Can an athlete make the successful transition from starring in video games to creating his or her own?
NBA star Baron Davis is out to prove the naysayers wrong after the debacle that was Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, as Davis is teaming up with former EA Sports creative force Sean O’Brien to form 5 Balloons Interactive, a new mobile gaming company producing titles for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
The company’s first game is called “Getting Buckets” and features the likes of Davis, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings, and Candace Parker in a fast-paced, twitch adventure that’s more “Temple Run” than “NBA Ballers,” as players sprint their way through a variety of environments collecting as many buckets as they can before time runs out (all while dribbling a basketball, of course).
I sat down with Davis and O’Brien recently to get the scoop on their new company and the new game, as well as dig for details on just how much of a contribution Boom-Dizzle is making to the company beyond simply writing checks.
ESPN Playbook: The video game industry can be a tricky and expensive business. Baron, why did you want to invest both your time and money in creating 5 Balloons Interactive?
Baron Davis: I just think that right now gaming is at an all-time high. For me, I see how innovations are happening in the digital world, and I want to participate in it. There are some fun opportunities out here in the marketplace with the iPad and all of these mobile systems where you can start playing games as apps, and that’s a whole different experience than what people are used to. I hooked up with Sean, and we talked about creating games where people could ultimately have a greater experience than what they were getting with just the normal iPad apps.
ESPN Playbook: Any interest in making console games as well down the road, or are you sticking with mobile games?
Baron Davis: There are a lot of great console games, and obviously, Sean coming from EA was in that business. But it makes more sense for us to play in an arena that’s fresh, that’s young, and full of innovation and create something cool as opposed to creating and competing on consoles.
ESPN Playbook: From video games to producing movies to even acting, you’re becoming quite the entertainment mogul. What role do you see yourself playing in the world of entertainment in the near future?
Baron Davis: It feels good to be able to participate in various forms of entertainment because they all work together. The opportunities are out there in video games, now more than ever, with all of these new platforms, and for the first time, it gives us all the opportunity to create, to innovate, and to make fun games without spending a ton of money to do it.
ESPN Playbook: How hands-on have you been in the development of the game and getting other athletes involved?
Baron Davis: Sean and I work very well together. I can easily say, “Yo, the game needs this, this, this, and this,” and he brings it to life. We both share in the same vision and feel that there was a void in the system, so we are in constant communication. That’s the best thing about being on a team, the communication and everybody just playing their roles. I know I’m not a video game programmer and I can’t make the games, but I know what people want because I play games all the time.
Sean O’Brien: This isn’t something that Baron is just throwing money at and is a figurehead. He is intimately involved. Our conversations go back two-plus years, and as he mentioned, there’s a void in the space and there’s an opportunity here. This was his idea, his creative and business idea, and this is a collaborative effort where our two skill sets come together. With “Getting Buckets,” I wanted to bring some more sophistication to mobile gaming. There are other games out there that are twitchy, side-scrollers, but we want this to be a true brand extension for these guys. We wanted to create a 3-D gaming experience that allowed for us to have more sophisticated animations to bring out the personality and the skills of the different players that you wouldn’t see, that you couldn’t see in a different offering. There’s nothing like this right now at the App Store. Visually, when you first see our art style, you’ll realize there’s nothing like this out there, and that’s a cool thing. But back to his involvement, this is definitely a business partnership, and Baron brings a lot to the table in terms of what we’re doing.
ESPN Playbook: How did you guys pick which athletes were going to star in the game?
Baron Davis: Sean talked about definitely wanting a female athlete to represent the brand, and it was really personality driven. We wanted to capture guys who had style and personality on the court, so that was how we initiated our search. We wanted guys who are socially active and have that personality that we want to bring to life in this game. I think what’s cool about this is, a lot of companies will run to the “superstar” players to get it done, but that’s not the way we did it. We went with guys who are more into their social distribution pipeline and, more importantly, players with personality. This game is about having fun and about exploring the personalities of the avatar.
ESPN Playbook: You’re the second former cover athlete to start a video game company, with the first being Curt Schilling. I don’t know how much you’ve read about Curt’s company, but it pretty much went down in flames. Is there anything you can learn from the struggles he went through that can help you be more successful with 5 Balloons Interactive?
Baron Davis: He didn’t have Sean O’Brien. That’s the problem.
Sean O’Brien: I think it goes back to what we said earlier, the mobile gaming space is the inverse of what he was doing with a persistent universe. This is baby steps. Like Baron mentioned, we’re looking to create brand extensions for active athletes, and I think if you look at development budgets, from what I’ve heard 38 Studios spent, we’re in a much safer place in terms of risk versus reward. That’s probably the biggest thing we’ve taken from that. Like Baron said, I look to him for his expertise, and he looks to me for my expertise, and we respect that about each other. I think together, when you combine our skill sets, it’s a pretty attractive package.
ESPN Playbook: So is “Getting Buckets” just the start for the company? Are you guys already working on more games for the marketplace?
Baron Davis: Obviously the goal of the company is to start small and continue to expand and do some different branding with athletes and celebrities. We want to continue to build and work our way up and work our way into other sports. With “Getting Buckets,” it’s one of those games that can continue to progress with other avatars and other characters. It’s not so much just about basketball, it’s about your love for the game and your love for gaming and sports.
Sean O’Brien: I think we’re going to learn a lot from the consumer when we put this game in. That’s the course correction for “Getting Buckets,” with version updates and gameplay enhancements and improvements and new characters and all that. It’s open for other sports and athletes and celebrity brand extensions that we want to pursue.