Industry veteran J Allard has joined Intellivision as Global Managing Director for their upcoming Intellivision Amico console.
Industry veteran J Allard has joined Intellivision as Global Managing Director for their upcoming Intellivision Amico console. Allard is Microsoft’s former Chief Experience Officer and Chief Technology Officer of the Entertainment and Devices Division, he was instrumental in bringing Microsoft into the Internet age and was a founding member of many Microsoft businesses, including Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox Live and many others. In his new role at Intellivision Entertainment, Allard will provide invaluable insights to support the final development of Amico. And He told us more about it all in our interview.
In 1991, you joined Microsoft, where you worked on Windows and later on Xbox platforms. And now you’ve become the Global Managing Director at Intellivision. How has the gaming business changed over the years?
Video games, from the very outset, were designed around bringing people together. Heck, you couldn’t even place Spacewar! or Pong without a second player since there was no AI. Over the last four decades, technology improvements and the industry have pushed gaming towards an increasingly solitary experience in the quest for “realism.” While online has opened the doors for remote multiplayer experiences, it has contributed to the shift away from same-location play.
Along the way, the idea of bringing people together physically to enjoy gaming has largely been lost in the gaming world. The Amico team was founded by industry veterans committed to bringing back the fun of social play.
What was it about the Intellivision Amico console that made you decide to be a part of their team?
My greatest memories after four decades of playing games all involved playing together with people on a couch or at a location like an arcade or restaurant. I think the industry has really over-indexed on FPS games and has adopted a hyper-fixation on realism to the detriment of gamers and families. Resurrecting that in-person, live action fun factor is a quest that I passionately support.
The Amico team deeply believes in the idea that bringing people together through gameplay is still very much alive and there are a lot of ways to have fun without graphic violence, adult content or predatory business models. We’re creating digital playgrounds that are focused on fun. We’re not fixated on trying to recreate reality – we’re focused on building a great escape from it!
What is the target audience for Intellivision Amico?
Intellivision Amico is such a different type of console and our approach is therefore different from how most companies engage the market today. We want to help make video gaming accessible to more people, regardless of age or skill level. On that front, the casual gaming audience will find Amico engaging and intuitive to use. Further, given our mission to bring people together through shared gaming experiences, we are largely focusing on families for our target audience.
Console companies are focused on solitary or online multiplayer and push a lot of mature-rated content. The mobile world is dominated by free solitary games designed around advertising, loot crates and in-app purchases. And of course, there are billions of dollars being poured into the AR/VR/MR space that is focused on increasing immersion through headsets. That’s fine, but these are models that exclude so many people and fall short on in-person entertainment.
What has brought us all together at Intellivision creating Amico is that no company was focused on safe, family-friendly, affordable, multiplayer same-room gaming. Amico changes that entirely.
What types of games do you want to bring to Intellivision Amico?
Multi-player fun is the portfolio team’s primary focus across our game categories, which are Retro Reimagined, Original IP, Sports & Recreation, Dice/Board/Card/Casual, and Edutainment/Kids. We’ll be dusting off some of the classic Intellivision titles and gameplay with new modes and modern twists. We’ll have some original titles that utilize the unique features only available on Amico. Some popular games on mobile have approached us with ideas of how to translate their gameplay into fun multiplayer experiences and really take them to the next level on a TV screen. Some titles will be classic board and card style games, reimagined for the TV… and there might even be some games that can teach young ones through play in cooperation with their parents.
Regardless of the category a game falls under, the goal is intuitive, family-friendly fun that everyone can enjoy, regardless of skill level.
Can we expect any classic games from the original Intellivision on Intellivision Amico?
Absolutely. Several designers and programmers from the original Intellivision are actively working on the project or are consulting with us, and two of our five game categories are Original IP and Retro Reimagined.
Back in the 80’s, games were seriously restricted by the limitations of hardware. In many ways the constraints forced these early designers to focus on fun and gameplay mechanics to attract an audience with more than graphics and music. The gameplay mechanics of some of these classic titles truly are timeless.
Amico’s hardware and development tools relax a lot of the constraints that these designers were up against back in the day. We’re looking forward to giving these titles a visual makeover, some multi-player twists, new play modes and fun new ways to interact with our innovative controllers. I’m personally really looking forward to what these designers do when the constraints of early consoles are removed and we can follow through in the tradition that the classics began.
Do you think the console can grab the attention of today's mainstream player?
Honestly, the competition for Amico is not Xbox or Playstation or Switch. Those machines have their respective places in the gaming world and we’re not here to try to convince a hard-core gamer to switch to Amico. What we’re trying to do is help open up the gaming world to a broader audience, one that currently is left behind or left out of this space. Think of all the people who jumped in on the Wii over a decade ago and how much fun they would have on Amico now considering our goal to design and develop with their entertainment in mind!
Another point on grabbing attention, the answer would be yes, as long as we can get their noses out of their phones! Really, our competition is screen time. People (including kids) today spend so much solitary time on their phones and tablets, it’s staggering. We’re competing with personal screen time, streaming video services and social media far more than consoles with adult content.
We fundamentally believe that playing together is more fun than playing alone. We believe that the big screen experience still beats a phone. And, we think that scrolling through pictures of what other people are doing without you is boring compared to having a great time with your friends.
Two major new consoles from Sony and MS are coming out this year, Nintendo is still going strong with their Switch sales. And even though they’re not exactly your competition, aren't you afraid that the consoles will overshadow Amico and impact its success?
There are about 2.5B people that play games and only about a quarter of those own a console. That leaves about 5B people that don’t play videogames and 2B people who play that don’t have a console. Basically, the available market is bigger than all console businesses combined.
So, while Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are launching what will undoubtedly be products interesting to their existing customers, we’re aiming to launch one that’s interesting to everyone else.
You helped bring Windows to the age of the Internet and you also saw the birth of Xbox Live. Will you apply your rich experience to Intellivision Amico?
Absolutely. One of the biggest lessons I’m bringing is to make everything just simply work and to always make sure that our audience guides every decision.
When we started Xbox, I’d talk about wanting it to be an “appliance like” experience. Plug it in, turn it on, boot in under 10 seconds – just work. When we started Xbox Live, the idea was to extend the couch beyond the walls of the living room, to bring the retail experience home and make online gameplay simple.
Somewhere along the line, all of the console (and phone) companies have really lost sight of simplicity. I was setting up a Switch the other day from scratch and said to Brenda, “They sure have made it a lot of work to have fun.” And no, I still haven’t figured out parental controls – or why I need to setup online accounts from my laptop to buy games on my Switch.
The first word Tommy Tallarico (Intellivision CEO and President) and I talked about was “Simple” – it was a 60 minute conversation. Because simple is easy to say, but it’s really hard to do. And it is the top priority in everything we do. We want to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until every drop of “complexity” is gone and all we have left is “fun.” We have a lot of work left, and it will be continuing work, but we truly want to get as close to “Intellivision Simple” 1981 as we can. Turn it on and play.
What does a closed console system mean to you? Wouldn't it be better if the system was more open, which could bring more games or ports from other platforms?
Let’s talk about smartphones. Apple and Google have opted for a very “open” approach to third party applications. This serves them well, because if the average user downloads say 30 applications that they rely on, they are less apt to change to competing platforms. Sure, Apple takes a cut of those 30 applications, but the real win for them is you buying 3 more phones from them over the next 10 years (and headphones, and chargers, …). But a lot of problems come along with that. First, there’s a lot of low-quality content. On top of this, there’s a lot of problematic content (inappropriate, unrated, malicious). Getting past that, there’s too much content and it becomes difficult to find what you actually want. This clutter factor drives prices to zero. So, apps and games are forced to rely on in-app “upgrades,” advertising, or selling your data to make any money.
We think all of that is backwards. None of us like in-app purchases, advertising or our personal data being sold. So why would we copy that model? Why does everyone else?
We have created what we think is a quality-first, pro-developer business approach. Choose great concepts and great developers to work with. Empower them to make great family games that support multi-player and utilize the revolutionary Amico controller. Then let’s launch it together in our store and put a spotlight on it. We’ll both make some fair money together if we are successful in delivering fun to families.
Does the COVID-19 situation affect your release plans for the console and its games?
It affects everything and everyone, and it’s fair to say that understanding of the impact is changing every day. I could go on about supply chain, limited access or increased response time from partners. There’s the distraction factor of children at home, and the inefficiency of shifting from an in-office culture to a remote online one. But, these are the factors that nearly every business is confronted with and they are not unique to us. Like everyone, we’re managing the best we can and accepting that some of this is our new normal and we need to pace our efforts in light of this landscape.
There is something that I think is more profound emerging from this moment in history though. As we all talk to family, friends and partners during this crisis, one thing is clear – personal values and priorities are becoming clearer. People don’t just miss spending time with each other, they are realizing how much they value time together. People are realizing how much they value their leisure time with friends. Families, initially unsettled with the disruption of school and restaurant closures are enjoying dinners together as a family and are finding themselves seeking out shared entertainment experiences.
The crisis is absolutely having an incredible impact for everyone at team Amico…it’s reminding us daily just how important our mission is. People crave quality time, together, with friends and family. It’s at the core of our vision. So, while COVID-19 has made it more challenging for us to execute on, it’s only increased our commitment to succeed in the plans we laid out long before this pandemic.
Can you tell us what is the single best thing about Intellivision Amico?
The team. Tommy has carefully pieced together a team with an incredible breadth and depth of experience, brought together with a belief in the power of games to bring people together. We’re having a blast building this thing, playing and breaking this thing, and doing it together. If our customers feel half the fun we’re having when they play, we’re going to have a hit on our hands.
Thank you for the interview.