By Allan Maurer
So, what sort of video games would a company founded by two news focused organizations create? Why, games that trade on current events such as political campaigns and debates, says Lloyd Melnick, CEO.
Melnick, previously worked with Disney International and helped launch social gaming firm Merscom in 1993 (which later sold to Playdom, which itself sold to Disney) says that 519 Games builds on its connections to its corporate backers, Raleigh, NC-based Capitol Broadcasting and E.W. Scripps.
“The idea that drove formation of the company,” Melnick notes, “was how can we take what we do well – news, reality TV – and bring it to social gaming.”
The social gaming firm launched in August 2011 and is up to 16 employees. It recruited staff from top gaming firms, including Disney, RealNetworks, Turbine Entertainment, Microsoft, Playdom, Emergent Game Technologies, Oberon, Merscom and Research in Motion.
Melnick says it’s helpful to be in The American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC, because the Research Triangle is a gaming hub that includes other firms such as industry leader Epic Games and many smaller companies.
“We hope to be up to 25 people by the end of summer,” Melnick says.
About half of 519 Games creations are for Facebook, although Melnick admits that’s not as hot a venue as it once was for social games.
“Facebook changed the rules and you can’t send people as many requests as in the wild west days. It’s more challenging to bring in users.” Despite that, “Game playing on Facebook is still very robust according to the numbers. People are still playing.”
Mobile is the future
Mobile – particularly tablets are where games are going, he says, however.
“I don’t go anywhere without my iPad,” he says. “It’s almost attached to my body. Mobile and tablets are definitely the future.”
The company just launched its first game, Political Rampage. “It tries to interest people in the political process,” Melnick says. The iOS version is out now, the Android version is coming within weeks.
Gamers assume the role of a famous current political figure from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin and run their own political campaign, including debates, eventually against the President. But not President Obama.
The President considered the greatest debater, Abraham Lincoln (although he actually lost his debates with Stephen Douglas if you go by who won that election).
And what does that odd company name 519 Games mean?
“It’s the distance between the company’s two headquarters, Raleigh and Cincinnati, Ohio,” Melnick says.