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Interview: Jordan Weisman


May 9, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

Serial entrepreneur and veteran game designer Jordan Weisman has started a new company - Smith & Tinker - and he's not ready to tell us what it makes. But from his legendary resume, you can make some deductions.

Weisman - one of is the most influential creators on the bleeding edge of the game biz - originally founded pen and paper game designer FASA in 1980, going on to create legendary franchises such as BattleTech and Shadowrun.

In 1995, he founded FASA Interactive to enter the gaming space - it took over the hit Mechwarrior series and was bought by Microsoft in 1999 - Weisman went on to be creative director for Microsoft's entertainment division, helping oversee titles like Halo and Crimson Skies for Xbox. He also co-founded tabletop gaming company and HeroClix creators WizKids in 2000.

He's also spent years at ground zero of alternate reality gaming, as one of the co-creators of seminal AI movie-promoting ARG The Beast while at Microsoft, and subsequently founder at 42 Entertainment, which has made many of the most seminal ARG experiences to date - from I Love Bees (promoting Halo 2) through Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero ARG promotion. And to teenage audiences, Weisman is maybe better known as the co-author of the bestselling transmedia young adult novel Cathy's Book.

Smith & Tinker is a new venture, and none of their game ideas is public. But he tells us a few things in this recent interview: Smith & Tinker is not targeting the 18-35 male hardcore gamers -- though they have bought the electronic entertainment rights to FASA-birthed franchises like Shadowrun and Crimson Skies back from Microsoft.

He's working on multiplayer experiences, possibly including ARGs. He likes toys and tactile experiences. And no matter how many companies he's launched, he's glad to admit that at the end of the day, he's "just a twelve-year-old in a much bigger body."

Why the name Smith & Tinker?

I like obscure names, and Smith & Tinker is a reference to Wizard of Oz, which we thought was appropriate since we're based here in the Emerald City [Seattle]. And a lot of the products that we are conceiving of and working with are highly intelligent toys.

One of the first kind of highly intelligent toy or sentient robot to appear in Western literature was Tik-Tok, in the Wizard of Oz series. And the people who made Tik-Tok were Smith & Tinker. Smith was the artist, and Tinker was the inventor, and the two of them had a firm that invented marvelous things.

Your public website is still pretty small, but the first thing on your site is the statement, "There is nothing on the planet more entertaining than other people." For how long have you been thinking that way?

I don't know if I clearly communicated it or put it together in such a pithy phrase, but pretty much my whole career has been based on that premise.

I've always believed that games are ultimately purely about socialization. They provide a mechanism for creating an organized socialization, and a commonality of experience.

But ultimately they're cold, heartless things, when not populated by other people. So from the very beginning, role-playing games -- which was kind of how I started my career -- are entirely about socialization. It's a collaborative storytelling activity, and so are ARGs.

Are you focused on finding ways to bring people together online and electronically, or in person?

Both. I think that's one of the key things for us here at Smith & Tinker is to recognize that online socialization, as cool and fun as it is, only uses a small number of the senses we've developed over the years.

We're animals that are designed to be in person with each other. So I think it's important to have your activity support both online and offline play.

Are you interested in targeting more casual players, or the more absorbed, non-stop players?

JW: Hmm. [I guess] we'll have different audiences for different products. The majority of our product is not devoted to the 18-35 hardcore male audience. But we will cover a full spectrum.

Because obviously we control the rights to MechWarrior and Shadowrun, and those are traditional video game kinds of audiences. And we have great, great plans for those products. But a lot of the new stuff we're doing is in a different market segment.

A younger one, or an older one?

I don't really want to go further with that until later in the year.


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