Interview

Flashback Friday: Neil Young on how ngmoco and Freeverse will dominate the iPhone free2play market

Flashback Friday: Neil Young on how ngmoco and Freeverse will dominate the iPhone free2play market

Back at GDC 2010, we interviewed Neil Young, who was then CEO of ngmoco.

The San Francisco developer/publisher had just bought NYC dev Freeverse, and was preparing for the release of its first wave of free-to-play games (of free2play as we called them back them).

Always optimistic about the future, he was talking about his hopes of games like We Rule and GodFinger - incidentally the latter is currently getting a sequel reboot from its original development team.

Indeed, Young is even more optimistic five year on, most recently talking about why he believes the mobile game business could grow 10x in the coming years.

During GDC 2010, we got the opportunity to catch up with Neil Young, CEO of ngmoco.

In the second of three articles, we discuss the early feedback from ngmoco's recent game launches.

Other topics include how it - together with recent acquisition Freeverse - will be operating over the next 12 months.

Pocket Gamer: You've launched We Rule and GodFinger in Canada so what feedback are you getting?

Neil Young: It's going really well. One thing we focus on is the ratio of sessions per daily active users. Across ngmoco's Plus+ network it's about two sessions per day. For our free2play games such as Epic Pet Wars, Eliminate and Touch Pets, it's 3.7, which is indicative of better player engagement.

We Rule is currently between 7 and 8 sessions per day. Obviously this will settle down over time but we think it will settle down to over 5 sessions per daily active user and that's really exciting.

Session durations are also good. Average users are playing for 25 to 30 minutes across those sessions and the in-app purchases are phenomenal.

It's radically better than Touch Pets and Eliminate. We'll see how that pans out when the game is released worldwide.

Freeverse's new MMOG CastleCraft uses a monthly subscription model. Why do you think that will work?

I don't know. I think we should try everything. I don't think that We Rule, GodFinger, Castlecraft, Eliminate or Touch Pets are the be-all-and-end-all. After them will be another iteration.

Just as we learnt things with Eliminate and Touch Pets, we will learn things from We Rule and GodFinger and they will be deployed into the next set of games.

One thing we pride ourselves at ngmoco is being a nimble organisation. At this stage in the market, the people with the most experience and the most iteration cycles, and the most talent have the best chance of getting ahead of the pack.

How will the rest of year play out for ngmoco and Freeverse?

I've been in the games industry for a long time and have worked on games that have been on time and shit, and late and great. I've also worked on games that have been late and shit, and on time and great. Great trumps everything though. If you look at how ngmoco has operated, we've never rushed anything into the market and we'll continue to follow that.

In terms of releases, there will be around 20 free2play products from ngmoco and roughly the same again from Freeverse over the next 12 months.

That's a lot of titles. The question will be how do we make sure each one of those games is raising the bar in terms of the user experience and the learning that we get?

The corollary is when do you decide to kill off games that aren't performing?

From a pure business perspective, it's easy to figure out. Is the dollar cost of maintaining the software greater than the opportunity cost of maintaining the software?

Of course, factored into opportunity cost are a lot of variables. How much revenue are we making? What projects could those people working on the game be doing? And then there's the customer and the impact of your decision on them. That's an important consideration.

Those variables will be different for each game, but we will have to face those decisions.

Discoverability is a big issue with developers promoting their paid games by making them free, so how does that work for free games?

We have a good brand, good products and a good mechanism to enable us to consistently deliver our products into the charts. Every single piece of software ngmoco has released has been top 50, all but one have been in the top 25, and the last two free games we released globally both went to #1.

We Rule is #22, GodFinger is #10 in Canada and that's without us turning on the promotion system.

Discoverability will continue to be an issue as long as there are lots of applications coming into the market so you need to develop systems for dealing with that. Throwing something up the chart for one day is useful to get exposure but there are more than 365 apps released a year, so I don't think it will solve the issue for the majority of developers.

Thanks to Neil for his time.

You can read the first part of our interview on why iPhone social gaming won't be dominated by Zygna and Playfish here.

And there third part about repositioning Plus+ as the standard tech for free2play iPhone games here.


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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