Back in 2006, Majesco was in poor form. High-profile core-focused games like Psychonauts, Advent Rising, and Phantom Dust, while lauded by critics and pockets of gamers, were being relatively unsuccessful at retail.
The situation became so bad at Majesco that in early 2006, the company made a drastic move, pulling out of the high-budget, high-priced gaming market after posting fiscal 2005 losses of $71 million. Majesco would now focus on value and handheld titles.
But while Edison, New Jersey-based Majesco still doesn't rank anywhere near the largest publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, THQ or the like, since that fateful shift in strategy, the game maker has found its niche, focusing on lower-priced games for tweens, teens, and women.
Majesco's recovery may not have happened so rapidly -- perhaps not at all -- if it weren't for the roaring success of the mass market-friendly Nintendo Wii and DS. And after supporting the Wii since its early days, Majesco in June launched a Wii-specific label called GoPlay, which is centered on active, motion-controlled family-friendly titles for the console.
"The goal of launching [the GoPlay] brand, ultimately, is to create an idea that resonates with a consumer across a wide variety of products," said Gui Karyo, Majesco's executive VP of operations. "And the idea that we're excited about with GoPlay is people getting up, running around, and playing in a group or family gameplay dynamic that is very closely aligned with Wii."
The first games under the GoPlay brand launched earlier this month with Circus Star and Lumberjacks, with City Sports due to hit shelves later this year. "We don't want to flood the market with GoPlay products, but keep a consistent brand presence on shelves," said Karyo, who expects Majesco to release around four GoPlay games per year, priced at $29.99 each. More unannounced GoPlay games are in the pipeline for next year.
He said that GoPlay launched earlier this month with one of Majesco's more aggressive marketing campaigns, which included print, online, and TV ads. "It's very similar to the Gardening Mama plan," a significant investment that drove Majesco earnings into the red during fiscal Q2.
Tuning Into The Wii Market
The Halo crowd -- that is, core gamers -- undoubtedly scoffs at Majesco titles like the Wii exer-game Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009 and Cooking Mama. But Majesco has become increasingly adept at finding out how to strike a chord with the Nintendo Wii audience; the company isn't out to impress Halo-heads. Both Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009 and Cooking Mama drove Majesco Q2 sales to nearly double what they were the year prior, leading the company to raise its annual revenue guidance to $85 million from $80 million.
Majesco's recent performance impressed Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, who said that the guidance "signals [Majesco's] turnaround is complete," and raised his stock rating for the publisher from "hold" to "buy."
On a first party basis, Nintendo likes to say that it lays claim to many "evergreen" titles. These are games that have long shelf lives at retail, rather than quick flashes of commercial brilliance that we often see with high-budget core games.
Karyo hopes that GoPlay games can have the same longevity. "The goal overall for the GoPlay brand itself is to be evergreen. Our hope would be that each product will perform well, and like any portfolio, hopefully the games will have good longevity."
Success Without Wii?
It's a purely hypothetical question, but would Majesco had been able to recover from its failures in the first half of the decade if it weren't for Nintendo Wii's success? Karyo responded, "Let me first say that imagining a world without Wii and DS is really hard," he laughed. "A great deal of credit has to be given to Nintendo and all of the amazing marketing and creative and technical folks out there who saw this opportunity and pursued it."
"It's really hard for me to forge that hypothetical, if only the Wii and DS were so well-designed and so well-marketed."
"That being said, I think [Majesco's] strategy would have still been viable, because underlying the success of the Wii and DS and the software that has been successful, as well as on other platforms like Xbox Live Arcade, is a burgeoning mass market audience. For us, part of it is we walked into this [success]. And part of it is our rationale behind green-lighting games like Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum."
"I think the audience was there and ripe for the opportunity. I'd like to believe that even if Nintendo had not been so prescient about it, that someone would have recognized that market and given [game makers] a route to satisfy that innate, pent-up interest in family gaming."
"It's hard to say whether our strategy would have been as successful as quickly, or what that scenario would have been like. But what we are all fairly confident in is that the audience was there, and that audience is still growing."
Family-Friendly Opportunities On 360, PS3?
One of the main traits of the GoPlay brand is its extensive use of the Wii's motion controls. Circus Star and Lumberjacks even utilize the Wii Balance Board.
But both Microsoft and Sony intend on encroaching on the Wii's motion control monopoly, as both companies introduced at E3 earlier this month motion controllers: Microsoft's Project Natal depth-sensing camera and a prototype motion-sensing wand for PS3.
Could such seemingly mass market-friendly controls tempt Majesco, which is releasing 14 Wii games in 2009 and focusing practically no efforts to other platforms, to bring more games to Xbox 360 and PS3? Maybe not.
"The biggest turn-off -- if there is one, we're still assessing that -- is the demographic [associated with those consoles]," said Karyo "...When we look at other platforms, with or without motion controls, what we're really looking at is whether or not the demographic we've become good at designing products for is going to be there."
He continued, "I, and Majesco, are very interested in what the PS3 and 360 are doing with motion control in the context of whether or not they are doing it for the audience that we're focused on."
"As their product plans develop, as their marketing plans develop, and the more they share this with third party developers, one thing we're going to ask ... is if the controls will be able to give a fun game experience. And we also need to know if the first party wants to go after an audience consistent with our strategy."