Joining The Switch Effect on today’s Industry Interviews is Bill Swartz, President and CEO of Mastiff. Mastiff, formed in 2002, is a leading video game publisher and has consistently released hit titles across multiple platforms and mobile devices. Past games include La Pucelle Tactics for the PS3, Moon for the DS, and the Heavy Fire series, but with Party Planet released on December 12th on the Nintendo Switch, Mastiff has officially made the “switch” to the Nintendo’s newest console. Before we begin, all of us at The Switch Effect just wanted to acknowledge Mastiff’s 15th anniversary this past August. That is quite an achievement and shows that this is a studio that understands the market and what gamers want to play.
Bill, thank you so much for allowing us to speak with you. For those unfamiliar with Mastiff, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how the studio came to be?
I’m Bill and I’m a Leo. Let’s see, beyond that, video games are pretty much all I’ve ever done. I got started with Koei in Japan way back in ’87, was Managing Director of Activision Japan for 11 or so years after that, and have spent the last 15+ years in the San Francisco Bay Area at Mastiff. I founded Mastiff mainly to leverage the Japanese development infrastructure against western audiences, but over the years have our scope has expanded as the industry has changed.
What was the first console/game you ever owned?
Had to call my mom to double check I had the order right! An Atari 2600, Christmas 1977, followed shortly by a Mattel handheld electronic racing game.
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to work in the video game industry?
No. This was a perfect case of life happening while you are busy making other plans. I figured I’d end up in finance – went to final interviews out of college with Honda and had a couple of great meetings with investment banks. Then I got hooked up with Koei in Japan. I had studied Japanese, history and computer science (though I wasn’t a CS major) so the fit with a Japanese maker of historical computer games was just perfect. Especially since I really wanted to join a small company and at Koei I was employee number 28 or 29. Needless to say, I fell in love with games, the industry, and it’s been an amazing thrill ride these 30 years (really… started in ’87).
Mastiff has been releasing games over a variety of consoles during the past 15 years. Is there a learning curve with each new iteration of gaming platform?
Yes, absolutely! Up until (arguably) very recently, every new console release was a total reshuffling of the deck technically, creatively, and as a business. We learn a bunch every time we go through the process, but since the change is so great, lessons learned in a previous generation only partially carry over to the new.
One look at Mastiff’s library shows that the company has produced RPGs, strategy, first-person shooters, and more. Can you describe the process that goes into determining the next project?
We start with two questions: (1) Is project scope something we can execute well? While I’d love to build a huge MMO-style game, we just don’t have the resources at the moment, for example. (2) Will this game reach and delight an audience? Is it something we’d want to play and others would want to play? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ then we proceed and move forward.
Let’s talk briefly about the Nintendo Switch! What are your thoughts on Nintendo’s newest console?
There was a time when either game machines had traditional controls or the motion based play Nintendo pioneered with the Wii. There was a time when there was portable gaming and there was console gaming. With Switch, Nintendo took all of these elements – traditional control, motion control, traditional console play, and portable gaming and seamlessly blended them into one. Then, of course, they produced great games to make full use of the hardware.
‘But wait! The graphics aren’t good enough!!!’ said no one ever, probably because they were too busy just having fun. Showing again Nintendo’s genius for focusing on what matters.
Are there any opportunities or challenges that arise when working with the Nintendo Switch?
Opportunities! Of course! I mean, it’s the Switch! Motion based interface, it’s portable, it’s Nintendo.
Challenges: The CPU is less powerful than other new consoles so your code needs to be more efficient. Many consumers are trained to buy Nintendo first party software (Mario, Zelda, ect) for Nintendo consoles so as a Third Party it can be harder to get consumers to look at you.
For those unfamiliar with Mastiff’s first Switch title, Party Planet, can you briefly describe the gameplay?
Of course. Keeping things brief, Party Planet is a compilation of 30 party games that can be enjoyed by just about anyone, regardless of gaming skill level or age. Plus, over half of the games included in Party Planet can be played with up to 4 players locally for some friendly cooperative or competitive play. We’ve worked really hard to make sure the game is very much pick-up-and-play. By that we mean the controls and menus are intuitive and clear so players, regardless of experience, can hop right in and enjoy the games, not spend time figuring out what they are supposed to do.
We’d like to invite everyone to visit our newly launched game site (www.partyplanetgame.com) to learn more about the game, watch the new gameplay trailer, and even read up on some of our blog posts that detail some of the included games.
Although Party Planet will be available on the eShop, this has an exclusive physical release with GameStop. How did this partnership develop?
We’ve been in business with GameStop for going on 15 years, so it’s a relatively old and trusted relationship. We thought Party Planet was first and foremost something we wanted to get in front of all game players, but especially people looking for a way to enjoy their new Switch with a group of family and friends for the holidays. And GameStop was the best way to do that. Plus, the opportunity to provide players and collectors with a physical version of the game was something that made sense to us.
Now that Party Planet released on December 12th, are you able to tease what gamers might expect to see next from Mastiff on the Nintendo Switch?
We have two games in the pipeline. One goes ‘boom!’ and ‘bang!’ and is part of a long running franchise. The other is very new, pretty social, and takes an established sporting category to a whole new level. But that’s really all we can say right now. We have a newly launched Mastiff Newsletter that fans can join to stay up to date with us and be informed when we make the announcements: bit.ly/MastiffNewsletter.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think that was really thorough! Thank you for your time, and please be sure to check out Party Planet! It’s a blast for one player and a total party with two to three other players! Plus, it’s the perfect way to spend time with friends and family this holiday while still being able to game.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We are really enjoying Party Planet and look forward to Mastiff’s future releases!