Interview

Machine Zone's Gabe Leydon on why he cares about more players' time than their money

Machine Zone's Gabe Leydon on why he cares about more players' time than their money

Few people in the mobile game world are more passionate or outspoken than Gabe Leydon.

So if the founder and CEO of Machine Zone (previously Addmired) has been quiet recently, it's with good reason.

He's been working on a new game .

"It ended up being much more than I thought it would be," he says of the 16 month development of Game of War: Fire Age.

"It took on a life of its own."

Something different

Never one to shy away from an ambitious goal, Game of War is Machine Zone's latest attempt to combine the best elements of a PC MMOG with the 24/7 accessibility of mobile gaming.

It's a process that started for the company way back in 2009 with games such as iMob Online, Original Gangstaz and Global War.

Game of War is the culmination of those millions of downloads and ten of millions of hours of gameplay, not to mention the $8 million investment round Machine Zone closed in March 2012.

In Leydon's view, it's also a very different game from what's being offered by other mobile developers.

"We're going in the opposite direction to the mid-core trend," he explains.

"This is a complicated game. We're trying to make it more complicated. I think players need to feel like they are mastering something."

Making it mobile

It's a decision that seems to be bearing fruit, though.

During a prolonged soft launch in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, France and Mexico, Leydon says that the average player has been spending two hours daily in Game of War.

He says it's an amazing figure, particularly as it's broken down into across 10 sessions per day.

"People are playing it more than people play PC MMOGs," he says.

"It's because we put everyone into a single, persistent, real-time world and they can always play it, because it's on their phone. That's the strength of the game because that's the strength of mobile."

In this way Leydon argues developers who look to bring 'console experiences' to mobile, don't understand the market.

"You don't need to bring a console experience to mobile. You need to focus on the unique properties of mobile," he says.

"It's not about the graphics. And it's not about the touch interface. It's about accessible and persistent online gaming."

More than money

In a similar manner, Leydon has strong words about the industry's approach to monetisation.

Game of War is free-to-play (exclusive to iOS) but it's a longterm project for the company.

"If people play your game for 100 hours, it's not a big deal for them to spend money. But it is if you're trying to monetise after two hours," Leydon says.

Indeed, Machine Zone's entire approach is to focus on getting people to play its games, for long periods of time, and getting them deeply engaged with social features; in the case of Game of War its alliances system.

"There's special alliance currency which can be used to buy premium items for free," he points out.

"Getting people into an alliance is more important to us than getting money from them.

"Free-to-play isn't about pushing people to spend money. Not enough developers realise this."

It's about time

And this is why, for Leydon, the key metric is always time.

"I want players' time. Making the game fun is about trying to capture more of the players' time, and the time a player puts into the game is what makes it fun," he explains.

"We have loads of features in the game. There's a hierarchy of players, there's the whole history of your gameplay, and the game is a means of broadcasting this."

In that context, monetisation is a necessary - but secondary - outcome.

"The bottomline is you can't make money with free-to-play games if people aren't playing your game," Leydon ends.

"Free-to-play is the monetisation of time and this game is going to running for years."


A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.

Comments

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Jamison Holliday Mcginnis
Her cares more about the gamers than their money.....riiiiiiight. that's why the premium packages are 100$ freemium isn't free yo
Bambino Lennen
Ya same happens after I reply to the so called support.. They never actually give a answer they just brush it off. Finally got someone to reply and they literally told me they can do what they feel is right since terms of service are subject to change without notice.
Albee Digi
If machine zone wanted people to keep playing they would help people like me who, during a server maintenance 2 weeks ago had there kingdom not stole but just disappeared. I have spent some money on the game and spend close to half my day playing. I have send ticket after ticket and they are not doing anything to fix it. They just keep asking the same question that I have answered 3 times and it seems I am dealing with a different person with each email.
Bambino Lennen
Its a fun game I enjoyed up to when they scammed me and refuse to contact me back or answer the questions I have provided.. Long story short I have a lot of money in the app (dumb I know) and got muted by a moderator for playing the game.. (destroying other players) and they claim I tried to sell my account when its a lie and I even had there customer service admit that its bull and have no grounds to do this.. I can provide evidence to every part of this so.. Honestly don't waste your money and get scammed like I am.. Anyone know of anything to help fight this let me know looking to get the info out and the evidence...
Lyndol Burns Military at United States Navy
This is hogwash. This company does NOT care about its customers. I've sent several emails and messages to this company for over 5 hours now with not one reply back to even say they were looking into it. Heck you can't even find a phone number to contact them at for help. I bought 2 different 99 dollar gift packs this morning on Game of War. One anniversary pack and 1 Cerebus Pack. With the Cerebus pack I was supposed to get 5 600,000 casino chips with it and I have not gotten any. I was also supposed to get a 1 day VIP with both of them and only got 1. I Honestly don't know what all I did get and did not get at this point but I do know I spent 200 dollars and expect to get what I paid for! With the amount of money I spent it should have been fixed ASAP and for me to receive EVERYTHING I paid for instead of being completely ignored. After reading reviews I see that this is a common problem and they apparently never contact people back. I have sent so many messages and emails over several hours and still have not received one single email or message ever stating they were working on it. Apparently they are rated F with the BBB for this exact reason.
Beshoy Atef
It has been more than a week, Their has been an error with my order
I asked for help
I ordered 3 Legendary packs on 1 day 17/9/2014 but i got 2 Legandry Packs and 1 VIP (Which i didn't order). I contacted the support for help.
Her reply was "The system shows that their was no error with your order"
I wonder is that how all you support team acts when facing a problem ??

This problem caused me to lose an inferno event which had 70k gold as a prize

I request the the issue or be fixed and your support team to learn how to properly treat customers.

If the issue didn't get resolved i am sorry but i will report to Google and will report the issue to the Department of Consumer Affairs in California . THANKS for the worst Support and treatment i have ever had
Carolyn Schweitzer
I agree with what many have said, the game is very engaging but there is NO CUSTOMER SUPPORT. I bought a "jackpot" gold package two days ago that downloaded without the jackpot aka casino chips. Spent $100 and got less than half of what I paid for. This is not the first time I've been cheated by MZ and not the first time I've tried to get help from them but it may be the last time. After 9 months of play and never getting a reply from their "feedback" form, I've about had it. This guy seems to agree:
Griff LongFeather | 11:52 - 20 February 2014

BE AWARE this game has no customer support. You may say, who cares but think about this I have put in a HUGE number of hours into an account and have lost access to that account via hacking or account corruption but honestly not sure how I lost access but after weeks of trying to contact them through their advertised methods of support they refuse to even answer my requests for help and support!!! So I am trying to make people aware that if you start playing this game do so at your own risk. IT does NOT matter if you have spent money in game or not and I because of the lack of customer support I would highly recommend you NOT spend any money in game.
Victor Arnold
As a gamer of many different types of games and platforms I have some experience with mobile games. A previous game I played became unsupported and as a result. I left as did many players. Word travel to me that a few hundred people had started playing GoW so I downloaded and started playing. At first all liked the game, but with the events always changing, and now the prizes for these events make them not worth doing we have became very uninterested. Also you seem to be punished for reaching higher llevels in the game with hundreds of days wait.
Calixto Sanchez
Support is awful, i sent a request four days ago, and nothing, even though i keep pinging every day

Just the worst support ever!
Gabriel Leydon
Simon, as I said "accessible (always with you /in your hand) and persistently online" so we pretty much agree. Our only difference in strategies is we choose to focus on long term (measured in years) engagement and you choose to focus on as you say "over the shoulder" virality. This strategy has obviously worked quite well for you so there is no argument there from me.
Simon Moller
Mobile devices are special because they are always with people. Not because they are online. Most pc's are online. Lots of consoles are online. In fact, lots of people with mobile devices aren't online all the time because of geography, connection problems etc.

Being online allows for a few things:
A) Social connections to other people (making people content to people, lowering costs of developing new content as people have a meaningful relationship to the game and each other).
B) You can't monetize people who are offline directly
C) It's more fun when the game-world isn't empty

The reason why graphics are of vital importance to game quality is virality - and subsequently to UA cost - it's what I sometimes refer to as "Over the Shoulder Syndrome". People can discover other people playing a game without ever getting a direct referral. One person can ask another in the bus what he/she are playing. They can download it immediately because it's free.

It can explode in user base fast - because of graphics and interface and accessibility.

Quality of your graphics are naturally going to be an arms race, just as all the other times in the past when a new family of devices got powerful. It helps get mindshare. It helps you to get noticed. It helps virality immensely, and if companies don't have millions of dollars for initial user acquisition, that's important.

Multiplayer/Online play has always worked very well. Ever since the first network cards became available to most people when the prices we're cut in the 90ties. But it's not why mobile devices are special.

It's because they're in your hand.
Gabriel Leydon
I dont see anywhere where I said graphics were "irrelevant" nor do I believe such a thing. I believe you you are referencing is the quote:

"It's not about the graphics. And it's not about the touch interface. It's about accessible and persistent online gaming."

Our focus as a company is online technologies because we believe that the core differentiating features of mobile devices is that they are easily accessible and persistently online. From a design perspective we also believe online features are the most scalable in terms of capturing players attention over long periods of time.


Simon Moller
Graphics are irrelevant? Really?! You honestly mean that Mr. Leydon?
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