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Jam City's John Peterson on the continued growth of the studio through M&A

"We are extremely committed to Finland and are looking forward to having a presence there soon."
Jam City's John Peterson on the continued growth of the studio through M&A

Deals, deals, deals. That is the video games industry in a nutshell right now. It's near impossible to go a day without companies investing in one another, several partnerships coming together on a new initiative, or acquisitions and mergers taking place left, right and centre.

Many of these conversations happen at industry events, which of course with much of the world under lockdown are now taking place in the virtual space. Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki Digital was one of these places, where developers, publishers and more from across the mobile games industry came together to discuss plans for the upcoming years.

One of the biggest attendees known for its licensing, acquisitions and mergers was LA-based developer Jam City, known for games like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Disney Frozen Adventures, and Disney Emoji Blitz.

To find out how the studio has been progressing, we spoke with Jam City vice president of mergers and acquisitions John Peterson for what the company is currently on the look for and why Finland is very opportunistic at this moment. How has Covid-19 impacted Jam City from and merger and acquisition perspective?

John Peterson: We’re very relationship-driven, and there really isn’t anything better than meeting a great developer in person to feel the passion and vision for their games. We’re potentially talking about a multi-year relationship where we’re merging our life’s passions together, so having a personal interaction is really important to us.

In some ways, however, Zoom has made the process more efficient by temporarily replacing the need to fly all over the world and incorporate travel into your and the other side’s schedule, which can be limiting. We can see and become more exposed to a bigger set of opportunities from game developers across the globe than we normally would.

Jam City is known for casual titles. Is this your main focus?

We have been very successful in the puzzle category with hits like Cookie Jam, as well as in the narrative RPG category with Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, which is one of the most unique and successful products in that category ever. More recently we have successfully entered the social casino category. However, it’s getting more difficult to define “casual” these days, because many of the best casual games now have mid-core elements.

Mobile casual players have now been playing for years, and are expecting a deeper experience, which includes more social and a deeper narrative. When it comes down to it, we’re looking for great teams who have built something special; where we think we can add value through our central services, technology or capital.

How do you see Jam City growing in the next few years?

Our goal has always been to be one of the top developers in the world, which we have become and we are super proud of that. We have nine amazing studios across five countries that will continue to grow and develop great games that are enjoyed by tens of millions of players. So, we expect to see continued strong growth from organic titles, as well as major growth through mergers and acquisitions.

“When we look at acquisitions or collaborations we consider if developers have a game that lends itself to a particular IP.”
John Peterson

What do you think about IP and how does this relate to the studios that you are looking at?

We are very bullish on IP and it will always be a big part of who we are. Being headquartered in Los Angeles, we have very, very deep relationships that have been nurtured for years with all the major entertainment companies and IP holders.

When we look at acquisitions or collaborations we consider if developers have a game that lends itself to a particular IP. We can be very helpful in quickly identifying and securing IP, with deal terms that make sense for everyone.

What's the best stage to present a project and what do you look for in a pitch?

There is never a “best” stage to present. We have looked at projects that were just a concept, saw great potential and brought them to market. For games that are further along, it's during soft launch. We get a good understanding of what the KPIs are, where they need to be at a worldwide launch, and beyond. We’re fortunate that we’ve built deep relationships with so many great game teams around the world, that we find a lot of new opportunities at all stages through friends of the company.

What can Jam City offer studios looking for funding or publishing opportunities?

It varies depending on the team and needs of the studio. We have a large audience to cross-promote to, top user acquisition expertise, and an amazing publishing team. So, we can get any game in front of a massive audience, but then the trick is to make sure the KPI’s are optimised.

In some cases, a developer will use our proprietary and homegrown full tech platform called Jam City Live. It essentially manages everything from analytics to the game economy, events, sales, segmentation and much more. Our services and platform are modular so we can leverage whatever adds the most value for the developer. Every situation is a little bit different.

Does your company provide funding for projects or do you invest in the whole business?

Our deal structures have varied greatly depending on the motivations of the developer. We just need to make sure ours and the developers’ goals are fully aligned. We have acquired games, studios with games, and invested in studios with great teams. We can get very creative. Our end goal is to take some big bets through innovative partners, regardless of the deal structure.

Pocket Gamer Helsinki was just last week. What is it about Finland that you like as a market opportunity?

I have been going to Finland for the past five years and have loved it from the first day I arrived. From the amazingly warm and friendly people to the incredible work ethic, to the collaboration between different studios, Finland is second to none.

We are extremely committed to Finland and are looking forward to having a presence there soon. There are a number of opportunities we are exploring there and are very excited about the possibilities.