Interview with Co-Founder of EA Sports and Daily Joust: Michael Brook
When you think of companies that combine sports and gaming, there’s none greater than EA Sports. The gaming goliath is responsible for hits featuring all major sports, across all gaming platforms, and today they boast revenue in the billions and over 8,000 employees. What does any of this have to do with Daily Fantasy Sports? Well, now one of the founders of EA Sports has made his way to the Daily Fantasy Sports market. Michael Brook, along with his co-founder, Silicon Valley Vet Mike Matthys, are bringing us the newest site on the Daily Fantasy scene: Daily Joust.
Of all of EA Sports’ product lines, the Madden NFL series is the most notable. Having sold over 85 million copies since 1988, for more than $3 Billion in total sales, it has become more than a game, it has become a cultural phenomenon. It all began back in the late 80s and early 90s in California, where Brook became involved in its development. Michael Brook was one of the founders of EA Sports, and was a producer and/or designer on the first several John Madden Football and NHL Hockey video games, including cult hit NHL ’94. He was also responsible for negotiating Electronic Arts’ initial licensing agreements with MLB, NFL, NHL, NHLPA and USSF. In 1993, he left EA to start Spectacular Games, Inc., a third party developer of sports video games for EA, Sega, Virgin and others.
Over the years, Michael continued his passion for Sports and Gaming as he worked with companies such as: Disney Imagineering, ESPN Emerging Media, Yahoo Games, Professional Poker League, Imagine Sports, Betfair and Harrahs. In 1992, his insight into fantasy sports proved ahead of its time with the creation of a 3-D game which displayed live re-creations of MLB games on your PC. Created with John Dewan/Stats Inc and EA, it proved to be a bit too much of a technological stretch for consumers at the time. After playing fantasy sports religiously for over 20 years (including more recently playing Daily Fantasy sports under the name CaliforniaKid), Michael decided it was time to take his talents to the Daily Fantasy Sports World.
Just recently, Michael Brook and Mike Matthys founded Daily Joust, the latest site to hit the Daily Fantasy scene. Daily Joust is polished and has the refinement you’d expect from such experienced game developers. You can read our review of it here. Daily Joust is just now unveiling itself onto the scene, and generously partnered with RotoGrinders to help kick things off with a $2,000 Freeroll promotion on Daily Joust exclusive to RotoGrinders Members!
In addition, Mr. Brook, a 47 year old from Palo Alto, CA with a an MBA from Stanford (‘88) and a Bachelors from Wharton Business School (‘84) was kind enough to set aside some time from his busy schedule to take several phone calls with myself in order to discuss Daily Joust and their plans for the future. Here’s what the former co-founder of EA Sports told me:
That’s a heck of a résumé. What was it like to be a part of the early stages of creating the legendary Madden video game franchise? Did you have any idea back then what the game series could evolve into?
Yes. From the moment we had players running around the field we knew it was going to be really, really cool. An amazing feeling to bring so much enjoyment to so many people, but at first we were all just creating a game that we loved to play around the office.
Tell us more about your relationship with the other co-founder of Daily Joust, Mike Matthys.
My Co-Founder Mike Matthys and I have known each other for 20-plus years since our school days. He has a lot of experience taking companies from zero to millions in revenue, and I have a lot of experience taking games from conception to millions of players. We thought it could be cool to combine that experience to create a product that we are both passionate about, and see where that could lead – that was only eight months ago and here we are!
What was working for EA sports like?
Really intense. We all had a lot of passion for the games we were creating. It was a very cutthroat environment. The industry was like the Wild West back then, and a great product resulted from that environment.
The best part was it was just a small team. With a handful of guys, you could conceive of a cool feature like the Madden ambulance one day and have it in the game the next. Honestly, being producer and designer on games like Madden and NHL was like Christmas every day —- as in, one day wishing we had a particular feature in the game, and that it worked this particular way, and the next day there’s the next version of Madden with that feature you dreamed up the day before.
In addition to building sports video games, you developed a passion for fantasy sports in the early going. Tell us about your history with fantasy sports, and how it eventually brought you to Daily Fantasy Sports.
I’ve been building fantasy sports products for decades, including a basketball simulation game in the late 70’s, a baseball game at EA in the 90’s with Stats Inc. which used real time data, and the ESPN mobile phone. Daily fantasy sports are by far the most compelling fantasy sports product yet, and a natural evolution of the traditional season long fantasy sports games, which were frankly invented before the internet and belongs in a different era. Daily fantasy sports are the 21st century version of the fantasy sports craze, we just have to get the word out!
Tell us about Daily Joust! What is the inspiration behind the name and theme? What aspects of the site are you most excited to unveil?
We don’t want to be just another fantasy sports site. We thought we could have fun combining the genre of medieval times with modern sports and have strong albeit unusual branding. The name came about as a result of creative riffing, and was the brainstorm of my co-founder Mike Matthys.
We have a lot of very cool features and contest types in the pipeline that we will roll out over time. I am not a big proponent of pre-announcing features.
Were there any aspects of Daily Joust that come to mind where you were specifically able to take your experience from EA Sports and the video game industry and apply it to your site?
Yes, the way we were able to take a great core engine and innovate continually over a twenty year period to create a billion dollar franchise. We plan to constantly provide innovative new contest types and community features. It will be a fun ride for those who are with us from the beginning as the original “Knights of the Roundtable”, and their early support will be rewarded.
Daily Joust is brand new. What has been the reception so far? What’s been the biggest surprise What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has definitely been the rigors of keeping a 24/7 site running smoothly. We haven’t fully launched quite yet, we still have more features and marketing promotions we want to have in place.
The biggest surprise is how much people seem to love the team building interface right off the bat.
The first eye-catcher is that you offer a new game-type: ‘Solo’ games. What are Solo games? How do they work?
Solo games offer users the unique opportunity to enter a team and compete against a preset threshold target, without having to worry about having the same pitchers or other players as their opponents, running into a monster performance by an opponent’s players, or facing a far superior skilled opponent. You also can get action when you want it. We think new players and pros alike will appreciate the sheer simplicity of the solo contests.
One of the other cool features of the site is the Community section. Here you go above and beyond the traditional ranking methods of your users; there are Lineups and Performance leaderboards for the actual professional players. What was the aim of increasing the community section of the site?
There is lots of interesting stuff that happens in sports and on the site everyday and our leaderboards and ticker are a good way to give users a glimpse into that. Check out the best lineups, most popular picks, whose getting the badges, best player performances, top ranked jousters, etc. This is really just standard video game, MMOG, and social game mechanics that we are bringing to daily fantasy sports.
So far, so good! What are your thoughts on the Daily Fantasy Industry moving forward? What can we expect from Daily Joust moving forward?
The daily fantasy industry is very nascent. There are 30 million fantasy sports players in North America, less than 10,000 of which are playing Daily Fantasy Sports. Somehow the industry needs to make more of the 30 million aware of the tremendous entertainment value of daily fantasy sports contests. This will take creative marketing.
From Daily Joust, our users can expect innovation in the form of new contest types and community features. And more sports for the Fall!
RotoGrinders.com Fantasy Content Manager