Behind the Curtain: Making Games at MumboJumbo

Posted by Conor Murphy on April 9, 2013 in Game Art, Game Development -- Share:

In this week’s developer interview, we go behind the scenes with MumboJumbo’s Digital Partnership Manager, Ryan Hilz, to talk about the MumboJumbo’s development team & ask him some questions about the future of gaming. Enjoy the interview and make sure to check out all of MumboJumbo’s titles here!

Can you tell us a bit about MumboJumbo??

Of course! MumboJumbo is a small, independent developer of casual games for PCs, Mac, iOS and game consoles. We are located in Dallas, Texas, The Lone Star State! Our games are available for download at numerous game portals, and for purchase at retail through mass merchants, and for mobile through the Apple and Amazon app stores. We were originally established in January 2001 to develop Triple-A games. In 2003 we became one of the first independent developers to popularize casual games by introducing them into retail stores and partnering with portal sites to make games available for download directly to Windows and Mac computers.

Can you tell me about where the name MumboJumbo came from?

Our Founder, Ron Dimant, was working at Ritual Entertainment in the early 2000’s when he was asked to start a sister game company to create a comic book game with Paul Steed for a major publisher. During a flight home from a meeting with the publisher, he was reading “Mr. Nice” by Howard Marks and came across the word mumbo jumbo. Mumbo jumbo immediately clicked as a possible name for the new company, and as soon as he got home, he looked up the definition and noticed it used contained the word “ritualistic”. Since Ritual and the new company were intended to be sister companies at the time, he decided then and there that MumboJumbo would be the name of the new game company.

How did MumboJumbo get started developing casual games?

Ron’s love for casual games came from playing games such as Bejeweled on his Palm Pilot in the early 2000s. While he was managing Ritual Entertainment, a developer of first person shooters for Activision and Take 2, at that time, he actually preferred to play small games, like Bejeweled, on mobile devices. In 2002, he met some of the founders of PopCap, the creators of Bejeweled, at a tradeshow, and they all quickly became friends. It was during this period that MumboJumbo’s focus moved away from large console and PC titles to smaller, more mobile games and that MumboJumbo established itself as the premium casual gaming company for retail.

From where do you draw your inspiration when thinking up new games?

All of us here are gamers by nature and have been playing video games most of our lives. Since we play a wide assortment of genres, it keeps us up to date on current trends and what innovations keep old genres fresh and entertaining. When thinking of new game ideas, we all brainstorm what we like about our own favorite games and how we can adapt that into something we want to develop, or even how we can improve upon that mechanic.

What non-MumboJumbo game do you often find yourself playing nowadays, just for fun?

That’s a tough question, as it varies from person to person in our studio. These days, it seems to be a mix and very dependent on the platform of choice. For consoles, FIFA and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are always in the disc tray. For our desktops, we play a lot of Left 4 Dead 2 and Starcraft and on our iPads it could be anything from endless runners to tower defense games. Currently I am obsessed with BIT.TRIP Runner and Flow on Android and iOS. Checking out what other developers are doing in the casual market also helps to keep us dynamic in the marketplace.

What’s your personal favorite among the MumboJumbo games?

That would have to be Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can. It’s such a great gaming experience, and as with our Midnight Mysteries games which blend fantasy with historical fact, Angelica Weaver incorporates paranormal crime solving in both modern day and historical settings. This was our first game to offer full voice-overs, and the story is as intriguing as it is complex. Check out the Collector’s Edition for a special twist ending that you’ll never see coming!

What do you think is the future of casual games?

With the advent and advancement of mobile devices, it’s becoming easier for both consumers and developers to break into the world of casual gaming. This is a great for both parties because it makes the pool of potentially great games more easily accessible. For one, over 46% of adults in the US owned a smart phone in 2012. That is almost half of all adults in the US that have a device they can game on! Tablets are also increasing in popularity as traditional desktop computers are on the decline. It is predicted that 2013 will be the first year tablets outsell desktop machines. I believe we’ll begin to see more people developing casual games specifically for mobile devices, then port to desktop rather than the opposite which has been the norm. Also, with the F2P model becoming more widely accepted, I believe people will start playing different genres of games they once wouldn’t even consider. When something is F2P, it is much easier to have the end user try your title out and let them decide if it is a good fit.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Getting any new IP noticed and rising above the noise is definitely a challenge for all developers these days. The vast majority of our players have heard of our franchise titles in one form or another, but may not necessarily check out all of what MumboJumbo does as a company with our extensive array of titles and genres. When we release a new franchise title, such as any of the Midnight Mysteries titles, it’s pretty quickly picked up by our core audience. But, when we launch a new IP, we have to do a bit more cajoling to bring some of those players into the fray. Luckily, once our core set of players check out other titles like Glowfish or Pickers, they find that we put the same amount of love and care into those titles, and they quickly become fans.

How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?

Having your game available across literally dozens of portals opens up a lot of exposure to your game, and provides easier access for players, so it’s a great thing for developers. While word of mouth is still very much relevant in shopping for a new game, more often than not you find yourself reading a review or a forum post about a game, and then finding it somewhere to download within minutes. I use to believe having the tangible package with disc was the only way to buy a new game. Now, I can’t even imagine how full my shelves would be if I still kept true to this. Digital Distribution lets you decide when and where you want a game, and not keep you restrained to store hours or locations. It is great to see indie games in the spotlight as well, as getting into retail stores a few years back as an indie developer was near impossible!

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+