There is just something indescribably “far-out” about having your smartphone, of all things, double as a remote control. Your browser all of a sudden turn into a console. This certainly adds an interesting twist to the notion of keeping connected by virtue of mobile phones; now we can all whip out our phones and commence killing zombies together in our living rooms.
Brass Monkey is a Boston-based video game software brand hoping to develop standardized video game-controlling technology for smartphones and tablets, and they’re making strides in doing so. We could not resist taking the opportunity to interview founder Chris Allen in order to find out a little bit more about what Brass Monkey is all about and their future goals in the gaming industry.
Fueled: First of all, how was the SXSW event?
Allen: To be honest with you, I can go into it and say it's all about the business connections, but I think it was more about being inspired by all of these people of different disciplines, all coming together in one place. The films and the music are yet another amazing perk. The interactive aspect of the experience is noteworthy as well - You definitely won't be able to see Al Gore talk to Sean Parker everyday, such a cool conversation those guys had. The Tech Cocktail party was fantastic. We got a lot of great feedback about our product which, of course, is always a great thing. It was all just very inspiring.
Fueled: Why did you choose to create games ?
Allen: Games are a way of creating communication. It is about the experience. We are really an experience company. Games are just one way that you can have an experience that wouldn't be possible otherwise. Any kind of entertainment allows us to create an experience. I am actually a musician by training, and I see what we're doing as an extension of that - creating something out of nothing.
We turn a phone into a controller for anything that is on a browser and we can take that idea and do so many things with it, like controlling robots in the military or making big iPhone apps so that the guys at the Pentagon can control the giant screen from their desks. You can just go on and on with all these different possibilities, but I think the key is to focus on one and really do that well. For us, it is video games, something we are all passionate about here at Brass Monkey.
Fueled: How did Brass Monkey start?
Allen: There was actually a combination of factors that went into the start of Brass Monkey. It started with my other company, Infrared5. We had been doing some experiments and of our developers, Trevor Burton, had been playing around with making his phone into a remote control for remote controlled helicopters. The thing is, he kept crashing the helicopters. I was just like Trevor, you should stop testing with helicopters and try to make something else that won't crash. We ended up turning the concept into computer software, that is, doing something on the computer to emulate it. We actually started creating a game for Lucas Films called the Star Wars Trench Run, for iPhone and for the web. Through that we ended up hating the controls for the web but really liking the ones we did for the iPhone. That was actually the first game that came out for Brass Monkey controls.
Of course we had to take in external funding to really push Brass Monkey and the process requires the skill to tell a really good story: How is this going to be the next big thing?
Fueled: Where does the inspiration behind the creation of a game come from?
Allen: I think it comes from all kind of places. For instance, I know that zombies are pretty popular right now and that was actually the basis for a game that two of our developers made on their free time at night. They weren't telling us what they were doing until we started asking, “Why are you guys so tired all of the time?" Three weeks later they revealed it and all we could say was, "This is awesome!". I think they just had a passion for making a first person shooter using this system and it was just really about whether or not they could actually pull it off. They were also really inspired by the original shooter games and, of course, some of the more modern ones. One of our other newest games, Tanks VS. Aliens, which was more of my design, or my inspiration, so to speak, flourished out of my obsession with the idea of UFOs. They for some reason never really played a prominent role in any video games I know of. I just thought it would be kind of fun to do. I like the idea of making an asymmetric game wherein an alien actually has different advantages over a tank - in this case the tank is really tough but the alien can hover over it in a hovercraft. It's a lot of fun. All games have a creative narrative to them, just the title itself conjures up a whole entire story and I like the effect it has on the players imagination - they can further extrapolate on it.
Fueled: Brass Monkey currently has 9 games available, which of those has been the most successful, or have they all been on equal footing?
Allen: Well it's kind of tough, if we showcase one on the front of the website it tends to do the best, which is kind of funny...it just shows how effective that kind of thing is. So far the Monkey Golf game has been the winner. Contamination is starting to take over because, well, people love shooting zombies.
Fueled: What is Brass Monkey’s competition like and what it is that makes you unique?
Allen: We're really looking at our competition as being Xbox, Playstation, or the Wii. We're actually almost exactly the same as the Wii U, which is a tablet device that connects to your television; the difference is we do it with smart phones. The fact that we actually have a private screen in everybody's hands introduces some amazing possibilities in terms of game design. Taking the experience a step further, we can use the camera or even the microphone on your personal device to create an extra dimension of fun. Imagine singing in your phone and then having it recorded on the main screen. Looking through your phone screen and then into the main screen can enable some cool possibilities as well. I can imagine doing something with the idea of x-ray vision. I think that is where our platform starts to become really interesting and fun; these smartphones we have today are only the beginning. I think the type of hardware that will be produced in the future will be pretty amazing and we'll totally be able to take advantage of that. I can imagine 3D cameras on these devices - all of a sudden you have a portable kinect that goes around and allows you to see the world in 3D. I mean, that can be translated into a game with interesting features.
Fueled: How does Brass Monkey make money?
Allen: There is definitely a problem with people having to pay $40 per game and then having to get all of this required equipment. Not everyone will want to do that. Hardcore gamers will, but people who are more casual and just want the experience will want to simply walk into a bar and use their phone as a game controller at that place. That is more along the lines of what we're thinking.
Right now we only have one game that we charge for on our system, which is called Gnop Gnop. When you get the Brass Monkey app for your phone you can actually purchase coins. It is analogous to Temple Run where you jump over things and collect coins on the way. You can buy coin bundles and use those coins to buy games on our system. Right now most of the games are free but we will be changing that as we go. Games like Tank vs. Alien will have an upgrade feature in it so that you can change up your tank or buy vanity items like a tiger stripe tank. You can also get different weapons or you can download different fields to play in. Sure you don't have to do that but if you want to experience more, we encourage you to use coins.
Fueled: Zynga not too long ago came out with their own IPO. Do you look to such companies as inspiration? Do you see Brass Monkey eventually starting up an IPO?
Allen: We can certainly see ourselves coming up with an IPO, though I hate to use Zynga as an inspiration. I don't agree with a lot of what they do and I don’t think they're particularly innovative in terms of game format. They are really an analytics company that has figured out how to create these cranium models which push people into addictive behavior. That is not our goal, we don't want a bunch of addicts, we want people to have fun using our system and we want to make money doing it of course. I think we model ourselves much more after Nintendo as a company that makes our own video games in addition to our own video game platform.
Fueled: What are your main goals for the next 6-12 months and How do you make money and how do you plan on building your user base?
Allen: Excellent question. Our main goals are to add more games onto the system which we will achieve by adding a lot more third-party game developers to make games. We will be supporting them in whichever way we can to make that happen. Of course we need to grow our user base and there are several ways to go about doing it. We plan on looking at partnerships with other companies, leveraging existing companies that have a large presence. A good example would be partnering with a mobile carrier and then having our app on all of their phones. As a result of this we will be in their advertisements that showcase us as one of the features out of the many "cool" things you can do with smart phones. We're also doing location based stuff where you can use your phone at a bar, restaurant, or a retail store and play video games there.
Interestingly enough our business is a lot like YouTube in that we have a browser based system that is on the web and which aggregates a lot of games so that you can substitute games for movies. We will be adding channels for brands, thus if we have the Star Wars channel there will be a lot of Star Wars games to go along with other media related to that. The other cool thing we can do, and this is something we'll be doing pretty soon, is creating embeddable games. Very much like YouTube again, you can put a game up on your site and just have it right there, so it is either on your Facebook page, or on your blog. Game review sites are another place where we get a lot of traffic. It’s really all about leveraging the web and what it is good at in terms of getting more players on our system. Last but not least, the bigger the games are the more likely we are to have users that want to play them. If we can manage to develop a game with a following then all of a sudden we’re already getting users just based on that.