Solon Bucholtz and Dennis Molloy co-founded Vancouver-based LBC Studios in 2015 with one very clear goal in mind: to create marijuana games “that speak authentically to the community”.
“We knew that everyone back then – in Canada at least and around the world in cannabis cultivation – was looking for transitions as things became normal. Everyone in Canada was thinking about cannabis from the production side and distribution. Me and my partner, being part of that culture as well, recognized that gaming was a very exciting new vertical and apps were growing,” Bucholtz said. GamesIndustry.biz.
“We looked at the play space and realized that no one really appealed to this culture and this group of people in a meaningful and authentic way.”
The studio’s first project, Hempire, launched in 2017 – on April 20, naturally – and has proven to be a hit, with over 24 million players since then. This prompted Bucholtz to take what was a remote work studio and bring it all in person, setting up a studio in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood and growing to 30-40 people.
This opened doors for the studio, including discussions with Marley Merchandising, which licenses and markets Bob Marley likenesses for various commercial purposes and is still owned by the Marley family.
“For us, it was a natural fit,” Bucholtz says. “The music fits well with our audience, Bob Marley is a natural fit, and our team was truly thrilled to be stewards of such a popular and respected brand and bring it to the mobile gaming space.”
The result is Bob Marley’s World Tour, a free-to-play mobile rhythm game that will let players perform original Marley songs and remixes from various genres, with an RPG party-building progression, to boot. Over time, LBC hopes to expand the song list beyond the Marely family to also include artists who have been influenced or support their music, with activity driven by sales of new songs, characters and venues. spectacle.
There is only one catch. Although LBC is a studio dedicated to cannabis-themed games and Marley’s Rastafari beliefs, the game is drug-free.
“When we set out to develop the Marley game, we wanted to make sure that we were building a game not only for Marley fans and music fans, but also for gamers,” Bucholtz said. “And we wanted to make sure it was accessible to as many people as possible. One of the challenges we faced with Hempire is that there are countries where we are not able to distribute this game, strictly based on content.
“We wanted it to be rated for a younger audience. We wanted it to be accessible worldwide”
“Marley is a global brand and it has had a global impact all over the world. When we started thinking about designing the game, we wanted it to be rated for a younger audience. We wanted it to be accessible worldwide. And we wanted it to be a product that platforms could support. Whether you’re a kid discovering Marley’s music or an adult who grew up with Bob’s music, philanthropy and beliefs, you can share this experience together. So the Marley game itself doesn’t have cannabis in it.”
Despite this, Bucholtz does not worry about questions of authenticity.
“It’s something we’ve discussed with the family and internally as well,” he says. “While there were some aspects of cannabis that were obviously very important to Bob and his beliefs, I don’t think that was the driving force. And we put enough emphasis on many other areas that are remembered of Bob today and have a significant impact today in the game that this omission is not a negative result in the overall experience or authenticity that we offer.
“I think certain areas are more important, especially in the global environment we find ourselves in today, obviously there’s music. When most people think of Bob Marley, there’s probably a song that comes to mind. But then there are the underlying messages related to his beliefs as well, around philanthropy, around unity, around bringing people together, and a very positive underlying message and not divider. This is where we wanted to emphasize our focus on the game.”
Beyond the focus on unity, the game will also have the studio supporting One Tree Planted, the Marley family’s favorite charity, which works on reforestation around the world.
“I think we’ve touched on enough areas that we’re not focusing on [cannabis] is always authentic,” says Bucholtz.
Despite the need to omit cannabis in order to reach a wider audience, Bucholtz says marijuana is gaining more acceptance in the industry and in society at large. After all, when LBC Studios was founded, the best-known cannabis-themed games were mostly notorious for not being allowed on app stores.
“When we first pitched the idea of creating a world-class cannabis game that was authentic, that was the biggest risk we had on our radar,” Bucholtz said. “How do we navigate the platform requirements and work within their policies?”
LBC’s way of mitigating this was less to “legalize” and more to “not criminalize it”.
“[Hempire] is not about distribution or criminality. Instead, it’s about the positives of cannabis, how it supports communities.”
“In the beginning, we really wanted to make sure that the way we present cannabis isn’t about selling cannabis,” Bucholtz explains. “It’s not about distribution or crime. It’s more about the positive aspects of cannabis, how it supports communities.
“If you look at Hempire, it’s really a story-driven joint that focuses on a town that’s down on its luck economically, uses legal cannabis to build the town, build relationships with people struggling with the PTSD, and really just an underlying positive message from the community.”
While it says Hempire was flagged by storefronts early on, the studio quickly made good connections with storefronts and worked with platforms to address their concerns and ensure the game’s message and positivity were understood. It paid off, especially with Google.
“We were the first cannabis-themed game accepted by AdWords, we were also the first cannabis-themed game to receive platform-level support,” Bucholtz said.
“The one area where we still felt those challenges and I would say we still navigate sometimes today is actually more on the advertising side. that blacklist adult content and cannabis themed content. So that reduced our advertising pool on the UA side.”
And while Hempire has been featured in subcategories from time to time, Bucholtz says neither Google nor Apple have seen fit to feature a cannabis-themed game on their main store pages.
Mobile storefronts aren’t the only places where attitudes toward cannabis are changing. Helping with this shift in perception is one of the reasons Bucholtz says he left a family history in real estate — his father and grandfather were also real estate agents — to enter a game development industry. which he had no experience with and starting LBC in the first place.
“We don’t have very long on this earth to make a meaningful impact and I wanted to get involved in something where I could touch a lot more lives, something where I could show up every day and be passionate about it” , he says. “I wanted to have a meaningful impact on generations of people.”