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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!