Interview

Scoreloop creates Game Center-like social platform for operators

Scoreloop creates Game Center-like social platform for operators
Scoreloop's intention to launch a cross-platform gaming network with Spring House Entertainment in Taiwan is not just an example of its designs on Asia, but rather further evidence of the company's efforts to keep driving forward.

The firm, which began life as a social gaming network for iPhone, has an unashamed desire to expand its remit in multiple directions – the old adage of 'evolve or die' perhaps never more relevant than here and now.

As such, iPhone is no longer the sole focus of Scoreloop's operations. Indeed, its presence on Android is soon to be followed by similar appearances on webOS, bada, Symbian, MeeGo, Windows Phone and Brew.

But while it might seem that such moves are being made purely to counter the impending impact of Apple's Game Center, Scoreloop believes there are a number of other indirect competitors set to challenge its network over the coming years.

We caught up with Scoreloop CEO Marc Gumpinger to ask just why the company is keeping its options quite so open.

Pocket Gamer: How did the deal with Spring House come about?

Marc Gumpinger: The deal was handled and closed by our team in Asia. We installed an office in Asia early on because we consider this to be a highly attractive market, and they do an excellent job. Expect some more great news to come from that region soon.

Are we likely to see similar deals with companies in Europe or the US, or are the likes of Facebook already too dominant here?

We are already discussing similar deals with big players in the US and Europe. The established social networks are big on the web but they have little to offer on mobile. While game developers can easily develop a web based or Flash game for the big social networks there is no way for them to develop a game for the social network's mobile app.

Sure there is Facebook Connect or MySpace's equivalent, but these rather thin tools just focus on providing access to the social graph. These tools are perfect for us to integrate but they simply don't provide a unified infrastructure across mobile platforms that game developers are used to on the web.

That's exactly why Scoreloop is key: we provide our partners one infrastructure across mobile platforms so that they can fully focus on creating the games and don't have to worry about the social aspects - they are able to utilise our infrastructure just like they're used to on the web.

In addition to that, a number of operators consider the established social networks to be a severe threat. Just until recently the operators owned the relationships to their customers. This is a key asset that the operators are now losing to the social networks and OEMs.

Today mobile users care about their friends on Facebook and buy songs using their iTunes account. Operators are about to turn into pure bit pipes - and that severely endangers their business model.

We see an impressive number of important operators now, who are about to strike back in order to re-establish their end-user relationship. Gaming seems to be a key component of this strategy. And because they have to do that outside of the iPhone, Scoreloop is a pretty popular partner especially now.

Scoreloop has always maintained that a multi-platform strategy is part of the firm's DNA. Is that even more important now that Game Center is set to appear on the scene?

Apple's Game Center announcement was a key event for us. Every company that is even slightly related to the mobile industry knows that they have to keep up with the iPhone.

But Apple closed down their eco-system, again, and that prohibits a huge number of really big companies from joining the iPhone party. So they have to do it their own.

And they do. All of them view the iPhone as the standard that needs to be met or surpassed. For that reason, each of those big companies - operators, OEMs, social networks, publishers, IP owners - not only want to create devices or operating systems that meet that standard, they now also want to have their own Game Center.

Having focused on cross platform support since the beginning, Scoreloop is the natural choice. Actually we're the only choice because we're the only ones who can actually deliver the social gaming infrastructure and Game Center functionality across platforms. This is key in a fragmented market.

In addition to that, Scoreloop is the only company to offer this unique infrastructure as a white label product which makes it ideal not just for publishers but also for operators and OEMs who have strong brands and want to re-establish relationships with their customers.

What role do you see Scoreloop taking on the wealth of new smartphone platforms set to launch in the coming years?

We'll deliver on our cross platform proposition. We're not interested in just targeting the 100 million users on the iPhone - we're targeting the 1 billion users. So we will support all major smartphone operating systems that welcome the leading social gaming infrastructure.

We're already working on bada and MeeGo because we see a great future for these operating systems. iPhone was a great market to start with, but with more than 200,000 apps it's simply an overcrowded market - and iOS only reaches fraction of the entire mobile market.

We see more and more iPhone developers asking us for the next opportunity. More and more titles are being ported to Android now - with bada and MeeGo to follow. This market is moving so quickly now and we're thrilled to be the leader on the social infrastructure side of things.

Windows Phone 7, in particular, seems like it will have a particular focus on games. However, with Xbox Live making the leap with it, do you think there's much room for third-party networks such as Scoreloop?

I'd love to tell you more about it, but we're under a strict NDA with Microsoft.

Ultimately, is Scoreloop happy with a range of mobile operating systems, or would you prefer to see one or two dominant players?

We're actually very happy with multiple important players. We assume that fragmentation won't change any time soon.

With the largest tech companies in the world like Apple, Google, Nokia, Intel, Motorola, Microsoft, HP, Samsung, HTC, or Foxconn being fully involved in this market it simply doesn't seem likely.

So we have invested a lot of resources in a platform agnostic version of Scoreloop - which we now have. This approach allows us to support other operating systems with native SDKs quickly and to handle all the complexities that 'cross platform' actually entails.

It's going to be a tough time for our former competitors who just focused on the iPhone. There are so many specifics to each platform.

For instance, take push notifications on iPhone: they simply don't exist on Android. On Android, however, you have a lot more flexibility with virtual currencies - which we're the only ones to actually offer at the moment.

Companies trying to add the next mobile platform in the current rush actually have to rewrite their whole product again. With the efforts we invested in cross platform support from the beginning, it initially took us a little longer but it now pays out tenfold in the speed at which we can now operate.

And what's more, by being cross platform at the core we can handle the complexity involved in cross platform support. Having to port to the next platform in a rush is going to be tough for our former competitors - and the market is in a huge rush now.
Thanks to Marc for his time.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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