Interview with Otis Perrick – CEO: Disruptive Publishers
When it comes to customizing our experiences on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, we really don’t put a lot of thought into the work and the business behind it. Otis Perrick and his team at Disruptive Publishers work their wizardry from the boardroom to the living room, creating these little works of art that help make our console unique to our personality. Gamer Living’s Will Anderson got a chance to sit down with Otis, and learn a bit about what they do.
Will Anderson: So, just real quick for the record, you’re based out of Vancouver and [… it] looks like you guys do a lot of work with the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 creating not games, but actually the accessories – I guess you could say the avatars and stuff, is that correct?
Otis Perrick: Well, yeah, and you know what I…. Actually…first, yes, we are based in Vancouver. We do the personalisation for the PlayStation Store and the Marketplace and basically right now those are living within the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Both the PlayStation Store and the Xbox Marketplace will still be a living entity when the Xbox One and the PS4 come out and all that’s announced information. And what we do is we provide the personalisation aspect to the PlayStation Store and accessories on the avatar side for the Marketplace on the Xbox 360.
Will: Excellent. So how did you guys get into the personalisation business, as far as the consoles are concerned?
Otis: I worked at Electronic Arts – mostly on the EA Sports products – for almost ten years. I had a diverse background, I helped launch the – what at the time was the EA Sports Big brand (and I think they recently changed that to Ignite or something like that) but launched the original SSX on the transition when PlayStation 2 came out and followed up with an NBA Street and kind of moved over […]. Long story short here, I moved into the sports realm on the NBA franchise, did that for about four years then over to the NHL franchise. But I moved into the sports side and away from kind of the entertainment products, if you would, on the SSX and SSX Tricky and Streets. The sports side were really trying to start to generate the microtransactions business. I shouldn’t even say microtransactions – just the downloadable aspect of what we can do within the game, or, in the early days it was just basically unlocking a cookie and that was to add value to somebody who may have been a sponsorship in what we’ve done. And the evolution there was like in the 2001/2002 I think it was, yeah, 2002/2003 products, we would do a partnership with Nike here, say, and what we’d do is we’d put a shoe, and you had to actually launch the product with these shoes in the game, but nobody knew they were there; you had to have a code to unlock them. What we’d do is, when Nike would release the shoes come the February (around the NBA All-Star game) we would release the code that went with it. That was the only way to unlock stuff back then. And then as time grew, and as you’re obviously very aware, you could start to do stuff in real time, when we could actually implement download and update in real time, and at that point we sat, I sat back working on these franchises and the challenge was: how do we make more money beyond just selling a packaged good? And that was an incredible challenge that we faced as a console gaming company. And at that point it was sitting down and realising, look, there’s a whole business, and the microtransaction business had already started and it wasn’t necessarily in the mobile gaming realm, but it was in what you’d consider Warcraft, and in all those kind of MMO games where people were purchasing things. You know, a lot of people were buying gold, they were buying it for real money, on all these things. Well, that hadn’t translated over to the sports products, and that’s basically where I sat back and went, “look, we can do personal” – and everyone was doing personalising their phones, personalising everything. You didn’t necessarily want to do something that was, you know, in the case of our sports products, had the name of the game on the back of it. What you wanted to do was, ‘I’m a proud guy from Detroit, and I don’t wanna have on the back of my jersey [for] it [to] say EA Sports. I want it to say Lindstrom, I want it to say nothing, because I’m not an EA Sports fan, but I’m a Detroit fan. I’m also a Detroit… I’m a Pistons fan.’ And I wanted a way to communicate this to the guys that I’m playing online with, and so, it was 2007 when we started, when I got the company going, and the simplistic form was to provide themes and at the time Sony only allowed users to download gaming themes. So we went at Sony and said, ‘Look, […] people will pay for high-quality licensed visuals that aren’t gaming related’. And that was kind of the big break for us, was, look, yeah, you can personalise your phone, you personalise your desktop at your office. You also want to personalise the back, the black screen that was the PS3. And, what we did is… I’d gone out, and I used a lot of my connections with the NHL, the NBA, the NFL and everyone who I’d worked with for the past ten years on the sports and entertainment side of the business and partnered with them, and we’re able to create an outreach for them, which was like a marketing tenet. It was like another way to organically connect their brand to that captive gaming audience. And that was really what sold it in for the people I work with was, look, you’re not giving me an advertising; I’m controlling the creative. What we’re doing is we’re communicating, and allowing the fan of… if you’re a surfer and you’re into Billabong, but you want a beautiful picture of somebody on an incredible wave with the sun going down, you want that as your backdrop, and, but I don’t want it to say, ‘Buy Billabong now and go to your local retailer’ as you’d see on TV, as you’d see in any kind of ad campaign. And it really resonated with the brand, it really resonated with the leagues, and that really kind of kicked it off. So it took the idea of the microtransaction, […] advertising, and communication and allowed ourselves and Sony to give the consumers a way to personalise something, but at the same time it adds value to the consumer, value to Sony, and value to the brand. And that’s basically where it all started, and that’s a long story Will, I apologise for that, but that’s kind of where it all started from.
Will: That’s not a problem. Actually, it’s really interesting. It kind of sounds like, from the manufacturer perspective, obviously the microtransactions presenting their brand through this digital medium seems like the logical decision. Would you say that trying to present it to the console manufacturers was the bigger challenge, trying to get that in to be able to create these things?
Otis: Yeah, I mean, it definitely was because their gaming, their gaming mindset, and that’s changing, obviously that’s changing for definitely the new console generation, but even that generation, what we went into, and it’s been around for enough time[…]. People were mindful of just communicating to the gaming audience: ‘We have to talk to the gamers, we have to provide them with gaming material.’ And they forgot that they also built an entertainment system. Yet when they’re pitching their products they’re talking about it as an entertainment system, but yet they weren’t providing all the pieces of entertainment that they should have been. And the idea there, when I’m talking about entertainment, is also the ability to customize. Yet, every day in the world, we choose a shirt from our closet that we either like, that’s unique; it says something about us. So when we’re walking down the street, our shirt, our hat, our jacket, whether it’s a comfortable day or a business day, it says something about you and you’re different. What you do notice is when somebody you’re sitting beside has the same shirt on and you’ll kind of get a chuckle out of it, but, again it’s the idea that you personalised yourself and allowing you to do that digitally. The systems got it, but they weren’t giving enough, if you would, they weren’t giving enough options. And the options they were giving were again game-based, and you know, here, you can get something that had a brand or a logo on it that was just game-based. […] That’s cool for the gamer, [but] what about the casual person? […] Again, the whole business with the Xbox and the PS3, they were pushing towards casual gamers, these old systems were more about that. And the new systems are definitely about that, and that is where we come in. We’re pushing that casual aspect; we’re going after that consumer: the males, the females of the world that, you know, “hey, I also game, but I also sit and use this as a social component of my afternoon, I’m talking to my friends, I’m watching the football game. In between watching you can see that I’m a Mississippi fan; I’ve been watching college football on a Saturday because my avatar’s all kitted out,” and that was the aspect of who we were targeting. So convincing the consoles, it took a little bit, but they also had that mindset and they were ready to make that kind of jump. Coming to the table, with brands like the 50 of the top universities, with the NHL, with the NBA, those guys were really listening, and it helped us having that kind of clout behind us, and saying, “Look, these guys are going to put their names up, allow us to create an NHL package, create a Puma package or a Billabong package of avatar clothing, of themes”, and I believe that’s why we’ve had a pretty good partnership with both Sony and Microsoft and are looking forward to continuing that great partnership in the next generation. So, no convincing [needed] at this point – now it’s just trying to innovate with what those consoles are going to be able to do.
Will: Now, from the perspective of the consumer, it’s, I agree it’s really important to kind of personalise your experience on a console and everything. I mean, with my own console, I’ve got a Halo theme for the Xbox 360, and a Heavy Rain theme for my PlayStation. Yes, I’m a little bit more of a gamer. But…with the Xbox…
Otis: We did the Halo theme, by the way…
Will: Beautiful theme.
Otis: That Halo theme, yeah, good, good. (laughs)
Will: But especially with the Xbox, it’s had so many iterations in the last few years going from the old slider kind of format to the New Xbox Experience, and the evolution from there, consumers […] go for change, but they still want the old thing. So, you know, things change around, but they still want to see that Red Wings logo on their console and whatnot. What kind of challenges did you guys face as these consoles evolved, from a graphical user interface perspective? Did you have to do a lot of changes or….?
Otis: Basically, and that’s a great question, and there’s an evolution within the console and the current console we’re in, so that evolution as you’ve kind of said, you went into the New Xbox Experience and […] it was themes that had kind of that dynamic aspect. You had all the robots in the background with the rocket ships and everything else, and we were able to kind of customize where the sphere was in the background and the media blade, and all those other little blades. And as that transitioned, they made a pretty good trend that we were able to be there with them, provide them with feedback on what we can and cannot do and the experience that our consumers were getting […]. And I think that they really, as far as Microsoft did, they did a great job in kind of transitioning in, in the current console where we see today. And they popped when they added the Avatars themselves, and even in during the Avatars they’ve kind of gone from an iteration of what we’ll call internally a volume one to a volume two, and consumers weren’t even fully aware that there was that full transition or the Avatars changed, you got more animations. We have boundaries and everything that we have to work within, in the Avatar, in the space, whether it be for creating a helmet with horns to a full-body costume, to a flying animation and what the Avatar can do and it’s very, the integration of [it has] been incredible, and for us we’ve been able to easily adapt. One of the big things that I push is – everyone in this office is a lot smarter than me, I believe we’ve hired well, and these guys have really been able to take what has been put in front of them on the current consoles and deliver the best possible experience and that goes from the original iteration to the current Xbox experience now. And the same can be said for themes on the PlayStation Store. Going from a static environment and basically just customising a wallpaper in the early days, to pioneering the dynamic themes; from using video clips to integrate and communicate if it was you know, Shark Week with Discovery, to a new Warner Bros. flick; from Harry Potter, to where experiencing waves on a beach, and really being able to integrate that dynamic aspect and theme, and I think the consumers embraced it. We’ve seen that from usage, from going from the amount of people looking and wanting a static theme to a full dynamic theme, and same as a lot of the partners and likenesses that we work with, pushing hard to use dynamic themes to communicate their newest property or anything they’re trying to do on their side.
Will: Now going into the new console generation here in a few months, bringing the experience along or moving it over, creating an entirely new experience: what kind of challenges do you face in encountering these new technologies and repeating the same thing from the current generation, but bringing it to the new?
Otis: You know, there’s not a lot at this point I can say about the consoles and about what we are doing and even some of the experiences, just because of the contract and the NDAs and everything else that we have with them. The biggest thing is, I think like we’ve seen with any console, this’ll be my – what am I on here – my third generation in the gaming business. I don’t think I have as many years as you, but just behind you with about 17, and we’ve seen the challenges, but I think what we’re seeing now, and we were talking about this in the offices, is the adoption rate is a lot different. What I mean, and I’m not talking the adoption of becoming a gamer, I’m talking about the current gamer today. Back even in the last transition, you can see it is that all the N64 gamers, the SNES gamers, they are still gaming today. Well, those guys are, like ourselves, we’re into our forties or almost in our forties, or whatever it is, we’re still going to game. There’s still a whole other generation that’s moving into that console gaming, that is the 8- to 10- to 12-year-olds; parents are buying them consoles, they’re getting consoles at a younger and younger age because they are the entertainment. So that age gap where people used to say the consoles… that 18- to 34-year-old, well, when we first looked at PS3 and the Xbox360, that’s who we were talking to as far as the demographic went. People tend to move away from demographics and categorising people today. And I agree, you don’t have to categorise them, but I think you need to look at who is buying the console itself and I think, for us, if you’re asking about the challenges, the biggest challenge is going to be: what are we going to build that’s going to resonate with the owners of the current console? What are we going to build… currently, what are we going to build for people who are staying on the 360, people who are going to buy the PS3 and 360 at a lower price point when it does drop when the newer consoles come out, and how long are we going to support the current consoles? Those are our challenges and we have to ensure that we’re providing consumers everything they want and we’ve got to anticipate it. We can’t just wait and see what the console looks like and put something out; we’ve got to be able to anticipate it and make sure that we made the right decision. A couple of guys in the office are like, “You’ve got a gamble over here”. Well, you can gamble, but at the same time I think you can make the smartest decision based on sales, and you look and say, “Well, hold on, […] this has only been around for seven years, so how do you transition?” And that’s where the gambling does come into place, and we have to make those decisions, so, those are my challenges, looking at the console from my perspective.
Will: Excellent, sounds fantastic. Alright, well, we’re actually coming up on the 25 minute mark, so I’m going to go ahead and wrap up here, but I do really appreciate you sitting down and taking a few minutes to speak with us.
Otis: I’m glad we were able to connect today.
Will: Yes, it was a great time!
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