. So it's definitely an exciting time for us having just closed the round and now being able to hire up the team, we went from four to eight and we're pretty sure we're bringing on a ninth to be able to get the market later this summer and then from there we're able to quickly scale aggressively in a measured sense so that we know we can get the market quickly across all devices not just on desktop with VR support.
Alan: Now Anthony how do we find Jump if we want to get on that subscription service?
Anthony: So you can go to playonjump.com, that'll be our launch website and we'll have updates very soon for the site so you can find out when we're going to be going live, when you can access it and when you can sign up to play.
Alan: We’ve been visiting here today with Anthony Palma, he is the founder and the CEO of Jump, Anthony we're out of time today but i appreciate you being on today's show. It was a pleasure, thanks for having me really appreciate it.