MWC 2010: Fewer, bigger, and better: Niccolo de Masi on the reinvention of Glu

'We're throwing every available dollar at development'

MWC 2010: Fewer, bigger, and better: Niccolo de Masi on the reinvention of Glu
He may be sipping from what some people are describing as the most poisoned chalice in mobile gaming, but six weeks into his new job Glu Mobile's CEO and president Niccolo de Masi is still fighting fit.

More significantly, he argues the publicly-owned publisher is well placed to capture the explosive growth that will be created as ten of millions of smartphones are purchased globally over the coming months and years.

"We're in the middle of the storm at the moment, but over a three to five year period we expect the market to grow multiple times and see our revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars," he states. "I'm very optimistic."

It's the current storm that has everyone's attention, however.

Historically the third biggest Western mobile publisher of Java and Brew games, Glu was slow to react to the emerging opportunities of smartphone and iPhone during 2009, and has since been going through painful restructuring to regain lost time: something which included the prolonged departure of previous CEO Greg Ballard, who de Masi replaced in early 2010.

It's also a process that's extended to redundancies over recent weeks as internal teams are refocused to smartphones as they complete existing projects.

"Within the limits of running a stable company, we're throwing every dollar at development on new platforms," de Masi explains. "If we make games for declining platforms, we're going to be dead business in six months' time. Smartphones are the opportunity and people who own smartphones buy more games. This is the market we're setting out to capture."

For example, one of his first decisions has been to scale back support for Java, only completing games already on the company's roadmap. Brew support will survive as de Masi admits platform holder Qualcomm is attempting to reinvent the technology with the mid-range Brew MP platform that's been adopted by AT&T.

"We think there's enough smart in Brew smartphones," he says.

The real targets, however, are Apple's devices, including the forthcoming iPad, as well as Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Palm's Pre: a device the company has had recent success on thanks to close co-operation between the two companies.

The wider issue for Glu is dealing with growing fragmentation, both in terms of handset technologies and the explosion of app stores, which sees the publisher working with OEMs such as Nokia and Samsung, and OS companies like Google and Microsoft, as well as the traditional carrier channels on which its business was built.

But while acknowledging the fluid nature of the situation, de Masi remains bullish.

"Fragmentation is good for publishers like us because it clears out the mom and pop operations that have flourished with iPhone," he argues. "Only larger companies have the scale and experience to thrive in these conditions."

Indeed, he says third-party developers are increasing coming to Glu in the hope that it will publish their products. The company remains solely focused on internally developed content though, with the mantra to make fewer, bigger, and better games.

"You can't crush the market with sheer numbers of releases anymore," he argues. "Other publishers have tried that but it doesn't scale. We'll be focusing on fewer, higher quality games which match what smartphones can do, and which use our own IP, because that's how you build a valuable company."

As part of this, the type of games Glu will be making will be changing with buzzwords such as 'engagement', 'social', 'freemium', and 'owing the customer' regularly cropping up in conversation.

"The release of a game is the starting point of the process now. We're looking to change the speed at which we work out and update our games," de Masi enthuses. "As we move into free business models, we're thinking about how we engage with our consumers when they're not paying our games, as well as how we monetise the experiences we're giving them."

It's a big shift in approach, and one that offers the potential for mishap, perhaps even as much as for success. The next six months will be crucial.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at 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.