Business is pleasure for game maker

By Walt Cook, The Union Democrat April 05, 2010 09:43 am

Sports, music and video games. For most people, they’re extracurricular activities.

But for Doug Kennedy, of Twain Harte, they’ve amounted to work — very fun work.

  Kennedy is the owner of Reverb Communications, a Twain Harte-based marketing company that has promoted a number of big-name items since its 2003 inception, including the iPhone and video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
    Kennedy started his career with the Phoenix Suns after attending Arizona State University in the late 1980s. As a self-described “sports fanatic,” it was a dream job.
    But, from there, things got even better.
    In the early 1990s, he landed a job with electronics giant Sony. As part of his duties — he was a “merchandise manager” — he toured with rock bands like Pearl Jam, Sublime and No Doubt. In 1995, Sony introduced its PlayStation, the forerunner to its popular PS3 video game console, and charged Kennedy with promoting it while on tour.
    As a big fan of the era’s music and an avid video-game player — or gamer — it was a natural fit. He loved the job.
    Kennedy’s upward career trajectory only continued from there. By 2000, he was assisting in the launch of Xbox, Microsoft’s highly successful answer to the PlayStation 2 and predecessor to the Xbox 360. He had just moved to Twain Harte, where he owned a vacation home, from San Jose.
    After the Xbox launch, Kennedy had an ambitious plan: Why not put his skills, gained after over a decade of marketing, to work for himself?
    So he did. Reverb was incorporated — along with the help of co-founder Tracie Snitker — in 2003. Kennedy has no regrets.
    “I couldn’t be more passionate about what I do for a living,” Kennedy said. “I absolutely love my job. I’m blessed that I’ve been able to work in this industry.”
    Reverb now boasts a payroll of 13 full-time employees and annual revenue of $1 million to $10 million. Kennedy is hesitant to give specific figures, but, either way, for Tuolumne County, his operation is a big one.
    Reverb’s success can be chalked up to its business plan. Kennedy and Snitker’s goal was to represent up-and-coming gaming companies, whose “great ideas,” Kennedy said, we’re being pushed out of the industry by bigger players.
    But Kennedy and Snitker found that such companies didn’t always have money to pay up-front. So — following in the footsteps of pro-bono lawyers — they set up a compensation program that provided Reverb with a share of profits and a stake in the particular company.
    In short, if the company in question did well, so did Reverb.
    Luckily, one of Reverb’s early clients was RedOctane, which, at the time, was trying to spread the word about its new game called “Guitar Hero,” where players use a guitar-shaped game controller to play along with popular rock songs.
    “Guitar Hero” ended up becoming an unexpected cultural phenomenon in 2005, with 1.5 million copies eventually sold and $45 million in sales generated.
    RedOctane was subsequently bought out by gaming giant Activision as a result of its success. That meant not only a big payday for RedOctane, but also Reverb.
    Reverb has since worked on dozens of video game titles for the Apple iPhone, Xbox 360, PS3, Facebook social networking site and the Nintendo Wii gaming system.
    Kennedy and Snitker see plenty of opportunity in the future, even with the recent recession.
    For one, the duo said, the gaming audience is made up of both old and young (video games have been around since the 1970s, Kennedy noted). And new technology — like the iPhone and Facebook — have made games available to a wide audience and people on the go, who at one time may have shunned video games.
    “You can have a 30-second game session now,” Snitker said. “Gaming is everywhere.”
    In addition, Kennedy said live updates allow games to generate more revenue for companies beyond their roughly $50 price tag, as players pay to add more features to their favorite games.
    It also helps that gaming technology has been improving at seemingly exponential rates, Kennedy said, resulting in mind-blowing graphics and sounds that keep drawing new people in.
    Kennedy and Snitker practice what they preach. They play video games regularly at home and, of course, at work.