Meet the Makers: Q&A with Chip Overstreet, CEO of Thump Games

Oct 29, 2010

Location: Palo Alto, CA Notable apps: Thump Football (Free) Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad via the App Store, and using any browser, you can play the game on Android phones, as well as Windows and Mac PCs/laptops. We’ll soon launch Blackberry (Bold, Curve, Storm, Torch I and Torch II), and will be playable on […]

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Notable apps: Thump Football (Free)

Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad via the App Store, and using any browser, you can play the game on Android phones, as well as Windows and Mac PCs/laptops. We’ll soon launch Blackberry (Bold, Curve, Storm, Torch I and Torch II), and will be playable on both Facebook and the hi5 game network by mid-November.

Specialty genres: Social and mobile games for sports fans

Company size: 8 full-time employees

Short description of company: Thump Games is focused on social and mobile games that sports fans can play while watching live sporting events. The company’s first game, Thump Football, lets fans use their smart phones or laptops to make predictions about upcoming plays during live NFL and college football games. Fans are scored in real-time based on actual outcomes, and they can compete with friends, or unknown foes, in their homes, stadiums, fraternities, or sports bars.

How did your experiences in the first iteration of online gaming motivate you do develop applications for the iPhone?

I ran a company from 1997-2000 called RTIME; we built technology that enabled multiplayer gaming over the Internet when consumers were still on dialup modems, and we were acquired by SONY to enable the PlayStation 2 with multiplayer game support which is still in use today. I was at the Rose Bowl on New Years Day 2000 (when Stanford sadly lost to Wisconsin), and was bantering back and forth with friends about what the coaches would be calling next. I started thinking about how RTIME’s technology could support a game where people all over the country could make predictions, and get scored in real-time. As a sports fan and competitor, I got excited by the idea, but the timing was not right – smart phones hadn’t been invented, laptops were not as widely adopted as they are now, and the Internet was too slow.

Last summer, I reconnected with some colleagues from SONY, and discussed what was happening in both social gaming and in the smart phone market, and decided it was the perfect time to make this game happen. We mocked up the game in PowerPoint, pitched it to some friends, and ended up building a prototype that we played with a small group of friends during the last half of the 2009 football season. We played every Sunday Night Football game, got people’s feedback, and made changes during the week. We repeated this process eight weeks in a row, and by the end of the season, we had honed the experience to something truly compelling and decided to make it happen. We have been heads-down since the 2010 Super Bowl through this September building out the game engine, which is now here for sports fans to play and enjoy.

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What can you do on the Thump Games iPhone app that aren’t possible on other platforms?

We have strived to make the game common across all supported platforms, as multiplayer games should not require all friends using the same mobile device. However, with the iPhone we support GPS – so when you arrive at the stadium or your favorite sports bar to Thump a live game, you can check in automatically. Soon you’ll be able to use our service to locate where other people are Thumping.

Why should an enthusiastic football fan download your app? What about the casual fan?

Enthusiastic fans (aka, “hard core fanatics”) play Thump Football because they think they know football better than their friends, and the game allows them to compete head-to-head or in groups to see which one really does. For hard core fans (and hard core competitors), it’s all about bragging rights.

A good friend and I have always been manic about sports and games, and when we were just out of college, we competed at anything and everything. The prize? The winner of the last event could ask the loser (any time they wanted) “who’s the best between you and me.” The loser always had to respond immediately, “you are”. As ridiculous as that sounds, competitors never want to be on the losing end of the battle.

For casual fans, Thump gets them more engaged in football; the game’s nuances can be lost on many. Thump Football has seen strong adoption from 8-12 year olds, and (this is not a sexist statement but based on our data), women who are starting to learn about football. Thump gets them more interested and excited about what’s happening in the game, and helps educate them about why, for example, a team is more likely to run the ball on 3rd down and short.

How did you recruit the likes of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to promote your app?

Most pro athletes are also gamers, and the ones that promoted Thump Football were encouraged to try it out – and they liked it. We have several athletes and celebrities as investors and advisors, and they helped introduce us to most of the people that participated in the Simultweet.

Tell us about your Simultweet campaign.

We pulled together 11 athletes, coaches and celebrities to help us get more visibility for Thump Football. They played the game and liked it – which is a key edge for anyone putting their name next to a product. We had them all start to tweet on Friday, Oct 22, at 3pm EST, and made it a contest to see who could drive the most signups (they are competitors!). As of now, Matt Hasselbeck is in the lead, Phil Hellmuth 2nd, Bill Romanowski 3rd, and Tony Gonzalez, Pete Carroll, Tim Hasselbeck, Steve Sarkisian, Julie Romanowski, Mark Rypien, Sam Schmidt and Ali Nejad are duking it out for 4th through 11th. Check their Twitter accounts if you want to sign up using one of their codes.

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How do you make money?

Today we’re focused only on adoption and getting more people playing the game, so its free to everyone. We’ll soon offer paid versions that, for example, allow you to pick both teams to Thump within the game, instead of just one. We’ll also introduce virtual goods, allowing players to purchase more Double Dogs and Triple Dogs that help them score more points, to customize their virtual helmets, to “Thump” (think “poke”) a friend, etc. The third avenue is advertising and sponsorship – we’ve developed technology that allows us to synchronize ads running on TV networks with pop-ups that appear on the mobile devices during timeouts. The pop-ups are designed to be fun trivia questions that ask the fans something about the ad that is being shown on TV, and when they answer correctly, we give them more Thump Credits (used for buying Dogs, etc.).

How aggressive will you be in building apps for other sports?

We have a partnership with STATS, Inc. and have secured the rights to Major League Baseball data, and will introduce Thump Baseball during spring training 2011, with the full launch alongside the first game of the season. We’re currently evaluating PGA, NASCAR and the NBA, and looking internationally at both soccer and cricket.

Thump Games can be found on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and online. When can we expect to see the app on other platforms?

Thump Football is available today via standard web browsers on the Android, as well as any Windows or Mac PC. By mid-November, we’ll have support for Blackberry (Bold, Curve, Storm, Torch I and Torch II), and at the same time we’ll be launching Thump Football as a game within Facebook. We’ll follow that up by launching on the hi5 game network, and then a native version for the Android. We’re also in discussions with a couple of the Interactive TV providers – imagine watching a football game on TV and having our game appearing right alongside it, controlling it from your remote control? Much of the discussion surrounding interactive TV pertains to which apps make sense; we’re excited because Thump Football can be customized directly for the TV programming that’s already widely viewed.

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