After leaving the confines of the arcade, videogames have expanded into our homes, our computers, and our smart phones. However, like most forms of joy, videogames have long been blocked from having a presence on airplanes. A company that is changing this is Global Eagle Entertainment. Focused on producing unique and high quality entertainment exclusively for In-Flight Entertainment, GEE has brought films, TV shows, reading, and audio products to airlines. Moreover, GEE has also brought one-of-a-kind games to this market. Recently, GEE partnered with Disney-Pixar to create a game based on The Incredibles called The Incredibles: Jack-Jack’s Escape.
To learn more about Global Eagle Entertainment’s unique business and their recent game, their Creative Director, Simon Papineau, was kind enough to allow me to interview him.
Nicholas Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to have a career in entertainment production? Was there a moment when watching a movie or playing a game in which you know that this was your path?
Simon Papineau: Entertainment is such a broad word! When I was a little kid I was a big fan of videogames, but actually working in the games industry was just a dream! When I turned 18 I decided to study Communications Studies at university because I wanted to work in television as a writer. At first, my dream was to be a comedian! I tried to apply at the national comedy school but it never worked out. That’s why I wrote a book about absurd humor for my Masters. Absurdity and videogames can have a lot in common since they both have to build their own world! Finally, I decided to add a Game Design diploma to my portfolio, and since then I have found my way in the game industry!
Yanes: Like me, you also have a Ph.D. How have you leveraged your academic work to get a job outside of the university system? On this note, do you think your Ph.D. work has helped or hindered your professional career?
Papineau: To be honest, it didn’t help me very much at the beginning. A Communications Masters isn’t specifically sought out by the industry and could sometime scare companies away. These days, people have to be specialized to land specific jobs. That’s why my Game Design diploma was a bigger asset in finding a job. Then, my Masters degree helped me to climb the corporate ladder at GEE.
Yanes: The company you currently work for is Global Eagle Entertainment. GEE specializes on providing in-flight entertainment for commercial airlines. Can you talk a little about this market and just how substantial it is?
Papineau: The In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) market is a very specific one but also very substantial since GEE has approximately 95% of the market share. Here again, by entertainment I mean (Games, Movies, Apps, etc). The main challenge in this market is the ability to support many unique consoles with different specifications and operating system ranging from Linux to android and even iOS. Since IFE consoles are generally proprietary, big companies like SEGA, Disney and Ubisoft need our expertise if they want to have their brand on-board.
A few years ago, IFE was limited to a captive audience. With the advent of the in-flight internet, the business model is being changed gradually, opening up new possibilities for in-flight entertainment!
Yanes: My experience with in-flight entertainment is just a movie that is several years old on a projector and a flight attendant telling me I have to pay for special headset in order to hear the film. How does Global Eagle Entertainment strive to be different from that experience?
Papineau: Generally these policies depend entirely on the Airlines. Movies and games are something included in the price of the ticket. Our customers are the Airline companies themselves and not the passengers directly.
Yanes: GEE is also developing videogames specifically for in-flight entertainment. What types of game genres do you feel work best as in-flight exclusives?
Papineau: Like I said, since our customers are the airlines companies, GEE is trying to offer unique game experiences tailored specifically for their passengers and their reality. Casual games with short playing sessions and quick learning curves with themes tailored to air travel (airports, airplanes, vacations and other international themes) work best. Even with big brands such as Tetris, Disney, or Rovio, we keep the same model: create a unique in-flight version for our customers. Take for example Angry Birds: World Tour which is coming in 2016 and is only playable in-flight.
Trivia, Puzzles, Actions, Sports and Board games are the most popular game genres on-board.
Yanes: On this note, can you explain how passengers will be able to access these games? For instance, is it a console built into the chair in front of them, or will they access it on their own devices through the plane’s wifi?
Papineau: The answer to the second question is both! Our games support the traditional in-seat consoles, the new android-based in-seat consoles, and personal devices through the plane’s wifi systems. Since in-flight wifi technology is quite new, our biggest market in 2015 is still the in-seat consoles one. The biggest strength of GEE is the ability to port the same game on many type of devices.
Yanes: Global Eagle Entertainment has recently worked with Disney to produce a game based on The Incredibles called The Incredibles: Jack-Jack’s Escape. Could you describe how cool it is to work with Disney and on a property related to The Incredibles?
Papineau: How cool? It was very cool! But at the same time it was a long process. During our collaboration with Disney and Pixar Studios, we were able to benefit from their creative experience and we learned a lot from their expertise. Thanks to their confidence in us, we have been able to develop our own game concepts using The Incredibles license. We did the same in 2014 with the Monsters University license. We are very proud of these games!
Yanes: Moreover, how did you and your team go about determining what type of game Jack-Jack’s Escape would be and what story it would tell?
Papineau: We must keep in mind that some in-flight consoles have strict technical limitations; we had to find a concept for a game that would be suitable for all consoles. That’s why we decided to make an action-puzzler starring Jack-Jack, the baby of the family. Moreover, even if we knew that the movie Incredibles 2 was in production, we couldn’t make reference to it in our game. That’s why we decided to build a game based on a scenario that continues directly after the events of the first film.
The game takes place within the Underminer’s colossal digger. You control Jack-Jack, the infant member of the Incredibles. Guide Jack-Jack as he single-handedly and unknowingly destroys the monstrous machine within as his family fights the villain on the surface.
Yanes: When developing this game for an in-flight audience, what unique challenges did you encounter?
Papineau: As I mentioned earlier, the hardware limitations of some of the consoles are the biggest challenge. We’re constantly finding new ways to push the limits of those consoles, continually producing better performing games! The other big challenge is that every game we create needs to support both handset and touch controls at the same time! That’s a big design challenge every time we create an IFE game.
Finally, we wanted the game to be easy to learn and that the average player could be able to complete the game in under 45 minutes.
Yanes: Finally, what are some long term goals you have for this game and GEE’s overall video game development?
Papineau: We want this game to fly for many years!
As video games become more mainstream, and as passengers become savvier gamers, we must strive to continually offer the best games and best gaming experiences on the market.
We have many popular licenses currently in negotiation and planned for production. We are always on the lookout for the latest developments in the market in order to offer the customer the best possible experience on the IFE systems: Dual Screen games, multiplayer game modes, iOS, Android etc.
With the imminent democratization of connectivity on airplanes, the gameplay design possibilities will be endless for inflight entertainment!