In his own words: Game developer Ben Hoffman
Name/title: Ben Hoffman, president, Crazy Tooth Studio
Number of years in this job: 3
Years in this profession: 7
Education: Bachelor of science degree in math with a minor in music from University of Nevada, Reno
Last book read: “Inside Steve’s Brain” by Leander Kahney
Favorite flick: “The Prestige”
What’s on your iPod: I listen to a lot of Goat Rodeo Sessions. It is sort of a folk-classical blend.
Spouse, kids or pets: My wife is Katie Hoffman, and we have two dogs.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Crazy Tooth Studios and your responsibilities.
Ben Hoffman: We are a multi-media studio with a focus on game development. We got started around the end of 2011. Our main practice is working on casino games, but we do other work too — we just released Urp!, an iOS game for the iPhone and iPad. As founder, you wear every hat, but even now, with six of us, we kind of work really hard to always continue that tradition of everyone is involved with every aspect of the business to some degree so they have the familiarity and know where their work fits into the context of what we do. A big part of my role as president is to make sure that everyone supplies input at all levels.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Hoffman: As a mathematician I was looking for work coming out of school and ended up at IGT for three years. It seemed a natural application of my math and gaming skills. I took some time away from IGT and took that time to develop a plan to start Crazy Tooth Studio. I wanted to create an environment where everyone’s work was free and outside of corporate politics and we could just focus on our work and be really productive and creative.
NNBW: What’s behind the name of your studio?
Hoffman: Crazy Tooth Studio was named after our dog Choco. The flagship game from our studio is Choco Choco. It is a slot machine based around him — right on the top of the screen is a picture of him. He has a snaggletooth, and originally we were Snaggletooth Studio, but we had some trademark issues, so we ended up as Crazy Tooth.
NNBW: So how was a video slot game based on your dog received in the market?
Hoffman: It did really well — there was a period in which it was the top-performing game in northern Nevada and California.
NNBW: What lessons did you learn from the creation and sale of that game that help you today when you develop new titles and look for new opportunity?
Hoffman: The uniqueness of that game really helped it. People didn’t think it was a real dog because he looked so funny. We have tried to continue that tradition of making our games really unique and stand out since the market is so saturated.
NNBW: Since the release of Choco Choco, how many other games has your studio released?
Hoffman: Two — one is another casino game, Golden Banjo, and the iOS game Urp! But we have delivered eight or nine more games to manufacturers.
NNBW: Is Crazy Tooth Studio going to become a household name within the gaming industry?
Hoffman: For land-based games, the manufacturer does all the engineering. We will make full prototypes of games and tell them exactly how it should work. We do all the content and the math and everything like that but the final code has to be written by the manufacturers because of licensing in casino gaming. You have to have a prohibitive amount of licensing for a small company to actually publish your own games. This year we should have about eight more coming out.
NNBW: What are the main challenges you have to overcome as a small studio?
Hoffman: Getting your foot in the door, but that’s where we had a little advantage from your average startup. I have developer connections in pretty much all the major companies. I also had a good reputation from IGT — some of my games were pretty good games and did well. But the most important thing is getting the right team together, and we have done a great job with that.
NNBW: How has your background as a mathematician helped you as a game developer?
Hoffman: Everyone in our studio actually has come into this industry from the side door. Being in the gaming industry, math is central, but having video games as a personal interest and being a mathematician, those two things really collided. Every element that goes into a casino game is very important, and the math is so important to make sure players are feeling like they are going to win and being able to win and get their entertainment value. Math plays a huge role in that.
NNBW: What will we see from your studio in 2014?
Hoffman: We are super excited to have released Urp! and one thing our casino customers will see is that we are going to be taking all the lessons we have learned, including the lessons we have learned outside of the industry, which is really where the industry is heading. It will be these mobile apps and fun social gaming and we will apply that to our casino games. We will continue to branch out into mobile apps and the mobile gaming sphere.
NNBW: iPhone or Android?
Hoffman: Both — I got an Android phone because we are all such Apple junkies and we are moving into mobile, so I wanted someone to check it out the Android side. I couldn’t convince anyone else to do it.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Hoffman: Stay 100 percent focused on creating quality. That’s the best chance you have.
NNBW: What’s the most fun you have had on the job?
Hoffman: All day every day we do different things. We are surrounded by games, so that is a lot of fun.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Hoffman: I worked on a farm in Alaska. I picked up sticks.
NNBW: What did you dream of doing when you were a kid?
Hoffman: Carpentry or engineering and building things.
NNBW: What can you do that someone else can’t?
Hoffman: One thing I bring to this group is sort of the culmination of a lot of things, like combining math, programming, art and sound. That’s helped accelerate the process of the group coming together.
NNBW: If you were able to retire right now, would you?
Hoffman: I think I would, but this is what I would be doing with my retirement, so no, not really.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Hoffman: A bunch of us are going to Hawaii — that is pretty good. I always end up working a lot on vacation. I’ll be bringing the computer.
NNBW: You grew up in Fairbanks — what do you miss most about Alaska, and what do you miss the least?
Hoffman: The absolutely vast wilderness. I grew up in Fairbanks, but I was 22 miles outside of it. Our backyard, I could go out in the woods and be miles away from anyone. The outdoors of Alaska is just so unique. What I miss least about it is the lack of tech opportunities. It would be nearly impossible to start a gaming company in Fairbanks.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada and what do you like most about working and living here?
Hoffman: I love Reno. I came here for school; there was an exchange program where we got in-state tuition. Reno is in a good place — it is sort of a juncture of a lot of stuff. We have a lot of California things happening, but we also have the Sierras, and Lake Tahoe is amazing. You have the history with Virginia City and the Gold Rush. It comes together in a neat, eclectic place to live.
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