As the original creators of such online gaming phenomenons as Elf Bowling and Frogapult, Dan Ferguson and Mike Bielinski have pretty much been at the head table in the Flash gaming business for as long as there’s even been a Flash gaming business! Often referred to as the founders of the advergaming, or advertisement-based gaming, the two went on to form what is now the leader in a new revolution online – KewlBox Entertainment. Business has been growing strong for over a year now and they’re certainly not showing signs of slowing down any time soon!
Just Laugh’s Editor-in-Chief, Scott Sevener, had a chance over the last week to talk with Dan and Mike about gaming, success, and the upcoming holidays – these are their stories…
A few years ago, you guys created Elf Bowling, which is quite possibly the most popular online game of all time – what made Elf Bowling so successful?
Mike: I think several factors – one is timeliness. Creating a game that aims either in line with current events or in line with technology, such as with our experience, really boosted the game play. We created this game in November 1998 and everybody was just looking for a diversion – the holidays were coming and people really enjoyed playing it. I think the other thing is just off-the-wall humor…
Dan: …farting, nudity…
Mike: Yeah, blasphemic humor… I think for people to be able to play this at work, it was a little…the game is irrelevant, but I think people kind of thought that they were getting away with something, being able to play a game where you’re knocking down elves and they’re farting and there are blips of blood – but we didn’t cross the line. There was nothing in there that was overly vulgar. Basically, it was a feel good game, it was a fun game, and it was a simple game. People were looking for a diversion – most of the game play was during lunch-time (we were able to track when people were playing the game), so it was definitely an office-type game.
Did you guys have any idea what you were getting into when you started? Did you have any clue that it was going to be THAT big???
Dan: No, no, no!
Mike: We knew the potential of games and we had had other games that had done very well.
Dan: We did a game that kind of played on Clinton and the whole Monica Lewinski-thing, which went over big time – that was like our first big hit, so we knew that that was big and that had been fun, but when we did Elf Bowling, we wanted to at least do the same as our Bill Clinton stuff…and it went far beyond what we expected!
So what made you guys want to eventually leave nStorm and start up KewlBox?
Dan: Uhhh, we were greedy and we sold it… Yeah, we sold it and then about a week later we had sellers’ remorse – I think it was like twenty-four hours later that we had sellers’ remorse!
Out of all the games that you have created, what’s your favorite?
Dan: Other than Elf Bowling, we did a game called Braving the Elements – we did it for a client – and it’s a really dumb, little Mario-type game, but it’s really cute and it’s very simple. It’s like Grand Theft Auto, but it’s like one percent of what Grand Theft Auto is – you actually mill around in a little pixilated state. I think we’re going to try to do some more games like that…that was my favorite.
But if I’m remembering correctly, you can’t actually steal cars and kill people in Braving the Elements, can you?
Dan: No, you just collect phones… You’ve gotta collect stamps and mail a letter – pretty lame, actually!
Mike: And we just released one called Spank the Frank and that’s one of my personal favorites. It’s kind of getting back to our roots – off-the-wall and unpredictable…nobody would predict a game like that! No one’s ever done a game like that. Who ever heard of spanking penguins?
How did Anna make her way into that game?
Dan: She’s a slut!
Mike: I don’t know… She came in at the last minute – we felt that the game needed something else – the whole Spank the Frank and the whole sexual innuendo…what does that mean? And we thought that we needed a girl in there…
Dan: Yeah, it needed boobs.
Do you guys play other sorts of games in real life or do you pretty much just focus on your own genre?
Dan: Some of the other guys in the office do. We’re not necessarily purists, but we kind of stay away from all of these super, off-the-shelf games because we’re never going to be able to produce a game like that, so maybe we don’t torture ourselves! I mean, we’re all old – Mike and I are both in our thirties – and we grew up on the video games like Atari and playing in the 7-11 video parlor sort of thing. The games nowadays you can play for weeks, whereas our games are kinda like quick, turn-and-burn, get in there and have some fun then get out…but we do play Grand Theft Auto!
I think that’s what I always liked about your games – you can get into them and play for five minutes and you can just go back to worth when the boss comes without worrying about losing anything…
Mike: Exactly. We call it casual gaming. Our demographics are a lot different than conjugal gamers…
Do you have any other games besides Spank the Frank coming out for Christmas?
Dan: We’re working on two client games that will be coming out for Christmas, but we just finished doing Spank the Frank and re-doing Santa Balls 2 – we knocked those out back-to-back over a four to five week period and we kinda need a little break! We’re emotionally cashed by this point; I’m sure Mike’s getting that way…
Mike: …creatively and emotionally…
Dan: But we’re working on a big push for stuff to come out in January – more internal games. Spank the Frank and Santa Balls were internal games, they weren’t client games. We’re working to push out a game the first of January that will be an internal game; we’ve got two client games coming out over the next two to three weeks, we’re trying to push out another internal game in January, and then we’ve got two more client games to come out in January, too, so we’re really booked!
As I would imagine, you’re probably all glued to your computer for most of the day just like we are – what do you do on the computer besides work on the games?
Dan: I eat a lot.
Mike: It’s a real casual environment here – we’re listening to MP3s, cutting up, going out to lunch, but we get our work done.
Dan: We’re incredibly fast and efficient at getting these games done.
Mike: We’re workaholics…we don’t have lives! We tend to be pretty focused – if we’re not actually creating something for the company, we’re pretty much goofing off, but not on the computer.
Dan: Yeah, I mean I surf around, but it’s really weird. I go to a lot of websites, I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, but if I can’t absorb it and hit it, I don’t spend a lot of time on websites. I like to poke around – if it’s funny, I’ll get in there and get some fun out of it – I mostly look at humor sites or comedy sites…or the weird, grotesque, peculiar photo sites – just odd stuff. But I subscribe to a mailing list called Boing Boing that always has weird stories and such, but overall we’re a pretty mellow group…compared to what we used to be like!
What do you guys do in your spare time?
Dan: I’m married, with a dog. I’m building a house…and resting!
Mike: I’m not married. I have a son. I do yoga!
What CDs or MP3s are you guys listening to right now?
Dan: Are you serious?! From Johnny Cash to Devo to ABBA…the age group in our office is between the twenties and thirties, but we cover just about everything – we have about 9,000 tracks in our MP3 player. You name it, we’ve got it…
Mike: All obtained legally, of course! It’s very eclectic…
Dan: We play music here 24 hours a day. Our office is in a converted parking garage – it’s really neat. We ran speakers through the entire office, so when we have parties here…we used to have a party on the last Friday of every month, the big keg party at our office that would be like a big industry party, and we’d invite our clients and our competitors, people we’d hired or fired…so everyone would come down here and party and it would just be a real good time.
But lately, we’ve been really busy with business and it seems like we’ve been doing a lot more work than goofing off, but our office is so big, it could easily turn into a club at night!
Editor’s Note: I later obtained a copy of their actual playlist for that day…diverse or eccentric – you be the judge!
Badly Drawn Boy
Built to Spill
They Might Be Giants
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
VHS or Beta
Opera’s Greatest Drinking Songs
If you were stuck on a desert island, what five things would you want to take with you?
Dan: Dude, I hate questions like this!
Mike: A computer with Internet access…
Dan: …excellent, so we can get off!
Mike: …an intelligent, beautiful woman…maybe some suntan lotion?
Dan: I know what I’d bring – a string, a brick, a flashlight, some tweezers…and a stapler.
Mike: I’d probably bring some music, so I can listen to it.
Dan: …a bunch of food, and a Gilligan-type of generator…not much, I’d probably just run around naked…
Mike: …actually, instead of the woman, I’ll just bring Ginger fromGilligan’s Island!
Dan: And of course, I’d have to bring my wife!
Who would win in a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Queen of England?
Mike: Yeah, the T-Rex.
Dan: We’re going with the T-Rex. She doesn’t seem like much – I think I could bat her around a bit…
Mike: Dan’s about the size of a T-Rex…he’s a good-sized guy!
What do you guys want for Christmas?
Dan: Peace and world harmony.
Now that the obvious is out of the way, how about some toys?
Mike: I’ll take a Harley Davidson!
Dan: Yeah, I would too!
Mike: A new truck or an SUV – is that considered a toy?
Dan: Besides a PlayStation, one of the other games – we’ve already got a PS2 at the office. We play a lot of Medal of Honor, and we just got the new Grand Theft Auto (Vice City)…except one of the guys around here took it home and I just got it back last night, so I’m definitely going to be playing it this weekend. But you know, something older – like an Asteroids orBlasteroids stand-up machine. We’ve got a pinball machine here in the office, but that’s what I want for Christmas – an arcade game! That’s what I’d take with me on the island, too…
Any final comments you’d like to add?
Everybody play Spank the Frank and buy the upgrades, too. This time around, you get a money penguin which has either a dollar symbol or a Mercedes symbol wrapped around its neck and he’s worth a lot of points if you get to spank him. You also get a love penguin which gets you a life back when you hook up with her. You get to actually spank Santa Nicole and if you’re a power-player and you type in the letters PIE at the beginning of the game, all of the franks turn into Santa Nicole – the whole game is you getting to spank Santa Nicole all over the place! None of these features are available in the regular version, but a mere donation of your choice ($5 or more) nets you some great add-ons to the game and actually helps to pay for it and future releases, too!
Just Laugh magazine would like to thank Dan and Mike for taking the time to talk with us about their presence in the online gaming community and even their own personal lives! It goes without saying that as long as there are office workers with fifteen minutes to kill and a little bit of spare change to burn on some worthwhile entertainment, these guys will most definitely be on hand and ready with a hilariously bizarre new title to distract us from life for a while!
To check out their entire line of games and puzzles, bound to keep your life work-free for days on end, click on the link below the photo to visit the official KewlBox website…
KewlBox, by BlockDot
(left to right – Santa Nicole, Frank the Penguin, Oliver the Elf, Dan Ferguson, Jason McMinn, Mike Bielinski)