Jackbox Games Benefits From Retro-Style Party Games in Pandemic
(Bloomberg) -- Jackbox Games Inc. is seeing a surge in users as its modern twist on retro-style family game night has filled a void brought about by social distancing rules.
With Covid-19 restrictions prohibiting trivia night at bars or generational gatherings for Monopoly marathons, Jackbox is seeing more people turn to its computer-based games designed for large groups of people. Thanks to new titles and stay-at-home orders, the company just had its best year ever and is on track to double the number of players to 200 million by the end of the year.
“There was a big explosion back in March, April, May,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Bilder said in a recent interview. “It has leveled back down. But it has leveled back down at a state that’s significantly higher than it typically would be year after year.”
The closely held, Chicago-based company made a name for itself in the 1990s with a series of irreverent computer games called You Don’t Know Jack that sold millions of copies and taught pop culture and random history facts to kids across the world. The brand faded as it was surpassed by flashier video games and fell into a slump.
Now the company is enjoying revived popularity stemming from the fact that all of Jackbox’s games can be easily played on video calls like Zoom or Google Hangouts, which has made it easy for more people to participate. Video game sales have boomed during the pandemic, as people stuck at home have turned to building villages in Nintendo Co.’s Animal Crossing and fighting off zombies in Sony Corp.’s The Last of Us Part II. Socializing and education is happening in games too, with children turning to online video game platform Roblox Corp. for virtual lessons and playdates. But few games have reached as many people as the Jackbox Party Pack games, which have become the virtual equivalent of the cocktail hour for bored adults looking to get together with a bunch of friends -- no masks required.
Jackbox’s Party Packs are compilations that include games like Fibbage, in which players bluff friends with fake trivia answers, and Quiplash, where players write joke responses to increasingly bizarre prompts. The most recent collection, Jackbox Party Pack 7, was released last week and is available on phones, computers and game consoles. It’s off to a fast start, notching five times the day-one sales of last year’s Jackbox Party Pack 6, Bilder said. During the initial months of lockdown, Jackbox saw total sales leap by as much as 1,000% from last year.
Jackbox’s user numbers don’t equate directly to sales, since people can play the games without owning them. Often one person will host the game on their own computer screen and share it across a video conference with a group of friends. Jackbox games are also popular on Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch streaming service, where top streamers and even celebrities will play games for audiences of thousands, all of whom can participate by voting on the outcome.
It’s been a long journey for Bilder. The company originally started as an educational company called Learn Television Inc. in 1989 and then rebranded to Jellyvision Games Inc. in 1995 as You Don’t Know Jack grew popular. Six years later, faced with a mass exodus of players from computer games to video game consoles, Jellyvision struggled to keep up and closed. Bilder helped relaunch the company in 2008, briefly bringing back You Don’t Know Jack before re-branding again to Jackbox Games in 2013 and finding success with games like Fibbage.
Since 2014, Jackbox has released a new compilation every year. The latest has been received well by fans, especially an updated version of Quiplash that improves upon previous iterations with a stronger final round. Talking Points, an improvisation game in which players must each give a presentation based on slides sent to them by another player, is also popular.
Despite its newfound success, Jackbox still hasn’t found a viral hit such as this year’s popular Fall Guys, developed by Mediatonic Ltd. and published by Devolver Digital, in which 60 players battle through party mini-games. Bilder wouldn’t give out specific sales numbers, but on digital game distribution service Steam’s current top-sellers list, Jackbox Party Pack 7 ranks below Among Us, another party game by developer InnerSloth that’s gone viral.
Jackbox aims to appeal to players through consistency rather than virality. Bilder said the company is happy with its progress but also wants to try new things, experiment with stand-alone games and take on other ambitious ideas in the future -- games that might take longer than the yearly compilation packs will allow.
“There’s something nice about staying small and nimble,” Bilder said. “But we do have concepts that come out year to year that can’t be built in a year. That’s definitely a longer-term plan for us.”
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.