Interview

SGN's CEO Breen: We're going to be one of the iPhone companies to break away from the pack

SGN's CEO Breen: We're going to be one of the iPhone companies to break away from the pack
Last week it was announced that Randy Breen was taking over from SGN's founder Shervin Pishevar as the company's CEO. Pishevar shifts to the role of executive chairman.

One of the key iPhone publishers during 2009, with the million-selling F.A.S.T., as well as one of the first freemium games in the shape of Skies of Glory, we thought it an appropriate time to find out how the changes would affect the US publisher, as well as finding out more about Breen's plans for 2010.

PocketGamer: We assume your transition from COO to CEO has been planned for a while?

Randy Breen: I joined SGN as COO last year to give me time to get up to speed in terms of how the company worked, as well as giving them a chance to get a feel for me. Also we wanted to make sure I could work together with Shervin, because it's critical on so many levels that we're able to work together closely.

Why did Shervin want to move positions?

Shervin's background is entrepreneurial. He's very good at starting companies and getting them up and running, while my background is product development. For example, I was at EA when it was quite a small company, so when I joined SGN it felt very natural. The nature of the work is very much the same.

As CEO what are your goals for 2010?

My first job is to organise the company to produce reliable and consistent games and make sure we're touching all the genre categories we aspire to. Obviously I also want to grow the business to its potential.

There are already two or three iPhone companies that are breaking away from the pack and have the potential to grow substantially. I want to make sure we're making the most of that opportunity.

Do you see SGN as an iPhone-specific company?

No I don't. I use iPhone as a term to differentiate from other mobile devices. Even 'smartphone' isn't good enough. More specifically I'm thinking about web-enabled wireless devices. That includes Android. Well, certain Android devices are part of this and we're interested in those too.

We're not interested in chasing down every mobile device and testing across thousands of handsets and dumbing down the content though. There are a lot of issues with the mobile business model, but what is attractive for SGN is the direct relationship with the customer that iPhone represents. It's a path from game development through a thin distribution layer to the customer that enables you to deliver digital content.

What makes it so exciting is it will apply to all media in 10 years time. Maybe in five years time most media will be delivered this way; it's hard to say how long the transition will take. But if you want to be in the digital distribution game, I think you need to be here because it's the one that's most vibrant.

So are you developing Android games?

Yes. It's already happening. We have products in the pipeline that will be out in the first half of 2010.

You've got two freemium games out now with Skies of Glory and F.A.S.T. so how are they doing?

To be honest, the rules have changed so recently the products are not as well positioned as we'd like. We're responding to the rule change which means we're having to work with what we have and move with the market. Once things settle down, we'll have a better idea of what the market wants in terms of type of content, and the way that content is staged and priced.

I think the value proposition with freemium is much better for consumers compared to the current pay-for-premium model though because with freemium, consumers can enter progressively. You get the game for nothing so you can get some idea about it without worrying if it's going to meet your price expectations. There are a lot of impulse buyers on the App Store, so they're unlikely to experience many games if they're not free.

Freemium also enables developers and publishers to see how players are taking up their content and let's them make decisions about how they introduce new material. This ability to directly influence the game design means you can be more fluid and try to break new ground without taking on so much risk.

The extreme contrast to this is the console market, which has a dedicated audience that demands very specific types of games which require large production costs. This means you have high barriers to entry so new companies don't enter the market and hence you end up with a lot of sequels.

The promise of digital distribution is we can test and introduce new things very quickly. Social games are already proving how powerful this is because instead of an audience of 100 million gamers, there are now 1 billion gamers. And I think we're currently only seeing the most primitive versions of where such games can go.

So why are SGN's two most high profile games flight sims?

That's incidental in the sense that F.A.S.T. was successful so we're supporting it heavily, and Skies of Glory is another take on that experience. Actually, there's a dramatic difference between jet and propeller air combat. I think the multiplayer mode of Skies of Glory is more engaging and fun to play for a longer period because you get to chase somebody around. It's not unlike a Quake match.

But as well as these games, SGN has released titles such as iBowl which is very casual, so going forward you'll see a range of games from us. The consistent element across them all will be a social component.

As a publisher, what's SGN's take on external versus internal development?

In terms of Skies of Glory and F.A.S.T., both products are developed by us and an external studio Revo. Revo's taken the lead with some of its technology and did more of the work on Skies of Glory, and it did a fantastic job. With F.A.S.T., it was more of a joint project.

We also have a group in Argentina which supports and extends our games in the longer term, which leaves Revo free to do other things. It's a pretty deep collaboration and I'm interested in similar relationships with other developers.

When I started work with EA, the model was all external development and over the years that shifted to almost all internal. I think having a split between the two is healthier as it gives developers the chance to have some freedom, and enables publishers to be more nimble.

Will you be developing games for PSP Minis and DSiWare?

It's possible but the relationship with the console manufacturers can be challenging. Also these platforms need to migrate closer to the iPhone model for me to be comfortable allocating resources to them. The PSPgo and DSi are a shot in the right direction, but they're not fully featured web devices.

I know a company such as Sony has the capability to do this, but it seems that some of the required skills are outside of the core games group, which is why there are some specific issues in terms of the PSPgo not supporting the full range of connectivity formats, for example.

In contrast, the iPhone is good at automatically connecting to an network you've already connected to, and it supports all wireless formats. You have to be at the forefront of technology to be able to fully exploit the potential of the web-enabled devices.

Thanks to Randy for his time.

You can keep up-to-date with SGN via web and Twitter.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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