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Interviews

Bursting On the Scene: An Interview With Jeremy Young of Uberplay Entertainment

Uberplay Entertainment was started this year by CEO, Jeremy Young. Their first few games boast the names of greats like Knizia, Moon & Weisblum, Teuber and Wrede. With a passion for games, the leaders of this new company have a mission none other than to make these games we love commonplace in the homes across the US. It's a lofty goal, but certainly one I'm excited about. When Mr. Young happily agreed to an interview for us at Fair Play, I took the chance to ask him about his goals and what else we can expect from this ambitious new publisher. All I can say now is I'm very excited to see what they have in store for us in the months ahead!


Mike Petty: First off, could you tell us a little about your background? What were you doing before Uberplay?

Jeremy Young: I have been in the Internet industry since I graduated from college. In 1994 I started a company called Direct Connect, which basically designed websites and shopping cart systems for large companies such as Megahertz Corporation and Rush Limbaugh. After a few years, I decided to try my hand at actually hosting the websites instead of doing the design and I started VServers.com which grew to be about 150 employees before I sold it in December of 1999 to Micron Electronics. It is now called Interland and is the largest web hosting company in the world.

MP: I'm sure you had many options before you. Why did you choose to head up a game publishing company?

JY: Well, I took some time off after I sold the business and one of my friends talked me into playing some Euro style games (El Grande, Settlers and Lost Cities). I hated board games at the time so I would always make excuses about how I didn't want to play. I just couldn't take another game of Monopoly and Mad Gab! Finally, I agreed to a few games and I was immediately hooked. I now have a collection of over 600 games and play whenever I can.

MP: What are some of your favorite games now?

JY: Well, Settlers is one of my favorites because it is what has brought me to the hobby. Others (other than the ones we're producing) are Puerto Rico, Ra, Web of Power, Taj Mahal, For Sale, Capitol, Princes of Florence and Traumfabrik.

MP: How did those of you who head up Uberplay get together?

JY: I couldn't believe that all these great games were available and nobody knew about them! I decided that I wanted to learn all I could about the industry in Germany. So I started emailing, making phone calls and talking to everyone I could to find out how the business worked. I met up with Guido Teuber and became very good friends with him and then one of my old partners from VServers became available, so we all decided to start a game publishing business together.

MP: You just started the company in early 2003. How is it you already have so many projects slated for release by the end of this year?

JY: Our goal was to come out of the gates with a bang and really attract a lot of attention in the "gamer" channels and also in the non-gamer channels. Because of this, we were very aggressive in going out and getting great titles to do this as quickly as we could. Our 2004 line-up, which will be released in bits and pieces after Essen, is going to be pretty incredible!

MP: I'm looking forward to seeing it! When I first came across information on Uberplay earlier this year, I immediately noticed your emphasis on family gaming. Is it safe to assume games played a big role in your family life growing up?

JY: I really enjoyed board games growing up, but I wasn't a fanatic. I messed around more on my TRS 80, Commodore Vic-20 and the Commodore 64 that I purchased by selling gummy worms undercover at my Junior High. I used to make about $2000 a year by doing this and I would buy computer equipment with it. But I did enjoy board games with my two brothers and four sisters such as Stop Thief, Dark Tower, Scrabble and I dabbled in some D&D.

MP: Except for the gummy worms, you just described Terry's and my own experiences with computers, gaming and RPGs while we grew up together as friends. We both developed a serious interest in boardgaming and the business side of games later in life as well.

On your website you have your mission statement. Part of it states that you hope to "...see games become a staple of entertainment in every home." Here in the US that sounds like a tall order, especially when it comes to German games like New England and Lost Cities, for example. Most people haven't even heard of these titles. What do you see as the biggest obstacles to achieving your vision?

JY: My feelings have always been that Americans would play, love and purchase "our" games if they only knew about them. I can't even tell you how many people I have played Settlers and Carcassone with and all of them have gone out and purchased their own copies. Some of these games just sell themselves based on the merit of the game. And the people that I play them with aren't "gamers". So the issue with the board and card game market in the US is awareness. We have a few tricks up our sleeves in how we are going to create awareness for our games that I can't yet talk about, but you will hear about in the upcoming months.

One of the strategies that I can talk about is taking great games that we know are popular (Catan and Carcassone) and licensing them to create versions for new channels (such as The Settlers of Zarahemla for the Mormon market and The Ark of the Covenant for the Christian markets). We've been to a few tradeshows and conventions and people are going crazy over these products. In fact, I just received the first copy of Zarahemla from the printers yesterday and played the game this evening with a non-Mormon guy and he paid me right there for a copy of the game. The art work is amazing, the setup is so easy and the game play is already proven. It's a very good combination that we know is going to do really well.

Zarahemla is a great product to begin with because we know where the audience lives and we can reach them in a cost-effective manner. We will be doing some TV advertising over the holidays in Utah along with some radio spots, newspaper ads and some sponsorships of activities. Once we get them hooked on this game, we'll push more through the channel.

MP: I find many of my friends are more than happy to play games from my collection. When it comes to actually dropping $30-$40 on a game, though, they cringe. Besides exposure to these games, do you see price as an obstacle as well?

JY: It depends on the type of game of course. You can purchase Carcassone for under $20 and it is a fabulous game for beginners. I think that people need to have a paradigm shift in the way they look at board games. Now, how many families go out every month and buy Tommy a new video game for $50-60 that he plays for 20-30 hours and then it collects dust on his shelf! But to buy a board game for $30? That's unheard of right? So we need to get people to realize the value of buying a board game - the quality of the components, the replayability of these games over a lifetime.

MP: This idea of turning people onto these games we love has always been very important to me personally. Also, I've read a lot of posts online regarding how hard it is to get other gamers to recognize these games we play. Many are looking for ways to get the D&D players or the Magic players to try our games. But what you're saying is you're showing these games to people who don't yet consider themselves gamers and you're having a lot of success, right?

JY: That is correct. The people I play games with are definitely not gamers. These are people that I hang out with or have worked with for many years in the hi-tech industry. Among them are partners in accounting firms, lawyers, sales managers, doctors, bankers and lobbyists! But when I play these games with them, they all are amazed at how fun they are and most become hooked and want to play more and more.

I have even found that to be true with the younger generation. I have a group of cousins, ages 12-19, who come over about once every month - traveling 4 hours to get to my house - and they play board games all weekend long. This is in my game room where I have a 72-inch TV with 5.1 surround sound and an Xbox with Hi-Def hookups. They've never once turned on that Xbox! Now this is a group of kids I had to force to play Settlers at a family reunion.

MP: So, let's assume you're with some friends who normally wouldn't think of getting out a board game when looking for something fun to do. How do you get them into a game?

JY: They are intrigued by my large game collection and most of them wouldn't typically think of me as a game player. Once I tell them about the types of games available, how many are sold, what an Essen Fair experience is like, they can't help but sit down for a game or two.

MP: You mentioned your religious themed games earlier. Can you tell us more about those?

JY: Inspiration Games is a brand that we use for religious themed games. Along with The Settlers of Zarahemla and The Ark of the Covenant, we will be doing a children's game and a card game with a Christian tilt to it in 2004.

MP: How does Uberplay work with the original designers on these games you've re-themed?

JY: With Zarahemla, we basically took ideas from some of Klaus' previous expansions and combined them into the game mechanics for that game. With The Ark of the Covenant, we worked directly with Klaus-Jurgen Wrede and he came up with some of the unique mechanics for The Ark, including the actual Ark that you get to move around the area. We're really excited about this game.

MP: What have you found to be the hardest part of the business so far?

JY: So far it has been figuring out the game printing business. We have done all of our printing in Germany because we want the best quality that there is for all of our games. So Ludofact has been our partner and they have been great to work with but we are learning the ropes of how they need the information, when it is needed, what file types, how their proofing process works. Then you have the issue of the time zone differences--9 hours--so communication is not always easy! I was used to working in the Internet space where you worked as quickly as possible to turn things around in weeks and our first project, Zarahemla, has taken about 7 months. So I've learned to change my expectations a little.

MP: One last question. Does Uberplay accept or plan to accept submissions from other designers?

JY: We do. Our pipeline is pretty full for 2004 but we would love to take a look at games from other designers. The only thing that we ask for is that the games are completely tested and handed to us in a "near-final" state with very clear rules, etc. We've been given quite a few prototypes where we haven't been able to even play the game because we can't get through the rules. You can always send us email at sales@uberplay.com if you have something you think we would be interested in. If you have a game that you think could be sold through unique distribution channels, we would be even more interested!

MP: Jeremy, I'm very impressed with Uberplay's work so far and I hope you enjoy much success bringing these games more to light here in the US. Thanks for your time.

JY: Thank you for the opportunity!

 



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