San Francisco Week: Why the city by the bay is where mobile's big boys go to play

Zynga, Storm8 and PlayFirst reveal all

San Francisco Week: Why the city by the bay is where mobile's big boys go to play
San Francisco. Whether you're talking major bases or simply spiritual homes, the 'city by the bay' plays hosts to some major mobile players.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Zynga, and large portions of the American games press all have presences here, to name just a few.

Indeed, the city and its surrounding area have always been of supreme importance to the technology and games industries.

Just a couple of months after GDC came to town, San Francisco is currently playing host to Google I/O and has WWDC just around the corner. As such, it's no exaggeration to say the city's role within the games industry has never been more significant than it is today.

Though the state of California does not give any political or financial support to game developers, the development scene here has continued to thrive through the sheer persistence and imagination of its huge gaming community.

In our latest look at mobile developer hotspots around the globe, we find out what makes the city's games industry tick with the help of games specialists of all shapes and sizes - the first three to fall under our spotlight, Storm8, PlayFirst, and the city's social giant Zynga.

Silicon Valley

When it comes to Storm8, the firm is one of the Bay Area studios formed by locals, rather than one of the many developers in the city that made a conscious decision to move San Francisco.

The studio's CEO Perry Tam had previously served as an engineer at Facebook, which also boasts a notable presence in the city. Logical, then, that when it came to his own business, he chose to base Storm8 in his adopted home town.

"All my co-founders lived in the Bay Area," Tam told us.

"It’s a hotbed for technology and start-ups and we couldn’t think of a better place to found a company than here. We actually never considered setting up elsewhere."

One of the biggest preconceptions that developers from outside San Francisco have about the city, however, is the idea that it's easy to meet the bigwigs from Apple, Google and Facebook in person.

San Francisco's Moscone Center hosts GDC, WWDC and Google I/O

Such opportunities are, in reality, far harder to come by than many believe and, though having major industry forces in the region is a major pull, Perry makes the point that you don't have to be San Francisco-based in order to get spotted: If what you're offering is good enough, companies of that scale aren't afraid to look beyond their doorstop.

"In-person meetings are always great and if you’re local, setting them up is easier; you can easily drive down to Mountain View or Cupertino," he added.

"At the end of the day though, it’s what your game studio can present to the partners. Even if you’re based elsewhere in the world, if you have a truly amazing game, Google and Apple will take notice."

Fighting for talent

On the other hand, PlayFirst CEO Marco DeMiroz feels very lucky to have the opportunity to speak to Apple in person.

"We value our relationships with all of our partners regardless of location, but we certainly feel lucky to have face-to-face meetings and a shared experience in the Bay Area with Google and Apple in particular," he claimed.

PlayFirst is also based in San Francisco and has created its enjoyed success on mobile thanks to short development cycles and volume of releases, launching 64 different apps to date.

Marco believes that the city's biggest challenge is the competition between the studios for local resources, especially talent.

"The major benefits of developing games in San Francisco, as great as they are, come along with some obstacles. Recruitment can be incredibly competitive, and with so much talent in the area, companies can get lost in the 'noise' and receive less attention from press or consumers."

Even the biggest companies in the area share this problem too – so much so that Zynga has developed a unique approach to the battle for talent in San Francisco.

The company's Chief People Officer, Colleen McCreary, lets us in on its talent hunting techniques.

"Zynga leaders are very active within the games and tech community and at universities," she said.

"They frequently speak with groups outside of Zynga, often to entrepreneurs, and we frequently invite groups to Zynga for educational programs and to meet and talk with our teams."

Summing up

Inviting up-and-coming developers and other specialists into Zynga early in their careers helps to establish the business as a potential long-term career and gives them a personal relationship to the company.

And that's not the only secret Zynga - or, indeed, its rivals - has up its sleeves.

Check back on PocketGamer.biz throughout this week for the full in-depth interviews with all three studios - Storm 8, PlayFirst and Zynga - as we get to grips with what makes San Francisco one of the mobile scene's shining stars.

Have you worked in video game development in San Francisco? What was your experience of the area and what do you think the future holds?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Joe just loves to go fast. That's both a reflection of his status as a self-proclaimed 'racing game expert', and the fact he spends his days frantically freelancing for a bevy of games sites. For PocketGamer.biz, however, Joe brings his insight from previous job as a community manager at iOS developer Kwalee. He also has a crippling addiction to Skittles, but the sugar gets him through the day.


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Mark Johnson
Living in the SF bay area is a bit like having free GDC running all the time. There's tons of meet ups where we get to discuss everything, get feedback, keep up on trends, meet people to work with. Super expensive though.