Skip to main content

Short Fuse

Jon Walsh of Fuse Powered on a journey from indie retailer to mobile publisher, via Facebook and gambling

Jonathan Walsh has a history in the video game business. Initially as an independent retailer, then launching PS2 and Xbox publisher Groove Games, transitioning into early Facebook and skill gaming, and then settling on a independent development studio… which has since changed to a publishing business.

But all the best online companies have been those that have adapted to their customer's needs, so perhaps the time is right for Fuse Powered, a company that is putting all its previous experience - from retail stocking solutions to social analytics - to good use. Here, the CEO discusses the harsh realities of business in the online space, how Fuse Powered has worked its own business model around bigger rivals, and how a network of developers can be a success by serving a loyal base of dedicated players. It sounds like you background in independent retail, in publishing on the PlayStation 2 and in skill-based gaming has all informed the mobile business you currently run. Can you take us through some of that background?
Jon Walsh

We had some good early success with Groove, we grew the company to about $20m in revenues, until 2005 when one of our distributors, Hip Interactive, went out of business owing a couple of million. So we ended up raising a bunch of money as the traditional console cycle wound down.

One of the partners we bought on board had founded a company in the gambling sector that had done very well so recognising the wind-down in first-gen consoles and knowing it would be a long transition for a couple of years we decided to transition our business into online skill gaming.

We built Skill Ground with a bunch of private equity and in Fall of '06 the gambling legislation changed in the US which made it illegal to advertise any gambling service. We weren't a gambling service but we certainly looked and smelt like one, so we were treated like one. We could never really get that service to a critical mass. But at this point you were also looking at Facebook as a viable gaming platform as well?

We launched Dawn of the Dead… I had a brand, I had real money, I spent marketing money. We thought we had it figured out but we had our asses handed to us.

Jon Walsh

Near the final days of Groove we had taken our big golf game that we did with Gusto Games and put it on Facebook. We got some great initial traction there in 2007. We learned a lot on the way through those experiences. And in 2009 I started up Fuse, there was just the two of us and the company was called Bitemark Games. One of the last things we did on Bitemark was we launched Marine Sharpshooter on iPhone as an experiment. We loved the device and we could feel it was the future, that was in early 2009. It went on to hit number one and had a million downloads in 10 days. We started Bitemark to be a developer and I got a couple of licenses from Universal for Dawn of the Dead and Jaws. We thought we knew everything because we had one of the first number one games in the world on iPhone with Marine Sharpshooter. We launched Dawn of the Dead on January of 2010 thinking we knew everything and basically got our asses kicked. I had a brand, I had real money, I spent marketing money - all of things I didn't do with Marine Sharpshooter. We thought we had it figured out but we had our asses handed to us. Why was that - was that a problem with discovery 18 months ago?
Jon Walsh

We couldn't get any visibility in the store. That experience combined with our history with skill gaming, and with Groove as a retail publisher, the real skill we developed was the ability to get products on shelves. So we got a lot of games on the Wal-Mart shelves and licensed them to get them around the world. We recognised in the skill gaming industry it looked a lot more like the gambling market, because it was an online business it was much more about getting players in the door as cost-effectively as you could but once they were in it was critical to know what they were doing, so you could ensure they were having the experience you intended. For the skill gaming business we built a lot of analytics technology, we were looking at how players were playing, and this was in 2005-06. We built an in-app purchase infrastructure that we'd modelled off Kart Rider. We had ambitious goals back then but one of the things that stuck with us was the mentality understanding what is happening in the digital market and looking at analytics.

We did a lot of that same stuff in Facebook where it became more critical with in-app purchases. So that sort of learning, combined with an ass-kicking on mobile, made us realise we had to do a lot of things we'd done over the past few years in the mobile market. With a small team of external contractors we got development partners to help us on the game side and we build our analytics platform. We had a couple of pillars of that established by the time we launched Jaws in 2010 and that went much better, we got that game to number three in the US as a paid app, so we recognised pretty quickly that the technology we developed would be a key competitive technology for us. We could see how effective our marketing was, how people were playing our games.

Since then we've been building out our technology platforms and building our relationships with developers because one of our key lessons was that we could see people playing Jaws, there's this increase but they slowly leak out over time. And when we launched our next game months later we didn't really have any players that we could cross-promote to the new game. We need a larger portfolio of content and that's why we changed our name to Fuse Powered and pushed the publishing side. We showed off the tools and tech to a wide variety of partners at GDC in February and since then it just feels like we've been running a million miles an hour bringing partners on board.

Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
Related topics