Interview with Aaron Schurman, CEO of Phantom Efx

Software developer and publisher Phantom Efx is well-known for their success in the gambling PC game market thanks to their Reel Deal series of casino-themed MMOs, and for their first-person shooter in development, Darkest of Days. We had the opportunity to ask Phantom Efx CEO Aaron Schurman about the new installments of the Reel Deal series being released later this year and about his experience with these games and his vision for the future of Phantom Efx.

 

Question: Your 2007 casino game, Ghost Town, broke a record for being the first casino/card title that has ranked in the top ten best selling PC titles of any category for two weeks in a row, according to NPD Group. What challenges have you faced in handling this explosive growth?

It certainly has been a challenge, but one that we welcome with open arms. It definitely changed the interest level from various companies looking try various marketing items with us. Also, it has gotten us into some interesting new verticals within Phantom EFX, everything from foreign country lottery solutions to possibly publishing some other development house’s content.


What upgrades in the game play, realism, and graphics do you have planned for the 2008 casino and slot titles?

The 2008 casino will be the biggest jump forward in our history in terms of technology and realism. We are making the jump to a fully 3-D casino, and done right, too! You can explore a massive casino, about as big as five large Las Vegas styled casinos combined. This facility has everything from race tracks, to sports books, to thousands and thousands of slots – even a gaming university. We are increasing our resolution in which the games will be played and adding incredibly cool avatars to the game. You will be able to create your avatar and actually see the other people/avatars against whom you are playing. It’s a whole new Phantom EFX Universe this fall!


Will the new games begin a new series that will follow the traditions we are used to, such as new releases annually that work together online and monthly download slots? Or do you have other plans for the new games?

The new games this year will work together with the previous titles, meaning the slot game will interface with the Casino game to construct one massive casino. There will be two slots a month offered this year – one brand new slot and an old classic machine ’ReMastered’ with fresh game-play and graphics each month. Customers will be happy to know that a lot of slots they already have in the 2007 casino will be there waiting for them in the 2008 casino world.

Your casino games attract a very diverse customer base, more so than many other games out there. How do you handle the challenge of keeping such a broad customer base coming back?

For me, it’s pretty simple – it’s all in the design. There truly is something in the game for everyone. On the slot side, we make feminine themed slots, more “manly” ones, free spins slots, bonus slots, complex and simple slots, slots that get you pumped up, slots that make you relax – about everything anyone could want. On the casino side of things, we stay current with the hottest trends – working closely with game developers such as Shuffle Master to bring the customers the latest casino games. Also, we do something new every year, such as the Sports Book and Race Book that we added in 2007. You can already bet on about anything you can imagine within the Phantom EFX universe and adding new sports such as Nascar, Golf, and other sports will add new betting and learning opportunities.


You come up with fresh ideas for your download slots month after month. Where do you get your inspiration?

This is what I love to do, so coming up with ideas never gets too difficult. Hand me a fork and I can think of a way to turn it into a slot. Hmmm, actually, I have an idea now – thanks!

One of the things that sets your company apart from the competition is your personal connection with customers, in particular your active participation on the forum and in-game chat window. In what ways has this had a positive impact on your company and your games, and have there been any drawbacks?

No drawbacks actually, it teaches us things – though offering a high level of service sets an expectation that creates demands from time to time from customers. We love the challenge in meeting people’s needs and learning from each person with whom we interact. Some CEOs don’t interact with customers, but our customers are our livelihood and I think it’s important as a CEO to have that personal level of interaction. No one at Phantom is too “high level” to get in there and talk to customers – it is something we all do.


I understand that you have slot designs that are now available in real brick and mortar casinos. How did you break into this market, and do you have further plans to try and get more of your slot designs in actual casinos?

We broke into this market two years ago by making some slot machines that sold in South American and European casinos. We learned all we could through going that route and are putting together plans for our next step into getting Phantom EFX-styled games into U.S. Casinos. We are currently making more slots for out-of-U.S. casinos as well, as they are being very well received. With the last company with which we fulfilled a contract, we created eight of their top 10 slots they had developed, with some of those pulling in numbers at local casinos that rank with the biggest players in the market.


You are breaking out into a new genre with the first person shooter you are working on, Darkest of Days. Do you plan to tackle more different genres in the future, and what markets would you like to target with your new games?

We are open to any genre. In really boils down to the fact that the other owners of Phantom EFX and I are true gamers, so if we like something, we may move forward with it. The FPS concept is one we had bubbling up in our heads ever since we started, so we really wanted to get that title made – and it’s truly amazing! I can’t wait to see the consumers’ reactions when they play this, it truly has a unique feel to it different from other FPS games available.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us about any of the new games you are working on?

We realize that, in order to stay No. 1, we need to be agile and keep things fresh. Everyone will be very pleased with the leap we are going to make this year. We have watched our online universe grow for three years and have taken all that knowledge, combined with millions of user requests, and put them all together to make the most amazing experience ever. 2008 is going to be an exciting year for Phantom EFX!

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