MTV Exec Talks Bruckheimer, Future Of MTV Games – ‘We’re making some big bets’

Over at and on this very blog, we’re reporting on the just-announced deal between MTV Games and “CSI”/”Pirates of the Caribbean” producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The multi-year partnership has been established to create some original video games.

But what in the world is MTV Games doing with Jerry Bruckheimer?

I was given a chance to interview Bruckheimer and the main guy behind the deal at MTV, Jeff Yapp, to find out more.

In this post, I’m presenting my chat with Yapp, a man I share a floor with at the MTV offices, but with whom I don’t share secrets. I asked him some of the questions I think anyone would ask, such as:

  • Why would MTV Games land Bruckheimer and not a bigger games publisher like EA or Activision?
  • Does signing a deal with Bruckheimer hurt any indie gaming cred MTV gained by buying Harmonix?
  • Did it matter to MTV whether Bruckheimer knows anything about games?
  • And given that this is a Bruckheimer deal, is this only a guy thing?

Yapp’s answers to those questions and more follow below. Here’s an excerpt:

Multiplayer: So eventually [MTV Games will be] a player out there to contend with the Activisions and the EAs?

Yapp: I already think we are. [laughs] How’s that for arrogance? We think we got a great team. Our first step was amazing with Harmonix. But we think when you’ve married MTV and gaming with a connection to the audience, I think that’s a really powerful combination.

There’s more after the jump. And see another post for my full Bruckheimer chat.

Multiplayer: Does this deal based on working on a certain number of games with Jerry Bruckheimer or working with him for a certain amount of time?

Jeff Yapp, MTV Executive Vice President of Program Enterprises: It’s based on time and the time is pretty significant.

Multiplayer: Is there a timeframe for when the first game will come out?

Yapp: If you look at traditional gaming you’d say 18 months to two years if everything was perfect. But the point I’ve been making to everyone else is that this is really not just about traditional gaming. You know what we’ve been doing with virtual space, you know what we’re doing in mobile. You know we’ve been doing digital. I think the point that sticks out for Jerry and I is actually if you look at a new form of entertainment that links all of those forms of entertainment together. If that happens, and that idea is there, we can be out much faster.

Multiplayer: I think people are going to be wondering, Steven Spielberg goes to EA and John Woo does stuff with Midway. They work with these more established companies. Here’s a name in the same stratosphere as those guys and he’s going with MTV Games, which is not nearly as well-known a games publisher. So I’m wondering how you were even able to secure him?

Yapp: I think it’s as simple as this. If you look at people who understand this kind of audience, 12-24. And if you said, “In the television business, there’s not a lot better than MTV.” If you looked in the film business you’d say “There’s not a lot better than Jerry Bruckheimer.” If you put those two together, that’s what I think is interesting for both of us. We have a lot of creative strength. He has enormous creative strength. And I think that’s what brought us together.

It’s not that either one of us was really strong in the game experience. We can hire that, as we’ve just shown. The issue is: do we understand our audience in a way that we bring insight to each other? Jerry fundamentally believes that. And we believe that about Jerry.

Multiplayer: How are these game development studios going to be chosen?

Yapp: We’re going to jointly choose those together.

Multiplayer: And it could be studios MTV owns or external ones?

Yapp: My thing is, what we’ve really tried to set up is: go for best of class. And I think any development studio looking at Jerry and MTV together, that’s a pretty attractive combination.

Multiplayer: Does [Harmonix co-founder] Alex Rigopulos get first crack?

Yapp: [laughs] You know, it depends on what we’re thinking about. If we’re in the space that he’s best at, absolutely we’d love to see him do it.

Multiplayer: As you said earlier, demographically this makes all the sense in the world. I think one of the things that surprised people about MTV’s acquisition of Harmonix was that they were kind of a darling of real hardcore gamers. They were championed as an indie success story. And Jerry Bruckheimer Productions comes from the opposite end.

MTV built up a lot of indie cred with getting Harmonix. How do you think now working with Bruckheimer affects the reputation of MTV Games? And are you worried that it could have any negative affects with people who were thinking MTV Games was more of an indie-spirited operation?

Yapp: Think about it. Harmonix’s indie cred came over, what? Nine years of pounding granite, but today if you look at the success of something like Rock Band — we’ve clearly moved into the mainstream of gaming — we bet that that was going to happen. I think with Jerry, Jerry has a proven ability amongst those people, even among those indie gamers, to tell incredible stories with a completely different perspective.

If you look at some of the best games, they actually give the audience a different experience for the audience than they had before. That’s what makes a game so compelling. So I actually think the audience is going to see this really strongly as a positive.

Multiplayer: Was this really important to you that this is all original content? That this wasn’t a way to attach him to sequels of big movie franchises?

Yapp: Hugely important to us. I may be stupid to say this but it was not of interest to us [to work with him on video game spin-offs of his movies]. We actually think we’re going to be far better off pushing the envelope.

Multiplayer: Unlike the Harmonix acquisition, this is not at all a signal of more music games, right?

Yapp: I don’t think there’s any restriction. All you have to do is look at Jerry’s innate interests — which doesn’t mean he’s not interested in music, he is — but that’s not been where his greatest successes are.

Multiplayer: When you’re saying the types of platforms this could appear on? This could be anything from a console gaming relationship to a PC one. This runs the gamut for you?

Yapp: Absolutely , to one the incorporates linear television, digital and mobile.

Multiplayer: And how did this idea come about? Is this you getting on the phone one day with a bright idea, calling somebody?

Yapp: It was generally known in the market that Jerry was interested in the games space. And we made a contact through his people and then he and I got together.

Multiplayer: What do you think got you to connect with him?

Yapp: I think he has a lot of respect for our company on the creative side and our audience. He’s very proud of the movie awards he won from us. He’s always been a big fan of MTV’s.

Multiplayer: How did you get a gauge on his understanding of video games? It’s kind of cliché that big Hollywood people get involved in video games and you then find out they don’t know that much.

Yapp: I didn’t care … what I wanted was his ability to tell a story that uniquely connects to an audience and now to give him a new set of tools, which is the interactive set of tools that he has not had the opportunity to play with yet. Someone said to me that before he came to television he was largely a film guy and film guys go to TV and very few of them succeed. Well, Jerry, clearly succeeded there.

Multiplayer: Where is the filer in this relationship to make sure that what’s actually getting made really works for video games?

Yapp: We have a very distinctly defined approval process of what gets greenlit and what doesn’t get greenlit. And we will have a group of people that work in the studio. I think we have a pick of some of the best talent in the game business today.

Multiplayer: And you said 12-24. Do you think the most potential here is for guys or for girls?

Yapp: The holy grail in gaming is to get a game that appeals to male and female like we’ve done in music. We’d be stupid not to start there.

Multiplayer: OK. Because some people associate Bruckheimer with more guy things.

Yapp: Yeah, he’s not thinking like that. He understands we want to redefine the game here, and to do that, clearly involves both men and women.

Multiplayer: And what does this say as far as MTV Games goes? Because I think a lot of people may have gone through a few phases of understanding what MTV Games is. First there was: “Okay, that’s the group that turns MTV TV shows like ’Pimp My Ride’ into video games.” Then: “Okay, these are the guys that are doing this very aggressive music-game-related thing.” Now what do you think people should be thinking of MTV Games?

Yapp: Hopefully what they’re thinking is: “These guys are pushing the envelope in pretty big ways.” Not lots of little projects. We’re making some big bets.

Multiplayer: So eventually a player out there to contend with the Activisions and the EAs?

Yapp: I already think we are. [laughs] How’s that for arrogance? We think we got a great team. Our first step was amazing with Harmonix. But we think when you’ve married MTV and gaming with a connection to the audience, I think that’s a really powerful combination.