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Joystiq interview: the EA/Hasbro game agreement

Kevin Kelly

When it comes to the realm of board games, Hasbro is quite the ... player. Over the past couple of decades, it has absorbed Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Avalon Hill, Wizards of the Coast, Cranium, and others. Chances are that any board game, not to mention toys, you used to play with as a kid are now owned by Hasbro.

In 2007, Electronic Arts signed an exclusive agreement with Hasbro to produce games based on some of the items in its vaults, and so far we've seen Scrabble, Hasbro Family Game Night, Trivial Pursuit, and more. EA also just announced Hasbro Family Game Night 2 for the Wii and DS, due out later this fall, which will add Pictureka, Bop-It, Operation, Jenga and others to the mix.

But where are the titles like Risk, Axis & Allies, and Dark Tower? We spoke to Steve Flege, Senior Marketing Director for Hasbro Digital and Kyle Murray, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Electronic Arts about the deal, the first games we've seen, the pricing structure, and what's coming up next. The good news: we might be getting Risk on next-gen consoles. It's been on the PC, the PS1, the PS2, and the original Xbox, so it's about time. Roll those sixes!

Gallery: Hasbro Family Game Night: Xbox 360 | 38 Photos

Hasbro owns a lot of old board game titles/rights. Can you provide a list of the board game companies it has acquired? i.e. Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Avalon Hill, etc.

Steve: Over the lifetime of the company, some of Hasbro's major company and/or contract acquisitions have included: Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Kenner, Cranium, Avalon Hill, Wizards of the Coast and Tiger Electronics.

What drives the Hasbro/EA relationship? Does Hasbro suggest a game to EA? Does EA pitch Hasbro on doing a video game adaptation of a title?

Steve: There is extremely tight collaboration between Hasbro and EA from the development to marketing and distribution of all Hasbro-branded video games. Although the relationship is a licensing alliance, in many ways it feels more like a partnership. Each company has dedicated teams working solely on the Hasbro-EA digital games and they are in constant communication with one another.

Hasbro Family Game Night
is great for families and very casual gamers, but what about large-scale adaptations of classic games or other games in the massive Hasbro library?

Steve: We actually have a few large-scale adaptations available now. One great example is Scrabble: you can play on Apple devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPod touch as well as other mobile phones. If handheld game devices are your thing then it can be played on the Nintendo DS or PSP. Or, if you prefer to engage online, pick up the 360 controller and play on XBLA or get in a quick game on or Facebook. Then there's the just-announced Scrabble feature that allows players with iPhones to play against their Facebook friends. I'd say that's definitely a large-scale adaptation.

Each of the game add-ons for the upcoming Hasbro XBLA title has been priced at 800MS Points ($10) -- is pricing a collaborative decision between EA and Hasbro?

"We looked at the pricing of other competitive board games on XBLA - almost to a rule they have been priced at 800 MS."

Kyle: There are a lot of factors we looked at in determining the right pricing for the titles within Hasbro Family Game Night on XBLA. First, we had to work within the price-point options that Microsoft has outlined for XBLA. On XBLA, titles are priced in increments of 400 points (400, 800, 1200, etc.) Those are actually pretty big variances, and that decision can have a huge impact on the financial viability of your game. Second, we looked at the pricing of other competitive board games on XBLA - almost to a rule they have been priced at 800 MS. Third, we considered what you would pay for the board games. The suggested retail price for these games is generally higher than $10.

Most of all, we think these are great games that are well worth $10. You pay more than that to go to a movie. These are gaming classics, with great new versions as well that are a blast on XBLA. We believe we added some very cool innovations to XBLA, with the ability to launch all the games without exiting to dashboard, cross-game rewards, and being able to show off your custom game environment, which add even more value.

Is there much demand for a $10 copy of Connect 4?

Steve: Yes, the Connect 4 experience on XBLA is really cool and it delivers a gameplay experience that can only be created in the digital space with its expanded game modes and unique gaming environments. You can't replicate this in the analog world. Connect 4 is a hidden gem that we expect to shine on XLBA. It's a game that appeals to both kids and adults and it is fun at all skill levels. Connect 4 can be a very quick, casual experience or it can become an intense, strategic showdown among more serious players. New gameplay modes such as "Power Chips" were also included to the digital versions which add depth and re-playability.

Connect 4 has actually become so popular over the years that fans around the world hold Connect 4 tournaments and we wouldn't be surprised if that carries over to the digital world as well.

Kyle: I think Connect 4 was my introduction to strategy gaming as a kid. It's been a blast to be able to relive those days by playing with my brother and old buddies on XBLA. When you dig a little deeper and try out "Power Chips" with the three second drop clock turned on, you discover a really addictive quick-play competitive strategy game. But, even though the new gameplay modes add a lot of variety, it feels true the game I've loved for years – it's become my favorite for Hasbro Family Game Night. Whether you buy the classic board game, the XBLA title, or both – you win.

Where are titles like Risk? Seriously, where's Risk? Risk is beloved for its gameplay, where's the console version? The PC, PS1, and Xbox saw different versions of Risk, and even Risk II... can we expect Risk on XBLA or PSN anytime? In the spirit of full disclosure, I love Risk and would love to see an XBLA or PSN version with the old wooden cubes or the tiny armies as selectable playing pieces.

Steve: Risk is currently available on mobile devices and there is plenty yet to come for this IP. We know there are a lot of Risk fans out there eager to know more, but that's all I can say right now!

Hasbro recently acquired Cranium. Are there any plans to bring any Cranium games to gaming consoles?

Steve: I can tell you that Cranium just released on mobile phones throughout North America and Europe.

Has Hasbro looked at games on XBLA like Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride and thought about a similar model?

Steve: This is a question better suited for EA as they lead the development efforts for Hasbro-branded digital games.

Kyle: Those are all great games. And, we won't rule out doing stand-alone board games on XBLA in the future. But, what if you could play all of those games with your friends without ever having to quit to the dashboard and re-launch? You could add a cool metagame where you could earn rewards for playing and show them off in your customized game space. Then, you might pile in a bunch of new ways to play that you couldn't do with the board game. This demonstrates how we were trying to innovate with Hasbro Family Game Night on XBLA, and we believe it adds up to be more than the sum of its parts.

Trivial Pursuit just came out for consoles. Did the team use Trivial Pursuit Unhinged for the Xbox as an example of what not to do?

"The inspiration for the Trivial Pursuit video game really came from a new board game called Trivial Pursuit Team, which Hasbro will launch this fall."

Steve: I'm sure EA could elaborate a bit more on this front but the inspiration for the Trivial Pursuit video game really came from a new board game called Trivial Pursuit Team, which Hasbro will launch this fall. A great deal of attention was given to aligning the video game experience with Trivial Pursuit Team which is all about keeping everyone engaged throughout gameplay. In addition to the play style, the video game also features amazing innovation from the dynamic graphics to new categories and themes and the incredibly fun "Fact & Friends" mode.

Kyle: Trivial Pursuit has always been about more than knowing the answers – its' also about the great interaction you have with your friends while you are playing. Inspired by the work Hasbro was doing on Trivial Pursuit Team, we wanted to see how far we could push the social interaction. In "Facts & Friends" mode, where you bet on whether your opponents will answer correctly, we cranked up the fun with a little psychology, bluffing, and even more opportunities for trash talking!

How important is pushing multiplayer in Hasbro games online?

Steve: Just as Hasbro's board games have been the catalyst for family and friends to gather and play for so many decades, we want the digital versions to be highly social as well. It's all about staying connected and now we're giving fans the opportunity to do it via their digital platform of choice from consoles to handhelds and mobile phones and as always, the active community of players enjoying Hasbro titles remain strong.

You'll also see that we're pushing the boundaries of the multiplayer experience with games such as the new Scrabble feature which allows games to be played between iPhone and Facebook players. That's truly innovative casual gaming at its best.

"I'd never play with my brother again after he kicked over our Risk board."

Kyle: Online multiplayer is great fun... even when I manage to lose consecutive games of Connect 4, Battleship and Yahtzee in the space of ~20 minutes on XBLA. But I have to say that my best multiplayer game experiences have been with friends and family sitting next to me. Whether it was shouting down my college roommate after a game winning one-timer in NHL'94, or swearing I'd never play with my brother again after he kicked over our Risk board, there is something special about playing face-to-face. We will have online play for future Hasbro console games where we think it is integral to the experience, but we don't think that it is a requirement to make a great game. Would you rather play Rock Band together or online? This is how we felt about our recently launched Trivial Pursuit video game.

What other platforms does the Digital Team develop for besides the Wii, 360 and PS3?

Steve: EA is developing Hasbro-branded video games for handheld devices including the Nintendo DS and PSP, plus mobile devices, Apple products including iPod, iPhone, and iPod touch, the PC including downloadable and retail versions, social networks, online at and on XBLA.

Platform development really varies on the brand and targeted demographic. For example, Scrabble is on all platforms including DS, PSP, iPhone and iPod touch, mobile phones, online at and social networking sites. In contrast, the first wave of Littlest Pet Shop games based on Hasbro's wildly popular toy brand for girls launched on the Wii, DS and PC.

As Hasbro develops new board games, is it required to look at the digital/online possibilities?

Steve: Bringing Hasbro IPs to gaming platforms is a major priority and focus for the company. Hasbro is constantly evaluating new board game ideas and determining if the concept also holds appeal to extend to digital play. While it's not necessarily a requirement to have a digital component, it is certainly something that we take a hard look at as part of our overall decision criteria with regard to moving new product ideas forward.

Is there actually a board game development team at Hasbro? Or are they just focusing on the classic games? I've noticed updated versions of Risk, Clue, and Battleship recently.

Steve: Yes, Hasbro has a board game development team. They are tasked with keeping Hasbro's classic games fresh and current whether it is a graphic update or, in the case of the games you mentioned above, really looking at every aspect of the experience and determining if there is a market opportunity for a re-invention or special edition. The team is also responsible for developing new games IPs with idea generation coming from both the internal group as well as external professional game inventors.

Would Hasbro digital ever develop gaming titles not based on an existing board game?

"It is important to clarify that Hasbro does not develop video games. We license our content."

Steve: It is important to clarify that Hasbro does not develop video games. We license our content – the IP – to EA and they create the digital version of the games. As you may know, the deal struck between Hasbro and EA in August 2007 grants EA the digital licensing rights to 100s of Hasbro IPs for both board game and toy brands like G.I. Joe, Nerf and Littlest Pet Shop.

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