by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman
Three years ago, while working out with renowned physical therapist Alex McKechnie in Vancouver, Baron Davis was introduced to an individual whose mere presence turned the NBA All-Star into a quizzical fanboy, similar to the ones that he frequently encounters himself. This individual, however, was not an NBA legend, nor someone who could claim to offer Davis any sort of guidance on running the pick-and-roll or defending smaller and quicker opponents. In fact, the conversation between the two had almost nothing to do with anything that takes place on a basketball court.
What Sean O’Brien was able to talk to Davis about was video games. As a veteran of the industry, O’Brien was able to answer all the questions that Davis was burning to ask. Where was industry heading? What markets had yet to be tapped? What features did players look for in games? A friendship had begun.
For the next year-and-a-half, the two frequently spoke, throwing gaming ideas back-and-forth. Eventually, the friends decided to start a company, 5 Balloons Interactive, with the goal of presenting celebrities a new marketing opportunity: the ability to promote their individual brands through digital games. A year-and-a-half later, Getting Buckets, the company’s first game, was released.
“There’s really no kind of fun, immediate game that you can play that involves your favorite athletes,” Davis says. “What Sean and I wanted to do was to really create a gaming app that would connect fans with athletes.”
Adds O’Brien: “The first vision that Baron had was to create something accessible. He didn’t want to do a simulation game where there are a lot of controls that you have to try to master. He wanted casual fans to be able to pick up their iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch and just be able to play and interact with the athlete. And we really felt there was an opening in mobile gaming.”
The goal of the game, which was designed as a 3-D, “endless-runner,” is for users to collects as many “buckets” as they can while dribbling through the game’s different levels (East Coast, West Coast, South Beach and Hoosier Country) with whichever basketball player they choose to play with. The athletes—Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings and Candace Parker—were all handpicked, and recruited by Davis. Social media savvy and on-the-court creativity were the required credentials.
But while Davis’ influence on the look and feel and features of Getting Buckets is unmistakable, all his input would have been for naught if it weren’t for the 40-year-old O’Brien’s expertise. As a former employee of EA Sports, where he worked as a designer and producer on both the NBA Live and NCAA Basketball series, and an entertainment prouder for the past 15 years, O’Brien had both the technical talent and video game acumen to bring the vision that he and Davis had, a mobile game routed in the culture of basketball, to life. And being a former Division II basketball player—O’Brien played for former Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano at Simon Fraser University—O’Brien has the basketball eye capable of targeting the rarities of an athletes game, and filling his or her avatar with that personality.
“Sean is the man and I’m the connector,” Davis says. “The ideas for the game came from both of us, but, because he’s the expert, I rely on him to determine what’s best. And because of my social media background, it was just a natural fit.”
And the start of a collaboration that O’Brien says wouldn’t have worked with anyone else.
“Baron is not just a figurehead throwing money at this,” O’Brien says. “He’s extremely bright and creative, and he’s bringing a lot of design ideas to the table, along with his marketing ideas. He’s fully committed, and is really the only athlete that I would consider doing this with.”
Getting Buckets is now available for download on iTunes. You can watch the game’s trailer in the video above.