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A Casual Rebirth: The Remaking Of Majesco
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A Casual Rebirth: The Remaking Of Majesco

August 10, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

New Jersey-headquartered game publisher Majesco is, these days, best known for publishing the Cooking Mama series. However, the company, despite a long history in the game industry that includes the production of the Genesis 3 under license from Sega, has -- until recently -- found a game franchise that delivers stronger success somewhat elusive.

In the prior console generation, after some major expansion moves, the company instead focused on high-profile core-focused titles. Its Advent Rising adventure game, envisioned as a sprawling, ambitious series with a story by popular sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, flopped on the original Xbox; a PSP prequel was cancelled. In addition, results from the critically lauded Double Fine Productions title Psychonauts were not as promising as the company initially hoped.

As a result, the company ran into some significant financial troubles in 2006, and Majesco's president, Jesse Sutton, announced that the firm would "focus primarily on publishing value and handheld video games".

Partly, this seems to have been a financial necessity due to the large budgets blown-out on its major title. But in the face of the success of some of its casual games -- particularly the Japanese-developed Cooking Mama series -- the company has changed tack totally, and its financial results are improving significantly.

Now, Majesco is trying to concentrate on the casual audiences that made Mama so successful, control costs, and pick the projects that look and feel right for a particular targeted market. A recent major hit is a Jillian Michaels fitness game for the Wii, and there's a new push on with a GoPlay line of family-friendly Wii titles. (There have been some sales mis-steps, too, such as apparently overlooked Wii rhythm title Major Minor's Majestic March, from the creators of Parappa The Rapper.)

In this interview, Gui Karyo, the company's executive vice president of operations, spells out the company's new strategy in detail, and talks about how having a focus like that has allowed the company to increase sales drastically.

Majesco has had two very large shifts in the past few years. One was to larger titles, and then the other was a more casual space. You joined as part of the more recent restructuring. Can you talk about the methodology of the shift on a smaller scale? A lot of companies haven't been able to do it.

Gui Karyo: [laughs] That's interesting. You know, Majesco has a certain advantage from its 25-year experience -- predating me, obviously -- that they have always had the capacity and understanding about how to develop a product for a low mean cost. And not just random product but product that has a high quality level in comparison to how much we spent on it.

And certainly in terms of the shift from triple-A games to the mass-market casual business that we've been focusing on, I think one of the things that made us far more nimble at it than some of the other publishers is simply that we understand the economies of development at that scale. I mean, I certainly know that particularly for some of the larger publishers, it's taking them a lot longer to figure out how to successfully produce stuff where your budgets are often less than a million dollars and where your marketing budgets are a fraction of that, even.

I would definitely say that there is a certain thing in the Majesco DNA in particular that made the process, of developing product in the price range necessary in order to make the model work, feasible.

And then I say that the other element in that is simply the real focus the company has put over the past three years on identifying a product against a demographic and being very brutally honest both to ourselves and to the developers about products that are right and not right for that demographic.

You know, when the "casual" term wasn't quite so ubiquitous as it is right now three years ago, people used to come to us with "casual" first-person shooters. And, you know, what is a casual first-person shooter? [laughs] I'll tell you what it is, it's a crappy first-person shooter. What it is is one that's been made really cheap, so it doesn't make any demographic happy. The people who like first-person shooters aren't happy because it's not high-quality, and the people who want casual games aren't happy because they don't want first-person shooters per se.

And now, obviously, the diversity of product and creative ideas has shifted all sorts of things since that time. So that second leg of the stool, so to speak, was absolutely the affinity and the focus on what markets we're after, who are customer really was -- so it wasn't just about price point; it was also about going the specific consumers, and choosing products that work for them.

It does seem like there's an art to make large success out of small games. Obviously, you have to manage your cost of product against how you think you can sell it, but there's more to it somehow. Companies like Atari have been trying this too, but there's something else in there.

GK: For me, it's focus. You know, what has been really even difficult for us... Let's be honest, it has been a slow path. It's been three years, but it has been a long three years in many ways. I think that part of the reason that we've been successful is that we have remained very focused on who it is we're trying to serve.

And I think that part of the challenge for publishers like us [is that] we see hundreds of products a year. A lot of them are phenomenal. And, you know, sometimes, I think the difference between being successful and not is knowing that, "Yeah, this is a great product." [It's knowing,] "Yeah, the creative vision is right -- but not right for us because that's not what we do anymore."

What we do is we target tweens, we target moms, we target various audiences, and we're looking for products that fit certain niches, so that occasionally what we do is we say "No." Products that another publisher might say "yes" to, because they're very good product propositions, just not for us.

Case in point, if you look at Atari, I think there's a company that's had its hand in a large number of different things. And I think that they probably have been more successful than you think if you start looking at where they've had focus. Like the Backyard Sports stuff has actually done really well in the same marketplaces that we play in because there's just such a focus on that brand.

So, I think for us, at the end of the day, what has been the thing that has made our portfolio work, where some of the competitors who work in the same budgets, who work against similar demographics had to struggle more, is that we've had for the past three years -- almost from the day I started -- a very clear vision of who our customer was and how we're going to fill needs for them.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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