Raw Thrills’ New Games Run the Gamut
Storied Company Continues to Turn Heads With Diverse Game Catalog
by Casey Minter
They say bigger is better, and sometimes that may be true, but a good business like Raw Thrills knows that diversity is the true key to success.
The firm blasted into the headlines this summer with the release of Halo: Fireteam Raven, which company topper Eugene Jarvis thinks must be the largest video game ever built. Jarvis and his team are hardly ones for resting on their laurels, and that was apparent at this year’s IAAPA Expo.
The company brought their massive, four-player Halo, as well as a host of brand-new releases: the more economical and space-friendly two-player version of Halo, the next iteration of the company’s hit motorcycle racing franchise Super Bikes 3, and an innovative arcade reimagining of a top phone game Slither.io.
“It’s been a joy to be in the industry, now especially,” Jarvis said. “Games are better than I can ever remember, the amount of stuff we can put in, the earnings potential. I don’t know if it’s ever been better to be involved in the industry than today. A lot of our fellow manufacturers are doing some of their best work ever, and that only pushes us to do more.”
Jarvis says the idea for Halo grew out of the simple in-office love for the franchise. As they began pursuing the idea, Jarvis and the team started to think about the potentials of bringing such a beloved franchise to the arcade, and soon the budget was thrown out the window in a mad dash to make something awesome. The developers knew they wanted it to accommodate four players, but also wanted to stay true to the cooperative, playing-together spirit of the game.
Soon, the project took on a life of its own, organically evolving from sketch to sketch until the final product looked more like a spaceship from the franchise than an arcade game. With a world so consumed by stimulus, Jarvis didn’t necessarily see this wild growth as a bad thing.
“You have all these mobile games in people’s pockets, consoles and PCs in their homes. It’s hard to compete as an arcade company. But what we can do, which no one else can, is go big!” he said. “If you can’t compete with a 5” screen in someone’s pocket, make a 130” screen.”
Though the final product grew and grew, it also fit into the arcade industry in a time where manufacturers and buyers are obsessed with big, flashy machines. Jarvis attributes this infatuation with the growth of the FEC industry, and that available real estate allows for bigger and bigger games with a concerted effort by manufacturers to serve this demand.
Benchmark’s Monster Drop game was the first in this new line of massive machines, and it debuted to a chorus of “wows” that continues today, Jarvis recalled. Amazement isn’t the only thing driving the trend. Resulting sales are keeping it humming along. Upon announcing Halo, Raw Thrills immediately made a huge sale: Currently, every Dave & Buster’s in the country (over 120 locations) has a full-size Halo: Fireteam Raven. Jarvis said many other FECs followed suit.
While large-scale games certainly grab the attention of developers and sales execs, that doesn’t mean a good company can ignore the rest of it.
“We had planned to release the two-player from the get go, but we’ve honestly been shocked by how well the large version has been received. We thought no one would be insane enough to buy this, but were pleasantly surprised by the response,” Jarvis said. “The two-player represents a return to our core philosophy, ‘Give the operators what they want.’”
Players and operators nationwide aren’t the only ones impressed by the game, with Jarvis saying that their partners at 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios were ecstatic upon seeing the final product.
“You have to see it to believe it, and we were very excited to show it off to the global industry at IAAPA for the first time,” he said.
At IAAPA, Raw Thrills flexed its game design muscles with other pieces. Among them was Super Bikes 3, which builds off the known success of the company’s tactile, physical motorcycle racing series with players leaning from side to side as they take turns, artificial wind blowing in their hair. The game features five new tracks and eight different, tricked-out bikes to choose from, as well as an impressive, redesigned cabinet and motorcycle.
“We’ve really embraced this franchise, because it builds off another thing unique to arcades: the physical aspect. It’s great to see kids leaning back and forth and really getting into the game. That’s something they’ll never have on their phones. The air is blowing on your face and you start to feel like you’re really out there on the road, driving like only maniacs do in real life,” Jarvis said.
The company’s final new release melds the most popular form of gaming (mobile) and the oldest. Slither.io builds off a massively popular browser and mobile game of the same name. The browser version ranked as one of the top 1,000 most visited websites in 2016, while the app version topped the App Store at number one for months after its release.
“It’s the latest iteration of a game a lot of us know. I know my kids are addicted to it, and I’m excited to show them this version,” Jarvis said. “You might talk to some older people who won’t know the game, but a lot of the younger crowd will be excited to see it in the arcade.”
Raw Thrills’ version of the game tasks three players with surviving in a hostile, Darwinian environment. Players start out as a small, short snake (or worm, depending on which side of yet another odd Internet argument you fall on) and must slither around the world in search of prey smaller than them. As they munch their way into a bigger and bigger creature, their power grows but they also become more of a target. It has a simple interface with relatively few controls, a brightly colored cabinet and is a ticket redemption game, adding a new competitive aspect.
“It’s pretty hard to get people to stop playing after they’ve started,” Jarvis said.
As the IAAPA show wound down, Jarvis and his team certainly took a break (we hope!), but in this industry, resting is difficult. To stay on top, manufacturers like Raw Thrills have to essentially scrap and rebuild their entire product line every few years. Gears are turning constantly in the minds of their team with new trends to tap and new games to build. After all is said and done, Jarvis (who’s been at the head of multitudes of iconic games for decades) is clear on why he’s remained in this “coin-op” business for so long.
“I’ve stuck with this industry because it lets me do what I want. I love to really be able to customize the experience, not have to compromise and build for a keyboard or controller, or a specific kind of screen. In our industry, players get to experience it exactly how you wanted them to,” he concluded. “The instant feedback is so rewarding. There are a lot of game developers out there who spend years working behind a screen, and even if their game sells well, they may never see people enjoy it.
“I’m privileged to be a part of an industry where we get to stay children, prolong our adolescence and pretend we’re kids again. And bring families together as we do that,” he concluded.
For more information on Raw Thrills, visit www.rawthrills.com.