You may not have heard of publisher Jam City, but you’ve almost certainly heard of some of their smash hit apps like Cookie Jam, Juice Jam, and Panda Pop. With over 50 million MAU, Jam City has seen their revenue grow by 100 percent every year for five years.
Every minute, 30,000 people open one of Jam City’s apps. With that kind of success, we went to talk to this experienced LA-based publisher with a fresh new look.
History of MindJolt, SGN & Jam City
Jam City is a fresh brand on a five year old publisher. Announced in September, it’s the logical new name for well-known publisher SGN, which stood for Social Gaming Network.
In an interview with CNBC this September, Jam City CEO Chris DeWolfe explained the logic behind the new name; “We’re catching up with the culture of our company and the types of games we’ve been making,” said DeWolfe.
If DeWolfe’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been a part of the new digital landscape for some time. In 2003 he founded MySpace with Tom Anderson (yes, that Tom) and orchestrated the sale of the social network to News Corp. in 2005 for $580 million.
In 2010, DeWolfe partnered with Josh Yguado and his MySpace colleagues Aber Whitcomb and Colin Digiaro to purchase MindJolt, a mobile game developer that would grow to become the new Jam City.
In 2011, MindJolt acquired SGN and Hallpass media, transforming into a multimedia company with games on mobile and social. Shortly after, MindJolt adopted the SGN moniker, to better reflect their focus on mobile.
Despite SGN’s success as the creative force behind 5 of the Top 100 highest grossing games across both the App Store and Google play, someone accidentally referred to the company as SNG or GSN at a meeting, DeWolfe recalled, and it wasn’t the first time.
It was time for another rebrand.
“It’s time to bring our brand in line with our games,” said DeWolfe. “We’re in the business of fun, and yet our old name was a corporate acronym that lacked the spirit of our products. With Jam City, we’re harnessing the success of our games – particularly, our Jam game franchise – to animate our studio’s identity.”
The New Jam City
Jam City employs 500 hard-working developers spread out between their Los Angeles headquarters and studios in San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Buenos Aires, and Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Those teams plan on continuing the colorful, casual games the company has become known for, and has focused on working with licensed IP’s that play to Jam City’s strengths. The company identifies seven signature apps that make up their identity as a publisher – Juice Jam, Cookie Jam, Panda Pop, Book of Life: Sugar Smash, Genies & Gems, Marvel Avengers Academy, and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff.
These titles cover a variety of genres, but all share the same sense of whimsy and fun that permeates Jam City as a company.
“We empower our game studios to create something they themselves would be proud of,” said Sumee Oh, Jam City’s Director of Marketing, “From designers to artists to engineers, we encourage that ownership.” This has led to each Jam City studio cultivating its own style and strengths. “We like it that way,” said Oh.
One of the core ideas behind the name Jam City was the idea of a game jam, and creating a game that the creator would like, and that they think their friends might like. That same sense of innovation penetrates deep into Jam City’s creative process. “We draw inspiration within ourselves, and our teams,” said Oh, “We make things that we like, and that we think our friends would like.”
Jam City takes an enthusiastic but measured approach to creating new games. “Fools rush in,” said Oh, “Some apps surge in popularity but then wither on the app store vine just as quickly.” Jam City views things as an endurance race. “We prefer to take the time early on to learn from our users what’s working and what’s not before trying to race to the top,” Oh said.
Working for Peanuts
At the same time they announced their new name and branding, the news was also broken that the next Peanuts game would be in their hands. Working with Snoopy and Charlie Brown isn’t Jam City’s first foray into licensed titles though.
“In addition to the successful franchises we’ve created ourselves, we have three big games based on big ‘Hollywood IP’,” said Oh.
Two of the titles, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, and Marvel Avengers Academy, joined Jam City as part of their acquisition of TinyCo earlier this year, but before that the team at Jam City worked closely with 20th Century Fox on the mobile tie-in to The Book of Life in 2014.
The Book of Life: Sugar Smash was a constant collaboration between Fox and Jam City. A free-to-play title, The Book of Life: Sugar Smash is a match-3 mobile puzzle game with 90 levels of puzzles and features voices from the movie.
Due in Q1 2017, Jam City’s Peanuts game will be a free-to-play, casual puzzle game incorporating the beloved characters created by Schulz including Snoopy and Charlie Brown. The game will feature Peanuts storylines, audio, and music to let players engage with the Peanuts characters in a more active way than watching a TV show or movie.
Jam City sees licensed IP’s as a growth area, and a way to bring in players who wouldn’t otherwise choose mobile for gaming, or who aren’t gamers at all yet. “We think familiarity with iconic entertainment franchises appeals to their millions of fans who might not be playing games today,” Oh said.
When it comes to choosing which IP and IP-holder to work with, Jam City picks its partners carefully. “Choose wisely,” said Oh, “We believe there are great opportunities in creating games from established IP’s, however not all IP’s are created equally. Pick your brands carefully.”
Jam City sees these games as a way for fans of these brands to continue engage with their favorite show and characters. “We’ve got another couple of projects as well, but our lawyer won’t let us tell you about them!” said Oh with a smile.
Acquiring and Keeping Players
With almost six years of experience, 800 million downloads, and 50 million MAU, Jam City knows a thing or two about acquiring and retaining users.
“The ad ecosystem is always evolving,” said Oh, “so it’s important to never give up on an opportunity.” When it comes to UA, Jam City makes sure things are always running at peak efficiency. “Test, iterate, and re-test,” Oh said.
Once a user is inside a Jam City title, engagement is key. Players can expect new characters, new levels and challenges. For example, in The Book of the Dead: Sugar Smash, Jam City released new content every two weeks for the game.
“Our games are alive, they’re living things,” Oh said, “We think that vitality keeps our players coming back.”
Constantly re-assessing how users are playing and engaging within a title is also an important part of the Jam City process; “We never assume what will work, we let the data talk and the sentiment walk.”
When it comes to monetizing those engaged users, Jam City has to find the perfect balance, since all of their titles are F2P. “We think that we can raise revenue solely with in-game ads,” said Oh, “We want ads to enhance the game experience, not detract from it.” For Jam City, user experience is paramount.
Connect with Jam City
If you’d like to keep tabs on Jam City, they maintain an active Twitter @JamCityHQ that caters to both industry and other developers, sharing their wealth of knowledge, as well as interacting with their users. Their Facebook, which showcases their team and company culture as well as industry best practices and game announcements, can be found at Jam City HQ.
As befits a company as user-focused as Jam City, many of the Jam City team maintains a large presence on social media. CEO Chris DeWolfe can be found @chris_dewolfe; COO Josh Yguado tweets under @yguado, SVP Jill Wilson is @jillplaysgames, and game designer John Funtanilla shares his thoughts at @iJohnF.
Jam City has been through more than a few changes since starting as MindJolt in 2010. Running from success to success every year, acquiring companies along the way, and putting out some of the mobile industry’s most long-term successful titles.
The Jam City name may be new, but the experience and strategy DeWolfe, Yguado, and team bring to the table is decades deep, and we expect them to continue creating engaging, interesting, colorful titles for a long time to come.
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