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Video game director engages players with online challenges

By Cindy Atoji Keene

There’s a lot more that goes into an online casino video game than meets the eye. Take “50 Cent’s Blackjack,” just released by GSN (Game Show Network) on Facebook. Players are welcomed into a virtual casino, where they try their luck against the dealer or friends, and customize their avatars by adding bling and swag. But for GSN game director Jason Krupat, 38, one of the many creators behind the rapper’s first foray into social gaming, the new release required a lot of iterations to get it just right – especially making sure that the hip-hopper’s gangsta image or “brand” was consistent with the look and feel of the digitized stylizing of the avatars: Gold chain? Silver dollar ring? Shades? Hat? “This was a really complicated ‘build’ and required a lot of input from the 50 Cent team to make sure that what we developed resonated with the fan base,” said Krupat. “There are a lot of ways you can ‘skin’ something, whether it’s making it more photorealistic or cartoony, so it took a while to stylize and get it just right.” GSN, a multimedia entertainment company with offices in Waltham, is also creator of the online Wheel of Fortune and other game show and arcade games.

While all the rich texture of a video game is generated through the slash, bang, pow of powerful inner intelligence – texture, animation, sounds, and more – these are controlled by the engineering and design groups. But before pre-production even launches, Krupat is the mastermind at GSN, conceptualizing the games, dreaming up the type of gameplay that will take place; how the game will use the technology available on a particular platform, and identifying game features. With the rise of social media, he also has a new goal: figuring out how to motivate users to continue the “conversation” beyond the game itself, and make the experience go viral.

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Q: One of your most successful ventures was the creation of Oodles for GSN, a virtual currency system or redeemable rewards. What was your thinking behind Oodles?
A: I had to figure out how to make redeeming Oodles for various prizes more fun, engaging and ‘sticky’ – ways to get people to come back frequently and play more games. I listen to feedback from users, and if needed, can go in and tweak the algorithm to give a more sustainable payout so players can earn more.

Q: What is it that makes playing games, such as GSN Casino, which you also helped create, so fun?
A: An online casino game is fast, fun entertainment that is easy to understand and play; it doesn’t require a lot of skill and delivers a sense of achievement. Games are multi-sensory, so it’s like being in a casino environment – you can hear success and see it, and get a positive and optimistic feeling. I want to deliver the ‘sweaty palm factor,’ where every pull of the slot machine makes you feel hopeful, because you never know what will happen next.

Q: How do you come up with new game ideas?
A: I’m one of those people who keeps a notebook beside their bed, and I have hundreds of pieces of paper with ideas jotted down. I can’t say what will spark a concept – it might be something I saw or heard on the radio or TV, or a dream I had.

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Q: Did you ever create a game that flopped?
A: Two to three years ago, we didn’t know how to take advantage of all the social channels, so we needed to ‘sunset’ the first version of Dumbville, because it didn’t catch on with players. In the re-release, we made it more dynamic and built it differently. In Dumbville, you tackle quirky questions and puzzles to rise through the ranks.

Q: Are you trying to create games that are addicting?
A: That’s not our objective with our titles – they are too lightweight to generate any sort of negative behavior. People tend to use our games as escapism, playing them in short three-to-five minute bursts. A lot of our target audience is women and moms who are multitasking, playing games while doing other things.

Q: How old were you when you created your first game?
A: I invented my first game when 5 or 6 years old, drawing it with crayons on a piece of cardboard. I still have it somewhere buried in my attic. It’s a standard roll-the-dice and move around the board, and involved winning lots of dollars every six or seven spaces. “Congratulations! You win a dollar.” My parents gushed over it before they saw that the main goal was to extract money from them.

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