Z2Live Acquires Big Sandwich, Sees More Console Guys Going Mobile

2/23/12Follow @curtwoodward

If you wanted to illustrate the massive changes rippling through the video-game industry, you couldn’t do much better than Z2Live‘s acquisition of Vancouver, BC-based Big Sandwich Games.

As a standalone studio, Big Sandwich was mostly focused on games for the traditional at-home consoles like the PlayStation or Xbox. In that side of the business, a studio makes its game and hands the finished product off to a publisher. The publisher handles distribution, sales, and marketing, and the studio moves on to the next project.

“The failure or success of that game is something that you’re an unpaid, curious bystander to,” Z2Live CEO David Bluhm says. “That’s so violently different from our world, where that’s the day the whole game begins.”

Now, once a title is ready to ship, a mobile company like Z2Live can pull the trigger itself on iPhone or Android, and control its own destiny on distribution, sales, and marketing. This way, the game development company stays engaged in everything that comes after—finding more ways to earn money, add features, and respond to feedback from players.

That’s why Z2Live’s purchase of Big Sandwich is worth noting: Veterans of the established console and PC-gaming worlds flowing into the rapidly growing mobile and social side of the industry, where the rules are different and the story is still being written. The deal was announced today, with no details on the finances. Bluhm declined to elaborate on the price or particulars.

The Big Sandwich guys do have a couple of iPhone games listed on their site, but nothing on the scale of their big console hits. But Seattle-based Z2Live, which counts about 25 million users of its games and titles on the top-grossing lists for iOS devices, can add the mobile expertise needed to help the Big Sandwich team’s ideas flourish, Bluhm says.

“I think this is the beginning of a broad sea change where you’re going to see hundreds of these studios that have made their living off of other platforms move to mobile and social,” he says. “And so we’re interested in getting the best ones and getting them on our side.”

Big Sandwich will remain in Vancouver, giving Seattle-based Z2Live its first branch office in Canada, where a ton of talented game developers are already working. It’s critical to build more bridges between the talented studio scene in Vancouver and the entrepreneurial side in Seattle, Bluhm says.

“It’s hard to raise money up there, and they don’t have the legacy of an Amazon, a RealNetworks, a Microsoft, an Aldus,” he says. “So it’s opportunistic for us to go up there and provide that senior leadership, because the studio talent is immense. The guys that do production of art and game mechanics and design, and can manage studio projects and meet deadlines—it’s amazing.”

Z2Live is backed by investments from Madrona Venture Group and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. It originally started out as a platform company for mobile gaming, but made the switch to a full-on studio developing its own games in 2010. The company has about 80 employees, up from about 15 a year ago, and just moved into a new headquarters in downtown Seattle.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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