PF.Magic, from its toy and game-filled offices in San Francisco’s “Multimedia Gulch” is best known for its top selling Dogz and Catz virtual Petz products. The company has been recognized as the worldwide leader of the emerging category of “living character” based entertainment, having developed many award-winning, top selling products.
The Company’s management team brings a wealth of experience in the consumer electronics, video game, entertainment and multimedia businesses. With world-class expertise in Artificial Intelligence, character development, game design, and Internet development, PF.Magic focuses its creative and technical resources on the creation of “living character” based entertainment. PF.Magic develops, primarily, for CD-ROM and Internet and Windows compatible software.
PF.Magic unleashed the world’s first interactive virtual Petz, when Dogz initially dashed onto computer desktops in the fall of 1995, helping to spark an ongoing and growing worldwide demand for virtual Petz. Catz pounced onto the scene in the spring of 1996, followed by those wacky Oddballz in the fall of 1996. The highly successful follow-on, Dogz II and Catz II, scampered onto computer desktops in 1997. Virtual Petz were the first interactive titles to combine artificial intelligence and 3-D animation to bring real life to computer desktops.
To date, PF.Magic has sold more than 2 million copies of its virtual Petz “living character” worldwide and has won many awards for its pioneering work in the interactive “living character” market. Petz lovers can adopt and sample the company’s virtual Petz products from the PF.Magic Web site at http://www.petz.com. This immensely popular Web site has hosted over 3 million unique visitors since its launch in 1995, and now draws visitors at the rate of over 500,000 a month. Also, debuting in 1997, Dogz and Catz plush dolls were introduced into the toy market by Trendmasters, Inc. under a licensing agreement with PF.Magic.
Other award winning, character based, products released by PF.Magic, include Ballz, and Max Magic. Ballz, the first 3-D fighting game for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and 3DO platforms, received rave reviews from the critics for its innovative 3-D game play as well as its unique character design and humor. Max Magic, the world’s first electronic magic kit, represented a breakthrough in interactive 3-D character design. Max Magic received numerous prestigious awards for its uniquely intuitive way of entertaining and teaching children and adults about magic.
Founded in 1991, PF.Magic was acquired by the Learning Company in May of 1998. PF.Magic is now a part of Mindscape, a subsidiary of the Learning Company.
PF. Magic, from its toy and game-filled offices in San Francisco’s “Multimedia Gulch,” is known for its interactive living characters, and innovative entertainment products. Since its start in 1991, the Company has developed several award-winning, cutting-edge products. These include Ballzª, the first truly 3-D fighting game on the Sega Genesis, SNES and 3DO; and Max Magicª, the world’s first electronic magic kit, hosted by an intelligent 3-D character. In the Fall of 1995, PF.Magic introduced the top selling Dogz, the first product in the Computer Petz line and in the Summer of 1996, introduced Catz. Located in San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch, PF.Magic is privately held.
Oddballz is the third product in the company’s highly successful Petz line, which includes Dogz and Catz. Dogz quickly rose to one of the top selling slots on leading national computer retail charts. Dogz has sold well over 100,000 copies in the U.S. and is a top seller in Europe and Asia. Released in June, Catz is well on its way to similar success. Almost one million people have visited the Computer Petz web site (www.pfmagic.com) as a part of the Petz Cyber-Adoption program.
PF. Magic Bringing Entertainment to Life
PF. Magic, from its toy- and game-filled offices in San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch, is known for its unique and innovative interactive characters, games and digital toys. Since its start in 1991, the Company has developed several award-winning, cutting-edge products.
The Company’s management team brings a wealth of experience in the consumer electronics, video game, entertainment and multimedia businesses. With world-class expertise in interactive character development, 3-D game design, and on-line/networkable game development, PF.Magic focuses its creative and technical resources on the creation of unique entertainment. PF.Magic develops for CD-ROM based platforms including PC and Macintosh computers, as well as for the new generation of home entertainment systems such as the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn.
In the Fall of 1995, the Company unveiled its latest creative innovation Computer Petz with the intro-duction of Dogz, the first-ever pet to live in the world of its owners computer. The best-selling Dogz created a new category of computer interactivity, one in which real life on the computer is no longer a simulation. In June of 1996, PF.Magic grew the Computer Petz line with the introduction of Catz. Catz brought a new Petz purrsonality to the desktop, and added a new element to Computer Petz multiple-character interaction with the introduction of a mouse to drive the Catz wild.
The newest additions to the Computer Petz line Oddballz were released November 1996. These new and hilarious Computer Petz are definitely digital life at its wackiest! With the launch of Oddballz, PF.Magic also launched the first-ever, online Collectible Program, making Oddballz available for collection through partnerships with leading sites around the World Wide Web.
PF.Magic has joined forces with entertainment software powerhouse, Virgin Interactive Entertainment, under Virgins Affiliate Label program, ensuring broad retail distribution of the Computer Petz line. Dogz and Catz quickly rose to the top selling slots on leading international computer retail charts, including Software Etc., Babbages, and Electronics Boutique. The two have sold over 200,000 copies in the U.S., and remain top sellers in the United Kingdom and Asia. As of October, almost 1 Million people have visited the Computer Petz Web sites (www.dogz.com, www.catz.com), as a part of the cyber adoption program.
Other award-winning products released by PF.Magic, include Ballz, PaTaank and Max Magic. Ballz, the first truly 3-D fighting game for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and 3DO platforms, received rave reviews from the critics for its innovative 3-D game play as well as its unique character design. PaTaank, the high-energy, point-of-view, 3-D pinball thrill-ride for the 3DO player, received praise by gaming critics and won several awards for innovative 3-D game play. Max Magic, the worlds first electronic magic kit, represented a breakthrough in interactive 3-D character design. Developed on the CD-I format for Philips Interactive Media, Max Magic received numerous prestigious awards for its uniquely intuitive way of entertaining and teaching children and adults about magic.
PF.Magic also worked with AT&T for two years to design and develop a voice and data modem peripheral for videogame and personal computer systems, and to create valuable new system software for online/ networked multiplayer games.
PF.Magic is a privately held company. Equity investors include Robertson Stephens & Company and AT&T.
■ Rob Fulop and John Scull found PF Magic.
■ A deal is signed with AT&T to develop the Edge 16 modem.
■ 3rd Degree, began by Fulop’s previous company Interactive Productions, is released on the CD-I.
■ An earlier game by Rob Fulop, Night Trap, is released on the Sega Mega-cd to a torrent of controversy.
■ The Edge 16 is revealed at Summer CES.
■ PF Magic grows to 18 staff.
■ AT&T cancels the Edge 16.
■ The oddly named Ballz 3D: Fighting At Its Ballziest is released.
■ Pataank and Max Magic are published on the 3DO and CD-I, respectively.
■ Dogz: Your Computer Pet is released and sells a million.
■ Follow-up Catz: Your Computer Petz is launched.
■ PF Magic attempts a non-animal Petz game, Oddballz.
■ Catz II and Dogz II both hit stores.
■ Further sequels to PF Magic’s Petz series launch.
■ PF Magic is sold to Mindscape.
Learn how a company on the brink of destruction turned it all around
In 1994, Rob Fulop felt his world crashing down around him, three years after setting up PF Magic with John Scull, a former marketing executive of Apple. The company had been set up to work on an innovative communications device for the Sega Mega Drive called the
Edge 16 – a 4800-baud modem which sat on top of the console to allow multiplayer gaming over telephone landlines. But the company funding it, AT&T, decided to pull the plug and PF Magic ended up sitting on the edge of oblivion.
“It wasn’t a good time and we were abandoned,” says Rob, still smarting at the decision. “AT&T had put $3 million into the Edge 16 and we’d developed the hardware and worked hard on the software, and yet they were cancelling the whole effort and writing it off. A lot of companies would have folded on the spot and AT&T was fine with that happening to us. We had to turn a corner and do something different but it was hard because our whole company had been devoted to this single product.”
Had the Edge 16 gone ahead, it would have proven to be innovative. Sega had released a modem in 1990 but it never made it outside of Japan, however the
Edge 16 was shaping up well for the US market and attracting attention from Microprose, Tengen, Gametek and EA. Sega was also on board, with each company eager to allow PF Magic to make the necessary tweaks to their games. When it was showcased at the CES in Chicago in the Summer of 1993, CVG magazine said it was “a nice glimpse of the future”.
Those who saw it, feted the device for its ability to dial Edge 16-owning friends and not only allow gamers to play together but chat at the same time. There was a socket for a Mega Drive keyboard and it boosted the console’s 64K memory by another 128K. Portable cards could also be inserted to store game data that could be
shared with a friend. “Your gaming pal may live on the other side of the city,”
CVG said, “but now you can take him on at Street Fighter II without either of you leaving the house.”
AT&T made the decision to axe the Edge 16 prior to its intended launch in 1994, by which stage, it had also been in development for the 3DO. “Luckily, we had half the money left and we turned on a dime, but we knew we only had one or two shots,” says Rob. Having already worked for Philips on a multiplayer party game called 3rd Degree for the CD-I in 1992 – “it was like a game show on television,” Rob says – PF Magic sought to become a straightforward videogame developer.
For Rob, this was a return to his roots. He had been involved in professional programming since 1978 when he graduated from the University Of California in Berkley and quickly began as an intern at Atari. After working in the coin-op division, he was asked to write games for the Atari 2600 and these included Night Driver and
Missile Command. Rob also cofounded Imagic
in 1981, creating such gems as Demon Magic.
He went on to formed Interactive Productions which worked with Axlon on games for a unreleased console called Control-vision that put titles on to VHS tapes.
One of those games was Night Trap, shot over 16 days in 1987 using real-life actors in Culver City, California, at a cost of $1.5 million. Five years later – and without Rob’s involvement – it was ported to Sega’s Mega-cd with extra footage by Digital Pictures yet it proved hugely controversial. Senator Joe Lieberman called it out for its violence and it was pulled from the shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us and Kay-bee. Sega took action in January 1994 and Rob felt hugely embarrassed.
“Even though my involvement was five years prior and I was now at PF Magic, my name was on the game and it was very upsetting to have it criticised so much,” he says. “The game was being discussed on TV and it was quite unfair, but it also was embarrassing to see it singled out as a very violent game.” As a result, Rob decided his next titles should be cute. “I didn’t want to make any more games that had any kind of violence in it,” he says. “This made sense to me.”
Even so, PF Magic released, Ballz 3D: Fighting At Its
Ballziest for the Mega Drive and SNES, and it did have a slightly violent edge although it had been developed with the Edge 16 in mind in 1993, before Rob made his decision. Published by Accolade and released in 1994, it had fighters made up of balls and it was quite surreal, infused with crazy characters including a farting monkey and a twirling ballerina dancer. Beat an opponent and their body of balls would separate and roll across the ground. A version was released for the 3DO, too.
The studio also developed Max Magic for the CD-I which allowed users to learn and customise 14 tricks, with the player using the controller to fool their friends with potentially jaw-dropping reveals. It worked on
Pataank for the 3DO, too, putting players in control of a ball inside a pinball machine. Neither of these did particularly well, however.
“Philips and 3DO put the money up for these titles but they were our concepts and our intellectual property,” says Rob. “We were drawn to the machines because they would allow you to work with real images and audio and that was a new paradigm which could open us up to new things. Unfortunately, the trouble with the CD-I was that the early adopters were a techie audience and not the mass market Philips was targeting, so it was a technology that never really found itself.”
With that in mind, PF Magic turned to developing games for the PC and Mac and Rob’s decision to concentrate on the cutest possible games manifested itself in a title about dogs. “I had wanted to develop a digital pet for years and I’d had it in my notes for a long time,” he says. “It now felt right to go ahead. The idea was to create a dog that you could pet and it would respond. We took the technology we made for Ballz and created a puppy dog from the spheres.”
Dogz: Your Computer Pet was a sensation, predating the launch of the Tamagotchi by a year. PF Magic had chosen a dog as its debut animal after visiting the department store Macy’s at Christmas and being told by Santa that kids constantly ask for a puppy. By creating the character out of spheres, they would be able to keep track of how they’d connect and produce a dog with smooth, fluid animation. Players
would determine what their dog needed based on their knowledge of how they behave and use a cursor to interact, feeding, playing and teaching tricks.
“When you look at Dogz, it’s hardly a new invention,” Rob says. “Dogs exist in the world and we were taking inspiration from that. The innovation was putting it on a computer. Players knew what to do: they could throw a bone and play fetch because they know how a dog is supposed to work. It fit within the paradigm of creating a game that was new and exciting with a track record.”
Dogz, designed by Adam C Frank and Ben Resner, was given away for free as a demo that came with five days of virtual food. The hope was that players would become attached to having the pet on their desktop and, once it began to get hungry after the supplies ran out, stump up $20 for a lifetime’s supply so that they could keep playing. “The dog would be crying for more food and if players didn’t pay 20 bucks, it would continue to whine,” Rob says. “It was quite manipulative, but we worked on the premise that if you give a puppy away for five days and ask for it back, most will want to keep it. We sold a million Dogz.”
PF Magic’s stock was riding high. Dogz’s success and the approach to selling it put the developer on the map and it began to consider follow-ups. It was largely self-publishing, finding working on games for computers to be more cost-effective than for consoles (“its much cheaper to put a game on floppy disk than take a risk on cartridges”). Besides, Rob didn’t believe Dogz would work well on console.
“It wouldn’t have been a good match for the Playstation because it was a game you played for 15 minutes every day,” he says.
The developer’s 50 staff at this time was therefore split. Half worked on the pet-based games of which Catz was next, leaving the other half to work on games that never saw the light of day. “We really wanted to make a 3D adventure game but our ambition was greater than the technology allowed,” Rob says.
It wasn’t long before PF Magic concentrated entirely on their breakthrough formula. Oddballz: Your Wacky
Computer Petz was released along with sequels for Dogz and Catz. A Petz CD-ROM combined the original animal games and Oddballz and there were more outings for Catz and Dogz to follow.
“We had a team that knew how to do this kind of game so we thought we may as well leverage it,” Rob explains. “So we made dogs and cats and birds and pigs and we added two characters on the screen which could interact and make a puppy and that was a big deal. So it turned into a kind of early internet game. Lots of people were creating clubs and swapping pets and all that kind of stuff. Once we started, it wasn’t difficult to figure where we should be going with it all.”
By 1998, however, Rob was ready to sell the company. “We’d staffed up, adding marketing people and sales people and built our development team and we’d gotten over the struggle to make the first products and raised more finance,” Rob says. “We had avoided the route of becoming a developer-for-hire because you can never have 50 people on staff relying on other people paying you but I was tired and John was tired and we weren’t getting on that great.”
The pair sold the company to Mindscape which had been bought by The Learning Company. The latter was then sold to Mattel and Ubisoft acquired the Petz series in 2001, continuing to make additional games until 2014. Rob does have some regrets. “I’m sorry I sold PF Magic but you’ve got to make that tradeoff,” he says. Yet having taken a company from the brink of collapse to once that pioneered a genre, we’d say he arguably bowed out at the purr-fect time.
Many have tried to guess what ‘PF’ stands for in the company’s name and ideas have included Partially Funded, Perpetually Fighting and Positive Future. But, according to Rob Fulop, it is none of those. “When I was at Atari and made many games, a lot of times we didn’t really comment our codes very well,” he says. “So if something would work and I wasn’t really sure how it worked, I would just write ‘PF Magic’ which meant ‘pure fucking magic’.
“We were only bothered that the code was delivering the goods and all that really matters is people have a great experience. The technology behind games is invisible to the customer and they really don’t care. It’s just fun. It just works. So that’s where it came from.”