The Jackbox Party Pack 10 - The PAX AUS Interview
My group of friends are idiots. I say this with love, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that the people I call my nearest and dearest are just…idiots. And the one person in the group who isn’t an idiot doesn’t play games. So what do you play when your friends consist of agents of chaos, dad joke enthusiasts, your not-so-hilarious little brother and a lawyer?
You play Jackbox.
At PAX 2023 I had the opportunity to chat with the CEO of Jackbox Games, Mark Bilder and CTO, Evan Jacover. And the first thing I wanted to find out was all about the history and inspiration behind these popular party games.
Jackbox Games first started in 1989 (though it had a different name back then) as an educational film company. Then it focused on educational video games before finally working on mass-market video games. On their history, Evan says: You Don’t Know Jack in the 90s was the game that put us on the map as a game company, but when the CD-ROM market fizzled out that company became dormant for a number of years. And then it was kind of-
Mark: Rebirthed. Restarted
Mark: God! Yeah, right. That’s the word we were looking for
Evan: Much better than rebirthed. NOTE TO JENN: Do not say rebirthed
(Author’s Note: Jenn did not listen)
In 2008 the company made another version of You Don’t Know Jack, as well as venturing into some mobile and Facebook games. This evolution led to the company trying out the idea of using a phone as a controller – so that people could all play in the same room.
Mark: We realised that nobody was going to buy a bunch of controllers so they could play this game with their friends. So we made an app but that added friction because they had to download it. So that’s how the web-based controller that you use your phone for now came to be. Anybody can join and play, you can be on any phone, any browser.
We had a game called Fibbage… and we saw some success with it so we decided to make a pack of games. We added 4 more games and called it a Party Pack. That allowed us to be really creative and come up with a whole lot of games where you’re put in the spotlight to be funny. And we’ve been doing that ever since.
In 2020 when the world shut down, Jackbox Games was what kept my friend group connected. Over the weekends we’d connect our laptops to our televisions, grab snacks and play Jackbox all together for hours. The Party Packs offer so many different varieties of casual games that we were able to find an abundance of different ones that even the most inexperienced gamers could wrap their heads around. Once we knew what we were doing, we proceeded to play these games in the most debaucherous ways possible. So I had to ask the Jackbox team, do they see this often? And are they ever surprised by the depraved things that people come up with?
Evan: No. That’s not surprising. I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised at that. But there have been times where we’ve watched people play and we’ve been surprised at how they play. We watched someone on Twitch playing Word Spud, but they had an announcer and they were treating it very seriously, like a sports broadcast. And it was just so goofy but it was so funny to watch. Another good example is when the first Fibbage came out and people were streaming and playing with their audience. [The streamers] were engaging with them like they’re in the game, which gives the audience a real connection with the streamer – which is really what they all want.
Jenn: There are so many lies in Fibbage where we get surprised it’s not the truth, that has been done really well
Mark: There’s a moment in that game where the host actually reveals why it’s not the truth – but people are usually laughing and talking and so nobody hears it half the time
Evan: One of the things I noticed about Fibbage is that there’s a lot of Fibbage questions about Australia
Mark: Some weird facts I guess
Jenn: I don’t know what you’re trying to say
Evan: I’m just stating an observation with no commentary
On Fibbage, Mark goes on to mention that it’s actually his favourite of the games they’ve created. “It’s pretty great. It started what we’re doing with the Party Pack franchise. And it’s one that I’m decent at – I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but I can get people to believe my lies sometimes. I like some of the games in the new pack; there’s one called FixyText which is a group text editing [game]- so if you’ve ever been in a Google Doc with multiple people at the same time and people troll each other’s comments-
Jenn: That’s all I do in Google Docs
Evan: That’s the first thing Mark does
Mark: It is. I’m notorious for it. And now we turned that mechanic into a game!
Evan: I like Drawful, and I think Drawful 2 is one of the best games we’ve made. One of my favourite games to play at something like PAX is a game called Quixort – where you have to sort a group of items in some sort of order. So you have to put all the Dr Who’s in order or something. It’s so funny when people screw it up.
With Jackbox Party Pack 10 coming out soon (October 19th), I wanted to find out what we could expect from this latest game.
Mark: It’s another 5 pack of games: there’s one sequel so if you’re a fan of Tee-K.O.-
Jenn: *tries and fails to suppress her excitement*
Mark: Sounds like you know it. It’s a fan favourite and one of the most requested sequels and we finally did one. There’s different shirts now, you can do tank tops and sweatshirts.
Evan: There’s new fonts, new colours
Mark: And a different final round. If you like [the old one] you’ll like this. And it’s a neat one because it celebrates 10 years of Jackbox, so there’s a lot of our characters in that game that you can play as with your avatar; it’s pretty neat.
Evan: There’s a really fun feature where you can remix a shirt that someone else made, so you can edit a drawing that someone else made which will go into the next round. So you get a lot of callback jokes that work well.
Mark: FixyText, that Google Docs experience, is in this one. It’s very fun. Do-Do-Re-Mi is a music game, our first rhythm-based music game and you can have a tonne of people playing together. And your phones will emit the sound of your instrument while you’re playing. So if you’re in a room [together] you’ll get a bunch of crazy noises all at the same time. And then it kind of mixes together everybody’s performance and plays it back.
Jenn: That’s going to sound awful, I can’t wait
Mark: A lot of times it’s awful, yeah. And then depending on how well you did you either succeed or get eaten by a carnivorous plant
Jenn: Because of course you do
Evan: You’re also a bird. Now it makes sense.
(Author’s Note: does it?)
Mark: Hynotorious is a hidden identity game where you’re trying to figure out what group you fit into. And there are two distinct groups that you could be in, but there’s also an outlier who doesn’t fit in at all. So not only are you trying to figure out what group you fit in (by talking and answering prompts), but you’re also trying to figure out if you’re the outlier, or who the outlier is. It’s a neat conversational game for people in a room. And then there’s Timejinx, a time-based time travelling trivia game.
With Tee K.O. getting a sequel (insert squeals of joy), and Drawful 2 being one of Evan’s favourite games, I had to pry into the minds of Mark & Evan to find out how they determine what gets a sequel and what doesn’t. And as it turns out, it’s largely determined by us, their loving, doting community of fans.
Mark: It’s led by our fans; what’s being played, what’s most popular, what haven’t we revisited in a while. What content has expired where we know that there’s an appetite for more. A lot of it is driven by usage and popularity and what the fans want. And then if it’s one that aligns with what we’re excited to do or what we want to do, we go back to ‘What did we cut from it last time, what cool new features can we add or how can we fix something that maybe wasn’t perfect last time’? It’s nice to give those sequel treatments to the popular games because they end up becoming better games.
Jenn: Speaking of ‘fixing something that wasn’t perfect’ you mentioned that Tee.K.O. is getting a new final round – why is that?
Mark: The last game [in the last round] the same shirt could always win, so you’d see the same shirt all the time. And it just didn’t always seem fair because of that. [In the new final round] it has a tap mechanic, so you just keep tapping as much as you can, and whichever gets the most taps wins. It’s a little more frantic, seems a little more fair.
Jackbox Party Pack 10 seems like it’s packed with winning games; something that’s sure to please everybody. But everybody makes mistakes, and not everything can be a hit. I wanted to find out what games weren’t as successful getting over the line, and whether or not the team at Jackbox had ever had to scrap anything they’ve been developing.
Mark: I can’t think of a game that we’ve green-lit and then killed, but there have been games that have been pitched and prototyped as one thing, but what we shipped was pretty drastically different from what we green-lit.
Evan: A lot of times we don’t see a game until a couple of months before it’s done. So there’s a lot like…the team working on it has an idea in their head and believes the game is going to get where it needs to get. And sometimes there’s not that and it’s like ‘this isn’t working’. So there have been a handful of games where we’ve had to take a huge step back and redesign a core element of.
Mark: There’s also been a few that have gone the other way. The expectation of it was that the game was real simple and small and then it became one of the best games we’ve ever made – and we never imagined it was going to turn into this. We always try to predict what’s going to be the hit game of this pack and we’re always wrong. It’s never what you think it’s going to be – and that’s great!
Finally, with game names like ‘Quiplash’, ‘Quixort’ and ‘FixyTaxi, my last burning question was ‘where the heck do you come up with these names?’
Mark: I wish we had a formula. But it’s a lot of giant Slack threads. Some of the best ones are where we make the word up like ‘Fibbage’. But then reviews will come out and there’ll be a reporter and they’re like “Fibb-arge” or “Fibb-arj-ay”. So, you know. There’s a plus and a minus of making names up.
Evan: A lot of times it becomes making jokes about names or poking fun at people’s bad names, and it goes so far off the rails it’s like “What were we doing again?”
Mark: We were coming up with names for the game
Evan: Oh right
Mark: Let’s get back to what we were doing
I had so much fun being able to chat with Mark and Evan about Jackbox Games – almost as much fun as I’m sure to have when their new game comes out on October 19th. Can’t wait another week? Why not check out Jackbox Games other party packs, available on pretty much everything.