Neon Play's Oli Christie on the importance of cross-promotion and the increasing squeeze on freemium social games

'Savage churn rate' of App Store free chart

Neon Play's Oli Christie on the importance of cross-promotion and the increasing squeeze on freemium social games
It’s been an exciting year and a half for Neon Play and its co-founder and CEO Oli Christie.

Starting as a two-man setup in Christie's kitchen in 2010, Neon Play has quickly grown to be one of mobile gaming’s success stories, with over 26 million downloads for its 40 games, including Paper Glider, the ten-billionth app downloaded on the App Store.

Having just picked up Entreprenur of the Year award from the National Chamber of Commerce, we sat down with Christie to talk about the future for Neon Play, social gaming, and the premium market across Android and iPhone.

Pocket Gamer: The majority of the downloads you've had are for free titles. What’s your opinion on the 'death of premium' debate currently taking place on mobiles?

Oli Christie: I don't think premium is totally dead. The freemium model is of course the hot topic, but what we found when launching Traffic Panic 3D - we looked at the game and it's very lovely, very lush and stimulating.

And the free charts are so cluttered, and the churn rate is savage - you can go up there quite quickly, but you can also go down as quickly.

So we thought let's give it a go as paid and it's doing very well. If it starts to sag then we’ll put it freemium. So two bites of the cherry.

Does Android change your approach?

We've gone through with [free games] on Android, just to get our user numbers up and cross-promote.

But I think there's very few good quality paid apps comparatively on the Android Market [than iOS], so we might look at putting Traffic Panic 3D up as paid as well just to see what happens, because you can always change it.

Have you looked at other distribution methods on Android?

We've looked at Getjar, Amazon, and I think at the moment we're going to concentrate on Android Market. It's because it's quite hard negotiating with everybody - time consuming. Everyone wants a different part of the app - this free, that free .

So whilst we learn about Android I think we'll probably focus more on Android Market.

Do you think companies are rushing into freemium at the moment without stopping to see if a game should be that paid model?

Yeah, I think different games have different merits. So games like Paper Glider Crazy Copter - 60 levels that became 100 levels - and you can see that unlocking extra copters or unlocking extra levels could work as a freemium game.

I still think you can do a paid game with in-app purchases and still make it work.

Have you thought about making a game for Windows Phone?

We've done a game for Nokia [Ovi Store]. We’ve been speaking to other people as well. We want to get our games into as many people’s hands - the more the merrier, really. We might look at Facebook as well potentially going forward.

We just want to get our stuff out there and learn, really - see what works, what doesn’t work.

What’s your opinion on HTML5?

I think it'll be interesting. I don't know, I'm not a techie guy. Everyone's talking about, it's a hot topic, but whether it has any longevity I don't know.

I don't think we could do games like Traffic Panic 3D on HTML5 at the moment. But I think that'll come later. We are discussing it internally and doing prototyping to see what can be done.

With your first social game launching next year, what approach have you taken to researching the field?

I wouldn't say we've done a crazy amount of analysis. We looked at games like Tap Zoo. which was top of the grossing charts and they're really simple, really. Not a lot visually to stimulate the user but they seem to hook you in. So we thought we'd better try it.
Paper Glider's always been a strong brand for us, our strongest franchise. So we thought 'let’s build an airport'.

It's in semi-3D so it's not isometric like you'd normally have it, we've got a lot animation, humour as well. I think it's really cute and fun to play, with a genuine reason for people to come back. We're really excited about it.

At the Social Gaming Summit a lot of people were talking of how Facebook is now too expensive for small companies with social games to break into. Do you think the same fate awaits the App Store and Android Market?

I think it's got harder in the last quarter. I don't know whether that's Apple changing the algorithm or it's the big boys chucking more money at it.

There's clearly a lot of competition out there and that's why we need to build on our cross-promotion network and make it a lot more powerful.

It’s not easy, but hopefully we’re fairly well placed. People see our games, and they like them, and they’ll download them as well.
Thanks to Oli for his 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).