Ben Walsh doesn't have a lot of time to play games these days.
As CEO and president of the Baltimore-based Pure Bang Games, Walsh spends his waking hours leading a team of nine developers aiming to release a new social game every few months.
The irony, of course, is that Walsh is a lifelong gamer who, if he ever took a vacation, "would sit down and do nothing but play" all the games he’s been missing out on since starting Pure Bang in 2010.
When I spoke to Walsh at Pure Bang's Highlandtown headquarters, he had just returned from his annual pilgrimage to Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
"'Social mobile' is the new buzzword," he says with a look of delight. "It's also clear that indie game development has really arrived."
It goes without saying that those thematic shifts in the gaming industry have Walsh excited about what lies ahead.
It was three editions of Game Developers Conference ago, in 2009, when Walsh had a revelation that ultimately lead to Pure Bang’s genesis. Then working on casual games for Bethesda Softworks such as "AMF Bowling Pinbusters" for the Wii, Walsh discovered a joy in developing and playing casual games that didn’t skimp on quality.
"'Wii Sports' opened my eyes to more casual gaming," he says. "It was revolutionary in that it was the first game that everyone, male and female, young and old, wanted to play. I've played it with my entire family. After that, I started buying games that my wife would like to play like 'Cooking Mama' and we had a lot of fun playing them together, too."
A devoted player of massively multiplayer and real-time strategy games, Walsh began to realize that as he grew older, he had less time to devote to the games he loved. Playing these games took a lot of time if you really wanted to enjoy them. Now as an entrepreneur and father of two, Walsh's appreciation of a gamer's time is paramount.
Thus Pure Bang was born, with the goal in mind to create fun, primarily mobile or social web-based games that anyone — an addict or an amateur — can enjoy. The company's first major venture was "My Pet Rock," a Facebook game now played by 40,000 users monthly. The game exploded stateside and overseas, all on the strength of a three-digit ad budget and a simple idea that allows users to customize and share their creations.
With his background in working for studios such as Bethesda and Big Huge Games, Walsh knows there's a surface difference between "serious" gamers and those who only play on mobile devices, but sees himself as proof that those two mindsets can co-exist in a single mind. Walsh speaks as passionately about flash launcher game "Burrito Bison" as he does modern console classic "Fable III."
Interestingly, "Corril Slayer," the company's first release in collaboration with designer Eric Ruth, is neither social nor mobile. Walsh sees "Corril Slayer" as a kind of olive branch to the community of gamers he grew up with.
"Ultimately we want to make technically sound games that all gamers will appreciate," Walsh says. "I'm from the '80s cartoon generation, so I like anything that's inspired by that time period. If we can hook them with something they're familiar with, then make something that gets them into the social aspect of games, that's the end goal."
Bridging the gap between the stereotypical isolated gamer and the social gaming world is a tricky path to navigate, but Walsh believes Pure Bang's approach is well-positioned to do just that.
"If you're into fighting games, shooters, online RPGS, even if you're just playing with your friends or with an online group, you’re forming a social community around the game," he says.
In Walsh's view, we're all social gamers, even if we don’t realize it.
One of the biggest computer game releases of 2013, "SimCity," announced recently that being persistently connected to the Internet would be required to play. Being linked in with the rest of the world is no longer optional. It appears that Walsh is right: social gaming isn't just limited to your phone or your Facebook profile. Social gaming is soon just going to be "gaming."
It may take two, five or 10 years, but ultimately Walsh and others in the field will help gamers realize that they are social. They'll also help social butterflies realize that they too are gamers.
Social game developers like Pure Bang are not just setting out to entertain a culture, but to connect us in a way never before possible.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun