Will Quick Hit Score Big? Behind the Scenes with Foxborough’s Newest Team

5/29/09Follow @wroush

There’s a company in Foxborough, MA, not two miles away from the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, where a crew of veteran online game developers is putting the finishing touches on a potentially groundbreaking new game about football.

Now, I can tell you all about why the venture-funded startup, Quick Hit, is likely to dazzle the sports gaming world with its genre-busting title when it debuts this fall. I can explain how it combines elements drawn from fantasy-driven role-playing games, online casual games, console games, and even TV sports. But I have to disclose something up front: I don’t know jack about football. I can’t tell you the difference between a wide receiver and a tight end, or between an offsides penalty and a yellow card. (Or is that soccer?) So please listen carefully while I explain what’s so interesting about Quick Hit—but when it comes to the football stuff, don’t ask me to vouch for the details.

The core team at Quick Hit—which, until January, was called Play Hard Sports—includes CEO Jeffrey Anderson, vice president of product Aatish Salvi, producer Geoff Scott, and general counsel Kelli O’Donnell, who all left Westwood, MA-based Turbine in 2008. Turbine is famous for building massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) based on the Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings brands. To play a Turbine game, you fork over $10 to $20 for the initial software download, plus a $10 per month subscription fee.

Quick Hit’s football game, which is in its beta-testing phase now and will be opened to the public on September 9, is a very different animal. It’s part of an emerging category of “lightweight games” that are less expensive, processor-intensive, and time-consuming than console games or MMORPGs, but more immersive, socially interactive, and graphically rich than online casual games like Bejeweled.

A few of Quick Hit's leading players. L to R: Geoff Scott (producer), Jeffrey Anderson (CEO), Brandon Justice (director of design)

A few of Quick Hit's leading players. L to R: Geoff Scott (producer), Jeffrey Anderson (CEO), Brandon Justice (director of design)

Anderson says he’d been thinking about the need to lower the cost barrier to gamers even before leaving Turbine. “I became concerned about what the future would hold for the MMORPG business,” he told me. “The price point moved a lot of consumers out of the space and made it difficult for the average or light gamer to get excited about what was going on.” But Anderson’s proposal to make Turbine’s future games free, and to turn to a combination of advertising and microtransactions for revenue, didn’t sit well with the company’s board.

So he and his small crew of believers started fresh, with a game that would have rich, high-quality interaction but a low enough price point (namely, zero) to be accessible to millions of people. To build it, they turned to Adobe’s browser-based Flash animation platform and desktop-based Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) environment. That’s the same technology underlying desktop programs like the popular Twitter clients Twhirl and Tweetdeck; it’s become the dominant way for companies to deliver “rich Internet applications” without requiring users to buy or install new software.

I got a preview of Quick Hit’s game during a visit with Anderson a couple of weeks ago. Quick Hit users–let’s call them team coaches—start out by assembling offensive and defensive lineups. (The company doesn’t have a license with the NFL, so the players and teams are entirely fictional.) Coaches then enter an online gaming lobby, where they can find other Quick Hit users to play against. Games last 20 to 25 minutes, with TV-style commercials between each quarter. Since the game is free, these ads will be one of Quick Hit’s primary revenue sources.

For each turn in the game, the coach controlling the ball picks an offensive play, and the coach on the other side of the line picks an appropriate defensive formation. (I’m skating on the very edge of my football knowledge here.) Once all the players are lined up, the software … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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