Sony Pictures TV Vet Dick Roberts Explains Why He Joined Snail Games USA (Q&A)
Snail Games is a powerhouse in the free-to-play video game market in Asia. The Chinese company now has its sights set on the U.S. The game maker, which has a partnership with international martial arts star Jet Li, will unleash its popular Age of Wushu game in America in early 2013.
With its U.S. operations based in Los Angeles, Snail Games USA has hired Dick Roberts as its executive vice president of marketing. Roberts spent the past 15 years serving as vice president of marketing for off-network programming at Sony Pictures Television, where he oversaw hit shows like Rescue Me, Seinfeld and The Shield. Roberts talks about the potential that online games open up for Hollywood transmedia in this exclusive interview.
The Hollywood Reporter: How were you involved with the Seinfeld TV series?
Dick Roberts: I was very fortunate to work at Sony Pictures Television for the last 15 years and during my tenure there I worked on predominantly the Seinfeld brand. I was the brand manager for the show. I watched it go through the second, third and fourth cycle of syndication sales and it is the most popular comedy show on television. It still gets incredible ratings and it's great content. Content is king today. That’s the saying that’s going around in Hollywood and everywhere else. And that’s what attracted me to these games that Snail Games is producing in China.
THR: How have you seen video games evolve in Hollywood as a form of entertainment?
Roberts: It all started really with Mortal Kombat 15 years or so ago, and that was an extremely successful transition from the gaming side to the Hollywood side in its infancy. Since then, the games have gotten much more sophisticated. What Shi Hai, the founder and CEO of Snail Games, brings to the table is an artistic eye. He’s truly an artist who is a great businessman, which is a strange combination.
THR: What differentiates the free-to-play Age of Wushu game from other titles online?
Roberts: Age of Wushu is a cultural exchange. It’s not just a video game. It has great content behind it and some tangible details to it. The martial arts that you see in this game are based on actual martial artists’ moves, which were motion captured in China. The movements in the game weren’t digitally created by a gaming company. Snail Games cares about the authenticity of the game, as well as the cultural story behind it. This is something that’s interesting that I think this young demographic, which is hungry for these games, will respond to it not just because of the detail of the martial arts and the cultural background, but also the beauty. These games are cinematically produced. They already look like motion pictures. All of the environments in this game are based on actual places in China and part of Chinese cultural history. It’s a very interesting game and we believe that it will be well received here in the United States and abroad.
THR: The game is cinematic, but Snail Games also has transmedia plans for this franchise. Can you talk about that?
Roberts: The goal in creating all of these games, especially Age of Wushu, is to create something that can translate easily to a weekly television show weekly or a motion picture. That was the pitch that the company used when it approached Jet Li, who is an international icon of martial arts and a major motion picture star globally. In China, he is a rock star. He’s looked at as the source. If Jet Li is involved in a project, especially in China, it’s authentic and that’s what Snail Games wanted. To bring Jet Li into these games as a spokesman tells everyone that there’s a special quality to these games. Snail Games wants to create these kinds of games that will translate well to other content that can be used and brought to the international audience. They’re not just creating video games for now. They’re creating content that will extend to other platforms down the road and into the future.
THR: What are your thoughts on the television potential for Snail Games properties?
Roberts: I’m a television guy and the content that Snail Games is creating could be broken up into syndicated shows, syndicated pieces online, webisodes. They have a very interesting story and plotlines. Some of the other games that are coming that we can’t discuss just yet, but which I’ve had the good fortune to see, are even more phenomenal. The stories are amazing. Think of very popular television shows like Game of Thrones and Spartacus and some of those shows that have really hit well in America. Those are the kinds of genres and quality that Snail Games is looking to create on the gaming side, and then translate to television and motion picture content. That’s the goal.
THR: When will U.S. gamers be able to play Age of Wushu?
Roberts: This free-to-play game is scheduled for release February 1, 2013.
THR: Can you give us a sense of how popular Snail Games is in China?
Roberts: China is a major economic force on the planet. This game is enormously successful in China. Snail Games wants to translate that success by translating this content to the rest of the world. In China, the goal there was to create these kind of online games that responded well to both the youth audience as well as older gamers thanks to the rich cultural aspects of the games. I think this is a very interesting approach that the company is taking, starting with China and now expanding to Europe and the U.S.
THR: What’s Shi Hai’s background in China?
Roberts: He’s a very successful entrepreneur who had other non-gaming successes in China. It’s a testament to his creativity that he could see how to reach an audience, and he did it first running a very successful catering business. After reaching his audience through their stomachs, he then launched a very successful Karaoke business. That second step was all about allowing people to have fun with friends and socializing. With Snail Games, he’s reaching his audience through cultural exchange and through the beauty of these games and this moving art.