Connect2Media: 'Treat own-IP mobile games as brands'
Eric Hobson talks product strategy
"Our new positioning is as a games company rather than a mobile games company, and we're not the only ones looking at the market in that way," says CEO Eric Hobson.
"It's not that we disregard mobile far from it, it's the core of our business. But if you want to go with own-IP products and build brands, you still can't do that on mobile. You have to build these brands on the web or another platform first."
This year will see Connect2Media test that out, initially with its recently-announced Go! Go! Rescue Squad! game, which debuts on PC, before moving to iPhone, other mobile platforms, and finally Xbox Live Arcade and DS.
"We want to properly build brands from scratch, and right now mobile just isn't an environment where you can do that, although iPhone may be," says Hobson.
"It's traditional branding. If someone's launching a new soap or shower gel, they work out the name, the advertising campaign, and they invest over a period of time to create a brand. That's what we're doing with Go!Go!. There is a set program of how we build it into a brand over time."
Connect2Media plans to launch around 36 games this year, of which seven or eight will be own-IP titles. Hobson says the cross-platform strategy is designed to tie in with the changes happening at operators and telcos.
"To some extent our view was to provide a service to convergence companies, which have an ISP, a mobile operator and a digital TV arm," he says.
"We wanted to supply them with content for each platform, and that's happening with some. Telstra in Australia for example has one person buying for their mobile and ISP services, so she can take Go!Go! for web and mobile and campaign across both."
It's affecting the way Connect2Media develops games, too. Insetad of building separate development streams for each platform mobile, PC, Web, console and so on the company now has a single development stream that can spit out versions for all these platforms at the top.
Connect2Media will continue to license brands for its games too, although Hobson admits that cross-platform can have its own headaches.
"Convergence throws up some of the licensing issues we saw in the early days of mobile games, where you'd talk about mobile licensing rights, but often they'd be bundled in with other platforms," he says.
"So over time they unbundled, but now we're going back to them saying we'd like them to bundle these rights together again! So our approach now with licensing is to say we'd like mobile, Web, iPhone, digital TV, Xbox Live Arcade and so on."
iPhone looms large, as it does for many games publishers. Hobson is hugely enthusiastic about the impact made by Apple's handset, not least on the way carriers do business.
"It's caused a fundamental rethink about what game quality should look like," he says. "Operators are saying, 'Why can't I have games that look like that?', and we're saying, 'You can, just not in 64k on low-end handsets'. The operators are accepting that they can't force lowest common denominator programming any more."
He cites the ongoing consolidation in the traditional J2ME mobile games market as an example of that.
"A lot of companies are saying, 'Sorry, we're not interested in the normal mobile bit any more' from Sega to Vivendi to THQ. But they are doing the iPhone," he says.
"It starts to change the negotiating position. The operators have historically had lots of big publishers clamouring to be working with them, but in the last 12 months, they've seen lots of people say, 'I just don't want to work with you'."
iPhone has its challenges, of course. Hobson isn't alone in identifying the downward pressure on pricing on the App Store as a concern for publishers especially when developers are knocking their prices down to $0.99 to get into the charts.
"You might get a nice revenue boost, but it's not sustainable there's a bit of naivety among bedroom developers who aren't used to price management," he says.
"They're chasing it down in terms of price points, but over the next year the iPhone space will transform. You'll see major publishers come in and operate pricing. We're not going to see big brands discount themselves to 99 cents."
One last question for Hobson is what happened to Connect2Media´s original strategy when the company span off from Hands-On Mobile last year, one aim was to build brands by pitching TV show formats to broadcasters. Is that still happening?
"It's a bloody sight slower than we were initially expecting," he laughs.
"We were amazed at the early success of that, where TV people thought it was a great idea and started talking to us. But they can talk to you for a year or more it's like movies getting optioned for years! People are still interested, and we still believe it's going to happen, but we're a bit more realistic about how quickly it's going to happen."