Q&A: Majesco execs Dan Kitchen and Joe Sutton

Infected is the company's latest coup as hard work and a new strategy begin to bear fruit.

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Majesco is making waves, again?

Hardly a month goes by without this relatively new-to-the-space publisher making yet another splash in the press. Recent news spikes surrounding the company have been involved the signing of the Tim Schaffer-developed Psychonauts (following that game being amicably dropped from the Microsoft Game Studios' publishing slate), the acquisition of the game rights from Universal for Steven Spielberg's Jaws (due this summer), and the acquisition of the Golden Nugget Casino license.

Majesco also surprised many by announcing that it lined up Riddick developer Starbreeze (one of the hottest studios since that game's unexpectedly rapturous reception in 2004) for at least one next-generation title. Last week, another feather appeared in the publisher's hat in the form of a three-game deal with admired (if quirky) development shop Planet Moon Studios for the developer's next three PSP titles.

On the financial front, the company went public last year and now trades on the Nasdaq. A 7-to-1 reverse stock split in late December was designed to make the stock more attractive to institutional investors (who rarely buy shares priced under five bucks). There's also the company's ongoing success with its proprietary video-compression technology, which sees the company licensing cartoons that can be played on Game Boy Advances using conventional cartridges.

Do the guys in New Jersey have time to rest on their laurels? Not exactly. All this week, the promotion team has been on a national press tour promoting what it hopes will be its spring success story: the GlyphX-developed sci-fi actioner, Advent Rising (scripted by noted sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card). While the PR team was on the road promoting Advent, the execs were back East, plotting their next moves.

We caught up with Majesco's vice president of development Dan Kitchen and executive vice president of research and development Joe Sutton by phone, where they spoke from their northern New Jersey headquarters.

GameSpot: Infected is a title from now-PSP-only development studio Planet Moon. How do you like the PSP so far?

Dan Kitchen: We are very excited about the product. We've gotten some of the Japanese units, and we're very intrigued by the size of the display and the quality of the display. The glass is very, very beautiful.

GS: How committed are you to the platform?

DK: We have a number of products slated throughout 2005 and throughout 2006, some of which you may be aware of, and last week we discussed with the public our preproduct deal with Planet Moon.

GS: Who we know as the designers behind the LucasArts title Armed & Dangerous…

DK: We're very excited about working with those guys. Their quality is very high. They're extremely well versed at gaming and at game play mechanics. We're very excited to be working with them on three products, the first of which will be Infected.

GS: How active is the pitching environment for PSP games right now?

DK: We are getting quite a few pitches on a weekly basis--concepts that developers would like to do, sequels, or derivative products of things they've done in the past on the PS2 that they would like to do on the PSP.

GS: What's catching your eye?

DK: We're very careful and selective because we do not want to simply take a PS2 product and put it on the PSP, and we know that is not Sony's desire either. So we're very careful about picking the right type of product that's going to work on that handset, or on that device, that's going to allow multi-play functionality and take advantage of the beautiful large screen.

GS: Are PSP pitches predominating?

DK: I would say no. We're getting quite a lot of next-gen pitches.

GS: Could you elaborate a little bit more about Infected and why you decided to commit to it?

DK: Well, we saw an initial design document, and we were very encouraged by the fact that the game, in essence, allows the player to Infect other PSPs, and we just thought it was a very cool mechanic to use on a wireless device…to be able to spread the virus around to different players. And frankly, the concept and some of the sample graphics they showed us were very compelling. And we knew their history and knew they would be a good team to associate ourselves with.

GS: Do you think it's going to be any easier to crack the PSP market, more so than the next-gen systems? Is this why you're looking so aggressively at PSP product?

Joe Sutton: Well, number one is to work with great talent on any platform, whatever platform you're working on…Whether it's next-gen Xbox 2 or PS3, or PSP, we think it's all based on the talent you work with. And Planet Moon and Starbreeze, well, those are two of the top developers in the last decade or so. So that's the first part of the answer. The second part is it's a different kind of strategy because PSP development takes a little less time. It could be a 10-to-12 month development scale, and you can make such beautiful games, because the screen is just, the games just pop off the system. It's a gorgeous system. So you can make games that are seemingly next-gen, beautiful games, yet they're a little different.

GS: What's different: The games, the system, the consumer…?

JS: Different for an audience, as in how much time the player is able to play with the system, and how it will be marketed, and how it will portray itself. [The PSP will be] More like an iPod. What we'll be doing with Infected is we're trying to make the same kind of play that Gameboy had with Pokemon. It has that same kind of instant fun feel, yet you can also have that whole multi-player aspect, and kind of compares to Pokemon on the GBA.

Like everyone's saying, the PSP should be more like an iPod, and more tuned to an older audience, at least early on.

GS: You folks have been extremely innovative with your Game Boy Advance Video. The PSP form factor and specs suggest there may be some new technology solutions your team might come up with. Are you thinking about anything new with PSP other than traditional games?;

JS: Whether it's to start introducing accessories for it, or other items that can use the system, and showcase in a [new] way, kind of like some of the accessories that came out for the iPod or other systems of the same ranking, yes, we'd like to have it function in different ways, and we're looking at [options] like we had with the GBA and the GBA Video.

GS: Do you do that work internally or do you work with outside experts in the area of technology?

JS: A little of both.

DK: We have some folks on the West Coast we use, and people in China who we work with, for any hardware manufacturing that we may develop for a particular system.

GS: Was there anything about the fact that Planet Moon decided to go PSP-only that made them especially attractive to you?

JS: Sure, because were very bullish on working on the PSP…the minute Sony announced it. I always knew Sony would be serious about their platform and getting in the game. And then when we saw the screen at E3, and then when the announcement came out that Planet Moon was going to be PSP-only, yeah, we jumped all over it, because we love Planet Moon's games--going back to their PC work on Giants, and even before that. So we were thrilled to hear that. And we're absolutely, outrageously thrilled to be working with them on three projects on a platform that we are in love with and think has so much potential, and yet is not so risky like a next-gen project.

GS: You know, there's one strategy that other publishers are engaging in that I don't see Majesco doing, and that is actually acquiring talent and technology. Are you guys considering actually acquiring and owning talent that you're currently just working with on a piecemeal basis?

JS: We're open to any kind of arrangement. We're always thinking of different ways. And of course, we follow the marketplace and look at other companies that have succeeded, and look at their model and see where we can learn, where we can learn from mistakes. But we're not doing anything of that nature as of now. But of course, it's always something we keep our minds open about.

GS: And what are you guys thinking in terms of PSP launch date? What do you know?

JS: We're hearing March is legitimate. I don't know what exactly the date is, but we're definitely looking to have product ready close to then.

GS: Thanks Dan, Joe, and good luck.

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