Gravity Bear Dips into Social Gaming

Gravity Bear isn't shy about its intentions to claw into the projected $1 billion in 2009 social networking game realm, currently dominated by Zynga, Playfish and Playdom but it's sure being coy about just how they'll win. But Gravity Bear's teeth are sharpened by Phil Shenk, a video game industry art and design vet with stints as art director at Flagship Studios, lead artist on Blizzard's Diablo 2 and spend time helping Microsoft, Sony and others to create online casual games on Wild Tangent.

While the details around Gravity Bear's first game are still a secret, we decided to ask Phil Sheck, co-founder and CEO about his company and the reasons for jumping into the social gaming realm. Shenk was actually kind enough to answer:
Is the focus here casual games, casual games on social networks, or social network games?
Shenk: Our focus is on making the kinds of games that we think will do well on social networks. Casual games is a pretty broad market, and I've heard people in the industry define that genre as very light, often puzzle style games. For social games, historically they've focused heavily on asynchronous play, light competition, personal expression, etc., which of course makes sense given the platform and how viral distribution works.

Our goal is to push the bar higher, and provide a more compelling, more immersive experience. It's delicate work, because there are unique parameters to consider: leveraging social connections, providing opportunities for fun self-expression, the right balance of competition (it has to build community, not divide it), being mindful of the time people have to spend during the day, etc. But I strongly believe that there are myriad opportunities to make games more compelling, more engaging, and with more long-term While you're the known heavy on this and have art in your professional history, is it safe to say that art might be the major hook for Gravity Bear?
Shenk: A lot of my positions have been art-related, at least the high-profile ones like Diablo 2, and I care passionately about the way art, sound and music are presented in a game. I'm certainly able to communicate visually, so I take advantage of that when I can. That said, I've actually been more involved with design and management for the past six years or so. After Blizzard, I was a Studio Director at Wild Tangent, which was pretty operationally focused, and also a lot of bus dev. As one of the co-founders at Flagship, it was largely management and design, and then helping out as Creative Director on Mythos. Given my background it was natural that I served as Art Director, but we had a strong team lead, Lee Dotson, and he basically held the fort on art for Hellgate, especially in the later half of the project. Flagship was a great opportunity, and I didn't want to pass up a chance to work with the fantastic team that I'd had such a long history with; but at the same time, if Flagship had never happened, I was already looking at striking out on my own. Gravity Bear is focused on the whole experience, the presentation. It's safe to say that that's one of the major areas where we're pushing the envelope, as well as game design, and rich community features. Going after Zynga/Playfish/Playdom won't be easy to win, what makes Gravity Bear potentially better than the competition?
Shenk: I think it's up to us to execute basically. We have a strong pedigree in all aspects of game development, from both a [video game] developer and a [video game] publisher perspective. For example, when my business partner Aletheia worked at Sony, she saw virtually every PlayStation game cross her desk. That experience has honed her phenomenal sense of what works and what doesn't. We have a good plan, and we've done our homework. I have a lot of respect for those companies you mentioned, and while the space is competitive, it's also shown that there is a huge and growing market that responds very favorably to quality and innovation... that's our mission.

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