After The Wizard of Oz, Spooky Cool Labs plans to continue making high-end licensed social games

Spooky Cool Labs seemed to come out of nowhere when it launched its debut title, the social game tie-in to The Wizard of Oz on Facebook earlier this month. The game is an impressive debut: As we noted in our review, the game features some truly impressive production values like 3D graphics with a maneuverable camera and the ability to wander through the game world from a first-person perspective. Speaking to Spooky Cool Labs CEO Joe Kaminkow and CCO Brian Eddy, though, it turns out The Wizard of Oz is only the first of the company’s upcoming high-end licensed games.

The company was founded by Kaminkow and Chairman Larry DeMar. Both men are longstanding professionals of the video game industry, originally working together on pinball and arcade games together at Williams Electronics in the 1980s. After that, Kaminkow went to work at developer/ publisher Data East (known for home titles and iconic arcade cabinets like Captain America and the Avengers, as well as the infamous Tattoo Assassins). Following Data East, Kaminkow went to work for IGT (the parent company of DoubleDown Interactive) and became interested in social games. From there, it was a short jump to founding Spooky Cool Labs in 2010; staying self-funded until the Hearst Corporation investment that came along earlier this month.

“Our company wasn’t started by business guys who want to get into the game business,” Kaminkow says. “We were started by game guys who have some business acumen… our fundamental core is we’re game designers who’ve been doing this for 30-plus years.”

According to Kaminkow, The Wizard of Oz showcases the studio’s dedication to developing high-quality licensed games. “We made a game that resonates with people and we wanted to take it to the next level, graphically,” he says. The Wizard of Oz was in production for much longer than the average social game, about a year and a half. The first six months or so of the development cycle was actually spent building up the game’s development team and the technology to build a license-branded citybuilder. According to Eddy, the idea behind the game was to take the basic citybuilding mechanics casual players know and love, “but make them more beautiful.”

“We thought players were ready for something more. They’re getting tired of straight click games,” Eddy explains. “We wanted to bring them something that was a step up from what they’ve been playing in terms of presentation and gameplay but still retain that core of fun that they like.”

Spooky Cool Labs is continuing to grow, with its office head count somewhere between 60 and 70 people.  Aside from The Wizard of Oz, the developer has an unspecified number of other licensed deals in the works with Warner Bros., and it’s looking to partner with other groups who want to bring entertainment brands to the social games market. “We want to find great licenses and make great games based on them,” Eddy tells us.

Kaminkow’s search for solid brands to license is tied to his experience with pinball games; it’s an approach that makes sense, since many pinball games from the 1980s and 90s are still remembered and well-liked by gamers. However, he maintains that a strong brand is only part of the formula that leads to success when it comes to social games.

“Going back to E.T. for the Atari 2600,” he notes, “that’s a shining example of a great brand with an awful product. I think they’re still off somewhere decomposing in the desert. More people may rush towards brands, but if the game’s not good then the game’s not good. I don’t care what’s called, the game has to be a well-crafted product.”

Spooky Cool Labs also has some plans for mobile titles, but they’re not far enough along to be discussed right now. One thing that is for certain, though, is that the developer is going to continue making big titles. “The games we’re building are very, very expensive games. They’re like the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,” Kaminkow explains. “We’re really trying to find things that are iconic and make sense in the game world.”