SG Interactive: Social gaming developed in Cedar Falls

Conversations in the SG Interactive gaming studios are just different…

Are the balloons bouncy enough?

Are there enough balloons to make you feel happy?

Is there enough sparkle in the coins?

These questions and more are being asked in the Cedar Falls offices of SG (Scientific Games) Interactive. The office in Cedar Falls is the “social” division of Scientific Games which has as many as 800,000 daily active users across its platform and a constant presence among the top five casino mobile apps.

Justin McFarlane, Executive Producer of Jackpot Party Casino—a 2018 Prometheus Award Winner for Best Mobile App—said about 20 years ago three guys set out to develop first person shooter games from their Cedar Falls offices.

But with a team of only three and a competitive industry, they looked for gaps in the market.

“That’s when they looked at Slot Casino games,” McFarlane explained. “They looked at what was out there and saw an opportunity to do it better.”

The company was originally Phantom EFX and acquired by Williams Interactive in 2012 and then Scientific Games. The team in Cedar Falls is now part of the 500+ team of Scientific Games, who has offices on six continents and has developed some of the most recognizable titles on the market.

This is the first of a three-part series focusing on the gaming industry in Northeast Iowa.

Scientific Games
Scientific Games has hundreds of employees located inside their Cedar Falls offices. Photo courtesy of Scientific Games

Evolving from box product to mobile

It used to be gamers would get their games from brick and mortar stores like Wal-Mart or Target. Video game companies would spend nearly as much time designing the box as it would developing the game inside.

“Our whole focus was PC games at brick and mortar stores,” McFarlane explained. “That was our bread and butter. It was interesting to see how mobile development, those areas were carved out as side projects to see how it worked out. Just the growth of the industry and how mobile gaming just blew up.”

Destry Davison, General Manager of Studios, said as Facebook started to become more popular, SG Interactive became an early player in that market.

“Making the transition from box product to Facebook and eventually mobile, being an early market mover was huge for Jackpot Party as a game,” Davison says.

Davison says when games were considered “box products,” companies would focus more on the marketing aspect because once the game was shipped, it was gone.

“But in the Facebook world, you are constantly updating,” Davison says. “It’s an everliving product. You are constantly living and breathing it. It’s really been a crazy cycle for gaming over the last ten years.”

And being able to play online with or against friends and compete against a worldwide leaderboard has ushered in more challenges, but also tapped into a new market.

“It really opened up the female market,” Davison says.

How do you compete in such a competitive market?

With so many options and choices available to gamers, Davison stresses the importance of quality.

“It all comes down to a great game,” Davison says.

McFarlane said three years ago—because the mobile market didn’t have as much competition—a game could be launched and updated before going mainstream.

“Nowadays it is so costly, you have to make sure your game is ready to go,” McFarlane explained. “Maybe you slow roll it and test it but you want to make sure it’s polished and tuned up.”

Davison predicted mobile games in the future will have more individualized experiences that are custom to each player.

“Not just to drive the game but stuff that means something to the player when they play with friends or family,” Davison says.