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The developer of popular cannabis management game Hempire have announced their new project. The studio is working on a rhythm game that puts you in the role of a band manager for Bob Marley as he travels the world on tour. I had an opportunity to sit down with Solon Bucholtz, CEO and co-founder of LBC Studios, to talk about their new game, the power of music, and changing the world for the better.
The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.
GamesBeat: What got you folks interested in making a rhythm game specifically for Bob Marley?
Solon Bucholtz: You know what? It kind of came the other way around. Our success in mobile gaming was driven by building Hempire, which is one of the world’s most popular cannabis games. As the studio grew and we started planning out what our future looked like we started opening the doors to what the possibilities of the next game could be for us.
We didn’t pursue Bob (Marley). We had a lot of IPs and people that had come to the table with interesting ideas that they wanted us to potentially develop, but nothing really resonated or landed in the way that we felt when we built Hempire. Hempire was a passion project to kind of destigmatize cannabis culture and bring something authentic to the mobile gaming space.
When the opportunity came to us to potentially build a game for Marley, we didn’t know what that game was going to be. And truth be told it’s changed many times over during its development, as most games do. <laugh> The minute I heard Bob Marley, I got that feeling very similar to the feeling I had around Hempire, which resonated with how I grew up.
I think every single one of us has probably had a Bob Marley track at some point in their life speaks to a moment or feeling. That’s what really got me excited about the idea that we would be the stewards and they would entrust us with such a global brand. It meant something to me. For me, it comes from a place of passion, but the same must apply for the team as well.
If I told the dev team, we’re going to build a game around an idea that no one had an interest in, you’re never going to be living by our core values. You gotta enjoy what you’re doing. So the team was excited about Marley. I was excited about Marley and that’s where it started from. When it first started, honestly, we were going down a very different path. We weren’t sure if, you know, music was going to be part of what we had access to.
GamesBeat: So, initially, you weren’t sure if you’d have access to the music?
Bucholtz: We really started from a place of like, okay, we have Bob and Bob means so much more than music. We thought there was enough there that we could build a game just around that. And that’s where we started. We’re like “what if there was a way to make a cool new musical experience that isn’t necessarily tied directly to Bob. That’s where it started from. But, as the project evolved and we started really breaking down the impact of Bob Marley globally on people, obviously music is the background and the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives and is a very critical part of Bob. But we can incorporate that into some of the other values, right? His beliefs around philanthropy and specifically around uniting people. We decided “let’s build a rhythm RPG game around Bob Marley that isn’t driven by cash.” So there’s no cash currency in our game. There’s unity and unity is about performing and bringing people together.
Gaming has had both positive and negative connotations over the past few years in terms of its impact on people and growth and screen time and everything else. I think there’s a way to turn that into a positive. And really, that speaks to why I founded LBC. I wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives and especially around the message we’re delivering. Working with One Tree Planted, which is the Marley brand’s preferred charity, can have a significant impact. People that are gaming, getting their entertainment value, connecting with other people, and getting their sense of community can also actually have a tangible impact on earth.
The game, isn’t just about making a Bob Marley game for Marley fans. It’s about making a game for Marley fans, music, fans, and gamers alike. We want to see it expand beyond that. There are some cool experiences that players are getting to engage with. Obviously, you’re going to get the classics, you’re going to get the hits. You’re going to get that real Bob Marley experience. But you’re also going to immerse yourself into that band management aspect, into new characters and new genres that you don’t necessarily see. We’ve created covers and remixes ourselves in different musical genres. I can speak for myself — I love Bob Marley music, but I also listen to a wide range of music. How do we get that into the game? Players are going to get to experience Bob in so many new genres, which I think is something unique.
GamesBeat: What can you tell us about the gameplay?
Bucholtz: So it’s Bob Marley world tour, you are a band manager. The narrative concept behind this is you’re down on your luck because you’ve been chasing money, success, and fame. You go to a fictitious island called Hope Island, a play on Hope Road, which is Bob Marley’s home in Jamaica. You’re supported by Bob and a cast of characters that get you to focus more on the positive messages, being a band manager, and going on a musical journey around the world to unite people. So you’re going to hit popular places where Bob like cities where Bob has performed and you’re going to perform iconic music from those cities, from those tours. You’ll learn what he performed and a little bit of history in there, as well as collect some really cool images and stuff like that through your journey that will unlock some great Marley memorabilia.
For example, if you’re in Jamaica you’ll play one of the major hits and in turn, right away, we’re gonna flip the script and you’re going to play that song in Latin pop. And then you’re going to go into another genre. You’re going to get to experience Bob Marley in a whole different way. With each city unlock comes a new original song, some new remixes, and re-fixes. We’re excited about what we’re working on this right now, just in time for global launch. We’re going to expand that outside of Bob’s music, and you’re going to get to play some of the Marley family members.
The legacy of Bob Marley is you look at his kids, you look at Ziggy, look at Stephen and Skip. The generational passing along of musicians. We wanted to make it authentic and bring their music into the game, as well as the stepping stone for expanding beyond the family. Some of that will be there as well. It’s a great musical journey traveling the world, playing music, upgrading your band and characters to make sure that you can achieve the various difficulties and song lengths. Then you choose your own musical journey and the type of music that you want to play with the band that you’ve upgraded.
GamesBeat: So the actual playing of the song, will that be more of a standard rhythm game?
Bucholtz: The core loop is focused on rhythm gameplay. We have an expanding lane system of gameplay depending on the difficulty that you want to play with. And obviously your traditional haptics and abilities will be built in there. The extra layer of the RPG is so it’s not just coming down to the skill of your fingers, but you also have to make sure that you align your band to the type of music. Band members have affinities for different types of music and they’re upgradeable. So, there’s a lot of band management aspect there as well. You can choose who your singer’s going to be, who your guitarist is going to be, based on the type of music that you need to play and making sure that you’ve built those characters up accordingly to be the best at performing the song in addition to your skill set.
GamesBeat: Will the game be free-to-play?
Bucholtz: Absolutely. When we fundamentally thought about the philosophy of this game, we realized Bob is on a global level and we want to make this game as accessible to as many people around the world, and as wide of an age group around the world, as we possibly could. Free-to-play is the easiest access point for sure. We also wanted to make a lot of the game accessible without too much difficulty. So there is your traditional ability to watch ads instead of purchasing if you want to retry levels or if you’re struggling to get through some areas. But there’s also the ability to upgrade your characters in a more traditional sense through in-app purchases.
GamesBeat: You mentioned One Tree Planted as the Marley brand charity of choice. Have you announced how that will work?
Bucholtz: We will make that announcement. We’re just developing that feature into the store right now, but long and short is we do want to make sure that people can see their impact in the in-app purchases they make. And there’s some ways that we’re going to visualize that. It will probably be a little different at launch than where we want to bring it to, but we do want people to be aware of how many trees we have planted as a result of this game and potentially where they’ve been planted. So, you can actually see the meaningful impact you’ve made around the world.
GamesBeat: Any message for the Marley fans?
Bucholtz: There are a million things I could probably touch on, but the main thing I want to get out there is you don’t have to be a Bob Marley fan to love this game and vice versa. If you are a Bob Marley fan: we’ve done this game justice. We want to make sure that, as a Marley fan, we are being authentic to Bob as well as what and where he performed.
We want to be sure that we’re not just making a game that quickly appeals to fans and doesn’t have longevity. We want it to lay the foundation for a long play game that truly appeals to all music fans and gamers alike. This game is being made by fans for the fans. And I don’t just mean Bob Marley fans. Every product we work on at LBC is, is a passion project and we’ve put our heart into it. We look forward to releasing it, but I think even more, so we look forward to the feedback to know how we can continue to build a great game for fans.
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