2011 in review: Giordano Contestabile, franchise business director, PopCap Games

It's been about scale. Next year, we'll need to be better

2011 in review: Giordano Contestabile, franchise business director, PopCap Games
PopCap - it sounds like it should be a specialist elimination service for drug dealers and hiphop artists - but the casual game maker played its cards right in 2011, being bought by EA in a deal initially worth $750 million, but potentially worth as much as 'headline figure' $1.35 billion in terms of cash and shares.

And a key part of that deal is the company's power in mobile, which Giordano Contestabile, PopCap Games' business director for Bejeweled, knows all about.

We caught with him to get his take on the past 12 months.

PocketGamer: What do you think was the most significant event for the mobile games industry in 2011?

Giordano Contestabile: The faster-than-expected rise of smartphones, currently used by more than 500 million people worldwide, is an overarching industry trend rather than specific to gaming. It is, however, central to our industry, as it has enabled a radical shift in the way games are consumed on mobile, allowing for the success of distribution and business models based on scale rather than on revenue per user.

In practice this means that a model where the vast majority of players don't actually pay, but where enough of them do to make the game viable over time, has rapidly become dominant and now represent the majority of revenue derived from games on smartphone devices.

The velocity of this trend can't be overstated, as towards the end of 2011, premium game sales represented around two-thirds of overall revenue, and one year later we're looking at a mirror image of the market, with the same percentage attributable to revenue from in-app purchases in freemium games.

So, freemium is the most significant trend of 2011 for mobile gaming, but smartphone adoption is the underlying trend that made it possible.

What was the most significant event for PopCap?

I think everyone would guess that the most significant event of 2011 for PopCap has been the acquisition by EA, and surely that's what captured the most headlines. From my perspective, however, that event was a consequence of what I consider the most important milestone for the company, which is the fact that in 2011 the majority of our revenue was derived from connected platforms, such as mobile or social.

This is the result of our effort to bring franchises that started as single player games on PC, such as Bejeweled or Plants vs. Zombies, to new platforms like iOS and Facebook, and in the process update the way those games are played, adding social elements and features made possible by the 'always-on' nature of those platforms.

The simultaneous launch in December of Bejeweled and Bejeweled Blitz - our first freemium game on mobile - on iOS was also a very important moment, as we were able to renew one of the most beloved gaming brands on the platform, while dramatically expanding the number of players.

What was your favourite mobile game of the year?

Apart from Bejeweled and Bejeweled Blitz?

2011 was a great year for mobile gaming, and personally I've been playing a lot of Jetpack Joyride, which I think contains everything that makes a great mobile game: extremely easy to pick up, playable in short burst, with a very intuitive control scheme and impossible to put down.

Other great games released this year include Monsters Ate My Condo, Tiny Wings and DragonVale, the latest an example of how attention to detail and production values can make all the difference.

Finally, I'd like to urge everyone to try a game called Russian Dancing Men: extremely weird, and gloriously so.

What do you predict will be the most important trends in 2012?

Cross-platform gaming, especially between Facebook and smartphone platforms, will become more prevalent, and some of the most successful games on 2012 will feature it.

Freemium will grow and evolve, and will bring innovation not only in terms of business model, but also of gameplay, as developers take advantage of the opportunity to reach a wide audience and start to unleash their creativity. I believe freemium might make up over 80 percent of overall revenue on smartphones by the end of the year.

Android will outpace other platforms in terms of growth, and 2012 will be a make-or-break year in terms of it becoming a leading platform for gaming. I'm optimistic that during the year most of the issues affecting the platform (fragmentation and lack of a fully functioning app ecosystem) will be mitigated, but if that will not be the case, I think developers could cool on Android.

What's your New Year's resolution and what resolution would you enforce on the industry?

My New Year's resolution is 1280x1024. Sorry, couldn't restrain myself.

Seriously, what I wish for the industry in 2012 is for the focus to be squarely on making great games, and on innovating. We have just started to scratch the surface of what's possible in terms of mobile gaming, and the focus on short term revenue has meant that an avalanche of very similar games based on a small number of themes has been very prominent in the stores.

I don't think that's a sustainable model in the long term and, most importantly, players deserve better.

Thanks to Giordano for his time. You should be following him on Twitter.
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.