Interview

DeNA and GREE's acquisitions have slowed their social surge in the west, reckons PapayaMobile CEO Si Shen

Ngmoco and OpenFeint stalling success

DeNA and GREE's acquisitions have slowed their social surge in the west, reckons PapayaMobile CEO Si Shen
Consolidation may have been the key word within the mobile social gaming scene in recent years – DeNA and GREE's moves in the sector of most note – but it would be a mistake to suggest things are in any way calming down.

Indeed, if anything, PapayaMobile is ensuring competition between the main players remains intense.

Earlier today, the firm announced a partnership with monetisation specialists Tapjoy that will link the two firm's SDKs on Android to launch a 'social marketplace'.

Papaya has also made several inroads on the lucrative Chinese market, with the firm's Gateway to China program offering western studios the opportunity to take their titles to the region.

As a result of all such moves, we sat down with PapayaMobile CEO Si Shen to take about the firm's rivals, the growth of the market, and the value of Papaya's new tie-in with Tapjoy.

Pocket Gamer: You recently released an iOS SDK. How has the uptake been?

Si Shen: We already have one third party developer who's released a game with our iPhone SDK – XCity - so now the studio has that game on iOS and its users are now able to communicate with each other.

There are developers in China, developers in the US and in Europe; they are all working with us, they are actually integrating the SDK right now.

It takes some time to integrate the SDK, so very soon you'll be able to see a lot more new games coming to iOS using it.

Is it mainly Android developers taking advantage of the new tools?

There was one developer - a web game developer on Facebook - that chose to use our SDK [in its debut title].

What encouraged the move to iOS in the first place? Was it the strength of that particular market?

It's because of our users. A lot of users are asking for it. Although maybe for us it means spending more resources for making both platforms and also iOS has different policies on, for example, virtual goods, so we have to comply with that, which might be not so easy it terms of having different policies for different platforms.

However, we do get a lot of user feedback - some people have both Android and iPhones or iPod touch and want to play Papaya on both devices and there are others that are using Android, but some of their friends are using iPhone and they want to enjoy Papaya against their friends.

They kept asking for Papaya on iOS so we thought, 'yeah, lets try it'.

Isn't Game Center going to be a potential stumbling block? Do you see it as a threat?

The reason why we moved to iOS is because users are asking for it - that means there’s a need.

Papaya is quite different from Game Center - it's more a social network. It’s not that gaming specific as a lot of users just 'hang out' on Papaya.

What do you make of GREE's recent acquisition of OpenFeint and DeNA's move for ngmoco? Has it resulted in any adjustments at Papaya?

I always tell my employees, at the end of the day, if we don't succeed it's not because something our competitors have done right, it has to be something that we’ve done wrong.

So we're focused on things we need to do right. We don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing.

The acquisitions will definitely cause some changes in the market, but at least for the time being what we’ve seen is that the acquisitions have actually slowed down our competitors. The CEO of OpenFeint has left, GREE announced that it’s going to revamp the whole product and will be released sometime next year.

Basically that means is that whatever they have in the market right now as a product has already been denied by GREE - GREE thinks the current product is not working, that’s why they’re revamping everything, and why the CEO left. So the whole progress of the company has been slowed down since the acquisition.

In regards to DeNA and ngmoco, it took some time for both firms to figure out their direction based on what they have.

They had this new engine they just released on Android and they're trying really hard to have developers re-write their games on top of their game engine, which is a huge barrier for developers. So they’re still trying to figure out the best way for them.

Whereas for us - we've grown really, really fast in the last six months and we’re really confident.

Mobage on Android has begun picking up some strong numbers with some of its games recently. Has Papaya's opinion on the service changed since [head of developer relations] Paul Chen's original comments about the service 'failing to gain traction'?

I’m a product person - I used to be product manager at Google. The product is the core of the company, and the fundamental thing you have to do right. DeNA still needs to figure out what is the right thing to do as a social gaming platform.

Even if Mobage is starting to get more users, it’s just for a specific game or games.

Ngmoco is a gaming company, and it has 'the gene' for making very good games, but the company doesn't have the gene for making a very good social network. Ngmoco doesn’t own a social graph - even if it accumulates a lot of downloads and users for some specific games, the users are not connected.

[The users] are not recommending games to each other, they’re not involving the social network with the games that they’re getting a lot of downloads. That’s the key product problem that the two need to solve and Mobage still needs to find the right direction.

How is the Gateway to China initiative going?

We've had a lot of interest from the US and European countries. In the pipeline we have a bunch of games coming out that we’ll announce later.

The great thing is that we’ve also found some big phone manufacturers in China who are interested to pre-install some of the games from the Gateway to China. We found these great distribution channels for free for our partners.

Do you have any numbers for the support?

What I can say is that there are dozens [of games] coming out soon in the next few weeks.

How important will the Chinese market be in the future, and what do Western developers have to gain by entering the market?

The difference between mobile internet and the internet market is that in the internet market China is a totally different area. It's a very walled-garden market. But then the mobile internet is very different, right now it’s more global, more international.

A lot of Chinese companies are doing a lot of good applications for the US market, vice-versa - a lot of Western companies are trying to get into the Chinese market and see if they can get a market share.

I believe there’s a great opportunity [for that to happen]. In terms of monetisation opportunity, maybe it’s not as big as what they see in their own users right now, however the Chinese government and carriers are fixing a lot of issues very rapidly - the carrier billing issues, credit cards, banking stuff - once these issues are solved, I believe that the purchase power of Chinese people will be pretty significant.

If you can see how many people are going to be using cell phones in China...it's just huge. Right now the smartphone penetration is just several per cent, not ten per cent. But consider - 10 percent is probably 130 million [people]. At the end of the day, that's likely to be 70-80 per cent in a few years - it's a huge market.

Is there that strong a demand for smartphones in China?

Our growth rate in China is even higher than what we’re doing in other countries - it's so fast.

In terms of smartphone [models], there are more and more cheap Android phones in China, and the price is getting lower and lower. That means the mass market in China will be using smartphones very soon.

In a recent column for PocketGamer.biz, Justin Mauldin said that Android was the ‘key market’. Do you agree, and how is that the case when relatively few developers are making money on the platform compared to iOS?

Do you really think that few developers are making money on Android?

We are working with a lot developers who are making a lot of money on Android. Maybe the ARPU is a little bit lower than on iPhone right now, but I definitely see a huge potential.

Do you feel that this new deal with Tapjoy will strengthen PapayaMobile's position for attracting new developers?

I think this product will potentially provide much better monetisation, in terms of providing offers for the users. For that reason, a lot of developers will find it interesting.

Also Tapjoy is working with a lot of game developers, so that will help us reach a lot of game developers. In terms of transition - previously we provided a direct billing channel and now we also provide very good offer based products.

Tapjoy is the market leader in offer-based advertising so they have a lot of advertisers, so now we can tap into all those advertisers - it’s going to be very attractive to developers.

Is this a long-term relationship?

We're making the product together. It's long term.
Thanks to Si for her time.

Will's obsession with gaming started off with sketching Laser Squad levels on pads of paper, but recently grew into violently shouting "Tango Down!" at random strangers on the street. He now directs that positive energy into his writing (due in no small part to a binding court order).

Comments

No comments
View options
  • Order by latest to oldest
  • Order by oldest to latest
  • Show all replies