Thoughts After JuiceBox Games
Michael Martinez

Michael, I’m sure you’re a decent CEO, capable of building a hard-working, focused team, you probably know of and abide by all of the regulations, rules, legalities, and reporting requirements of a corporation, and you probably budget real good. You make the best choices you can, and I’ll bet for the most part, you make good decisions; you’re probably a good fit to build and run any company.

But it’s an interesting industry, video games… in the late 1990’s, SONY did a presentation at CES and even then the chart explaining expected income from video games eclipsed movies and music combined. It’s potentially a huge business… but as I said, it’s an interesting industry… because it’s built on some very sketchy foundations. What is it, at the end of the day, that makes any game software developer think they’ll be successful? (the answer, “bankable game ideas” is a bit of a cop-out)

Treating video games like a typical consumer commodity is a recipe for disaster; a company cannot start from zero, get a semi-significant VC injection, build a team and expect to be successful in this field.

You started off with just a few leaders who had been around success in the industry in the past, created a cleverly-named brand, built a team, and then based the whole enterprise on the the bizarre notion that if you enter the right segment with what you perceive to be a competitive team, you’d succeed. OK, that doesn’t sound so bizarre when you say it out loud, but we’re not talking about a new organic toothpaste or chicken soup here. Without either a stellar IP plus deep connections that can get you on the virtual end-cap in the best stores for free, throwing money at the problem won’t likely work in the long run.

Most successful games development companies start with an idea. A really good idea: a game and characters that the team are confident will succeed; there are 100x more examples of this being a success than the other way around. A smart game development company doesn’t just get fully staffed and funded and THEN say “OK, the company is built now, we’ve never done anything together before, anybody got any ideas for games that can make us a lot of happy customers that in turn brings in a lot of money?”. Possibly part of your spiel to the investors included a game, but your second (and never completed third) game obviously came out of thin air, and if you had to depend on a multi-year plan to keep afloat, it seems that you didn’t have a very solid one. With just a little research, you’d see very clearly that many large development houses with huge hits on their hands fold up shop all the time. Most often, it’s because lightning doesn’t strike twice very easily: key people move on, the idea bank is empty, and maybe customer’s tastes have moved on, too.

And that’s where the magic fails: as you said, your games weren’t good enough. Instead of treating games like the entertainment that they are, you thought of of them as “middle-ware” commodities, and they’re not. You can force entertainment down people’s throats with enough marketing, but it’s hard to return to that trough over the long haul. You can’t quantify “good, salable game”, there is just not a formula that is guaranteed to succeed.

If you’re not entering a market as a first-mover (voxel-based isometric frogger clone, for example) and you don’t have the support of people within SONY, apple, Google, Microsoft, etc., and you don’t have pockets deep enough to buy your way in, its the strength of the originality of your company’s products that will ensure its survival. I look at your lineup, and I just don’t see anything at all that stands out from the (very crowded) crowd.

You did everything reasonably well, your team worked hard, and you actually reached and exceeded some extremely lofty goals. But you’re right: your products just weren’t “good” or entrancing enough to keep generating multiple-millions of dollars per annum. I don’t think that anything aside from sheer luck could have saved JuiceBox… well, maybe spending $750k on hiring somebody with a proven track record for coming up with games and game characters that everyone loves and that sell like hotcakes might have helped.

Cheers, and I’m sure you’ll be back up and running again soon.

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