College football games are nothing new to the video game scene, so how do you take a tried and true genre and make it fresh? Just ask Nerjyzed Entertainment. The African-American owned game developer will release its first title, Black College Football: The Xperience, on Aug. 24.
Based on a 2007 PC game, the college football title highlights what Saturday afternoons in the fall are like at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country — it doesn’t hurt that the game has the co-sign of former HBCU quarterback-turned-Superbowl MVP Doug Williams either. I recently spoke with Nerjyzed (pronounced Energized) CEO and co-founder Jacqueline S. Beauchamp about the title, the direction of her company and stereotyping in the gaming industry.
Tell me a little bit about Nerjyzed. How did you get started?
Jacqueline Beauchamp: There were very few African-American video game developers that were developing for consoles, and especially for next-gen consoles. And I’d heard from a number of individuals, especially those that are in the urban market segment, were just looking for a different type of content. We felt two things. One: it was a great opportunity for the creation of a new company to go off and do that with that as their sole primary mission. And then two: the diversity aspect or the void there of, within the gaming industry, led to the other opportunities. So we felt the creation of Nerjyzed Entertainment to fill that void was just a phenomenal opportunity for us to just go ahead and venture into and we did that in 2004.
Were you from the video game world?
JB: My background is from a degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science and Mathematics, but I came from the world of multimedia and entertainment from the technology realm. I was a former General Manager at Motorola, where I led a multimedia organization. And a number of products and platforms that we did enabled video games, so my organization was responsible for game ports and so forth to our various products and platforms that we introduced in the marketplace. So, as a traditional gamer from a gaming company? No. But as an executive in gamer-enabling gaming as well as porting games… absolutely.
What led up to the Black College Football: The Xperience being that this is the first title you are releasing?
JB: Well, we did it based upon market, trends and what people were actually buying. In 2004, the number one genre of game that individuals were buying, based on market numbers, were the sports game, and that sports title was football. We did consumer profiles and user groups and so forth and the feedback from that user base was football. So when you marry those two things together based on the target demo, as well as what consumers were buying, it was the perfect fit. And the fact that the HBCUs were not represented in next gen consoles from a video game perspective, it led to that as a huge, huge void. It was a void and also had given us a great opportunity to provide a product that people had stated that they now want. Fast forward a little bit, five years to today, now you’ve got rhythm-based music as the number one genre with football being No. 2. What we’ve done is marry those together and fuse those two experiences together because going to an HBCU football game without having music, without having halftime shows… That’s not an HBCU or black college football game experience.
I think it’s brilliant that you guys decided to do that, rather than just kind of having these interstitial clips of animated bands playing music. What was it like working with the HBCUs to render the stadiums?
JB: It was extremely positive. They were elated to find that there was a company that was really going to do this and do this in a manner that was going to be a good reflection of their institutions. We actually communicated to them, “Look guys, we want to make this as authentic as we possibly can, so your stadiums are going to be very, very important, but also your music experience is going to be very important.” They allowed us to come in and record the bands, to record them on field, so when you hear North Carolina A&T or when you hear Florida A&M, it’s actually FAMU’s bands. When you see their stadiums, it’s actually their stadium. So, we kept this as authentic as we possibly can and with the types of halftime shows that they do, it’s really the right level of representation that represents those institutions.
The game is built on the Unreal 3.0 engine. Why was it important to use that engine for this game?
JB: We’ve got multiple products that we’re going to do and to be able to use that engine that is usually used for first-person shooters and reformatting it and reprogramming it to fit within the sports arena was just a huge plus, as well as a challenge our team. This was a great opportunity for innovation because there are things that were getting ready to do that have never been done, and one of them is porting and getting the Unreal 3 engine to work in a sports title. So, for us to be able to put that on really states a lot about the capabilities of our team, but what we were looking at with longer term. We’ve got all the products that we wanted, that we had in development and what we wanted to do was look at utilizing that across the various product families that we were doing. That was why it was really, really important. On the other ones is not going to be as challenging, but on the football title, which was the first one, I told them, l said, “Look, if you can make this one happen, the other ones are just going to be a piece of cake.”
How many titles, other than Black College Football: The Xperience, do you currently have in the works?
JB: No, we have 3 other titles that we have in the works right now. This one being the first and then there’s the next edition of the football sports title and then there will be other genres of titles that will come out, that we will be announcing in the latter part of the year.
How did you land this exclusive deal with Microsoft? And is the deal for all Nerjyzed titles?
JB: No, it’s currently just for this particular game. How we got to the Xbox 360 was having to make the decision of almost four-plus years ago — that was at a point in time where PS3 and Sony were continuing to move when the PS3 was going to be available. And so based upon the number of units as well as where Microsoft was positioned in the marketplace, we felt that that would be the best utilization of our resources to focus there and build content to get the platform up on time in a manner that, as well as with the types of games that were there, we had to make a business decision and that was a decision that we ended up making.
How did Doug Williams get involved in the game? And what is his role in the video game?
JB: It was actually a natural involvement. What ended up happening, we were working with the FDN, where they do the MVPs and highlighting a number of the greats as well as the current football players in recognizing them in their respective positions. We ended up working with them on that particular event and Doug was actually there. And we showcased and a Black College Football Xperience teaser to that audience and what that would entail and shortly right after that we spoke with Doug. And I’ve known Doug for quite awhile and I said, “Hey, look, wouldn’t it be great if…” And he said, “Absolutely, where do I sign?” Because as he’s said bleeds the black and gold of Grambling State University and he loves black college football. All the challenges that Doug went through as first HBCU player to ever play in a Superbowl, win it and then become the MVP, as well as the first African-American football quarterback to do so, it was just the right thing because he understood the challenges and he understood exactly what we would be going through being the first in so many different things. And the passion that Doug has about football, he was just the ideal person to work with on this title.
Did Nerjyzed take part in E3?
JB: We were at E3 — our publisher was actually also at E3. We didn’t have a large presence at the conference but there was a huge promotional presence on what we’re doing with promotions and marketing. We’ve actually partnered with Interscope Records to be our marketing promotions partner, so you will be seeing a lot of events that will begin surfacing and so forth around the launch and release date within this month.
Will that possibly include maybe a soundtrack?
JB: I can’t talk about it but certain things need to be put together, right?
Absolutely. There are certain stereotypes that come along with our community, is that something that you guys have thought about as you’re planning these next titles?
JB: Yeah, essentially what we’re doing is making sure they’re portrayed positively. We’re the removing all the stereotypes. One of the reasons why I said, “Yes, I was going to go ahead and leave a corporate executive job to go and do this” was because there was a little kid that basically was playing a game where the only African-American character that was in the game was the bad guy and everyone else that happened to be Caucasian they were all good people. And he was playing a game with one of his friends who happened to be Caucasian and they only wanted him to play with the African-American and he just broke down and said, “I’m not a bad guy.” It’s those types of messages that, whether we like it or not, that gets into the minds of these kids at such a young age. So, what we intend to do is remove the stereotypes that African-Americans are not just gangsters, thugs and I’m not even going to … what they call women. But we’re more than that and that’s what we’re going to be showcasing — the side of what African-Americans are and removing the stereotypes of “this is all that we can be.” We are much more of a race, of a people and that’s what we’re going to show.
Lastly, what advice would you give people of color who are interested in getting into this industry?
JB: I hate using the tagline from Nike, but really it is all about “just doing it.” Don’t let anyone stop you or state what you can and cannot do or what you can and cannot become. You’re limited by what you think… or you set the limitations. And don’t let anyone force limitations or set limitations for you, so if this is an industry that you want to get in, get in it.