As an industry, video games are still relatively new – mobile games even more so. French publisher Gameloft, has been around since almost the very beginning, and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with Gameloft Classics, a mobile game collection featuring 30 games from its various studios.
Founded in December 1999, Gameloft has published over 190 games for more than 10,000 smartphones and tablets in 11 languages, and now employs an estimated 4,600 staff globally. From Asphalt and Splinter Cell to Real Football and Prince of Persia, the company has experimented and explored different IP and series to varying degrees of success.
A lot can happen in 20 years. So, to find out how the company has survived and thrived in the always shifting market of games, we spoke to Gameloft chief financial officer Alexandre de Rochefort and chief operating officer Baudouin Corman, both of whom possess a combined 35-year history with the publisher - something even rarer in games today.
PocketGamer.biz: What have been the biggest changes in the mobile games industry over the last 20 years?
Alexandre de Rochefort: There have been so many that it's becoming difficult to keep track of all of them. This being said, I believe they have been four defining moments during the last 20 years.
The first occurred during the second half of 2002 when Nokia and soon after Siemens started integrating Java in their mobile phones. At the time Nokia was the world's leading handset manufacturer and Siemens was a major player as well, so the adoption of the Java technology by these two companies was a major step for our industry, almost its birth certificate. Prior to that the WAP (wireless application protocol) technology was not really allowing anyone in the industry to deliver a fun experience, no matter how hard we tried.
July 2008 was the second defining moment for the industry. One year after the release of the iPhone, Apple introduced the App Store, allowing users to actually download apps and exploit the full possibilities offered by the iPhone. Google followed soon after with what is now named Google Play for its Android system.
Third, 2011 is the year when Apple and Google allowed in-app purchases and thus paved the road for free-to-play games, which took over the market in a matter of months. Gameloft and its competitors had been selling iOS and Android games from $0.99 to $14.99, and suddenly we were giving out our games for free.
This forced us to rethink entirely the way we made and market games, but it allowed us to have access to a much wider audience. Our bestselling games were selling hundreds of thousands of units, and just a few months later our games were downloaded in hundreds of millions. Our most downloaded game, Minion Rush, has been downloaded nearly a billion times. It's insane when you think about it.
Closer to us, the emergence of the so-called hypercasual games will probably also be a defining moment for our industry. It is still early days and some speak about the potential decline of this specific genre, but no matter what, the advent of hypercasual gaming has changed everybody's approach to mobile gaming and to user acquisition.
What are the biggest challenges you have come across during your 20-plus years with Gameloft?
Alexandre de Rochefort: Without any question, in my 20 years at Gameloft, the biggest challenge has been to adapt to the ever-changing market environment, business models, technologies, etcetera. Bear in mind that it's considerably more difficult to adapt when you are a large company with thousands of employees in more than 30 locations around the world.
I think our longevity is something to be proud of at Gameloft, as to have thrived during these many changes year after year is an accomplishment in itself. There are not that many mobile game companies still alive today that were there in 2000.
In my 20 years at Gameloft, the biggest challenge has been to adapt to the ever-changing market environment, business models, technologies, etcetera.Alexandre de Rochefort
What games are you most proud of from Gameloft?
Alexandre de Rochefort: Modern Combat Sandstorm, which launched in Q3 2009, was really amazing. I remember playing PVP on Bluetooth on a long train trip with two friends of mine. At the time it seemed so incredible to be able to play an FPS game online so casually with friends on the train.
Second, Minion Rush because of the incredible audience it has generated over the years. It's one of the most downloaded video games of all times! How many games have been downloaded over a billion times?
More recently, Asphalt 9: Legends is an amazing game and a huge success that shows that extremely high-quality games with great ambition can catch the attention of mobile players. It's the culmination of the Asphalt franchise and one of our crown jewels here at Gameloft.
How much impact has the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had on Gameloft as a company? How has the company adapted to the current lockdown situation plaguing the world?
Baudouin Corman: Like almost every other company, we have been impacted by Covid-19. Gameloft is an international company with over 4000 employees, and protecting those employees is extremely important. Thanks to the amazing efforts of our amazing IT teams, we were able to accommodate for almost all of our employees to work from home, even in regions where it is not compulsory, and we are following all regional requirements as they change.
In such a situation, entertainment is essential and we saw an increase in our downloads and number of players, so we need to be able to deliver on our mission and keep helping players to have fun, more than ever.
Finally, we've worked to provide free unlocks in 35 of our games, and our advertising division is working with regional health organisations to provide free ad inventory specifically to promote and educate users on Covid-19-related health practices. It's a group effort, and we feel like Gameloft can contribute some good to this crisis.
Should we expect game delays as a result of Covid-19?
Baudouin Corman: We don't anticipate any major game delays, but we are communicating to our players via social channels any updates, delays, or changes to upcoming content or in-game events.
Can you tell us about your partnerships throughout the years? Any particular difficult ones or interesting stories you can tell.
Alexandre de Rochefort: Our collaboration with James Cameron and 20th Century Fox on Avatar resonates strongly with me. It was so great, so exciting to be associated with such an ambitious and successful project. One has to remember how huge Avatar was when it was released in December 2009.
Avatar was the first movie to ever reach $2 billion in revenues. It was massive. It was a cultural phenomenon and it, of course, it was also a technical prowess as a 3D movie. And I think Gameloft proved itself worthy of the success and ambition of the movie.
Talk to us about Vivendi? The company has come under increased scrutiny throughout the years and came under fire as it attempted a hostile takeover of Ubisoft?
Baudouin Corman: We have now been a part of the Vivendi group for four years, and there has been, from day one, an emphasis on empowering the teams and building mutual respect between Vivendi, Gameloft, and the other organisations within the larger group.
Joining Vivendi enabled us to work together with other world-class businesses in the Vivendi group such as Universal Music Group or Studiocanal and also welcome FreshPlanet to the Gameloft family. It has been four years now, our focus is on our future and our goals, which is built on a commitment to make great games and experiences for our players.
How much say does Vivendi have on Gameloft's releases and business strategy overall?
Baudouin Corman: We are player-first in our approach to development and publishing. Gameloft only exists because of our players and our ultimate purpose is to create games for every kind of player to enjoy. Vivendi is fully on our side and completely understands our approach and supports our efforts to innovate in our games, explore and test new monetization models or to distribute our games onto multiple platforms.
Gameloft only exists because of our players and our ultimate purpose is to create games for every kind of player to enjoy.Baudoin Corman
How do you sustain a games company for two decades?
Alexandre de Rochefort: Agility. That is the key. This market is moving so fast that the only way to survive is to be on the move permanently. I wished many times that we, as a company, could push the pause button for just a moment but it is simply not possible. Our market is so incredibly competitive with hundreds of games published on iOS and Android every single day, that as soon as you stay still someone else will come up with a product and take your place.
Are there any stats you can share with us across Gameloft's entire library? The number of downloads, revenue generated, player base etcetera.
Baudoin Corman: Sure thing. Currently, some of our more notable metrics include 1.5 million daily downloads for Gameloft games, which does certainly fluctuate with new product launches, updates, and new platform launches. We also generally see 80 million monthly active users (MAU), although this will also change when we have new launches.
Gameloft is known for our licensed games such as with Disney or LEGO, but that's actually only 35 per cent of our revenue generation. A full 65 per cent is due to first-party products such as Asphalt 9: Legends and that is important to us. Gameloft has a deep catalogue of games, and you can explore some of that with the Gameloft Classics app on Android, where players can check out 30 of our older games.
What do the next five years look like for Gameloft?
Baudouin Corman: We are excited about the next five years of Gameloft. First and foremost, our goal is to lean further into our objective to bring games to players new and old across all appropriate platforms. By that we mean we want to create experiences that speak to players and engage with folks who have previously only had limited experiences with gaming. The player base has grown, and we want to keep creating games and experiences that speak to them.
You'll notice that we have amazing partnerships with companies like Disney, Universal, LEGO and many others, and we aim to keep fostering those relationships to keep setting the standard of best in class partnerships in the mobile games industry. We want to keep making mid and hardcore mobile games, but we want to make sure we're serving the needs of players looking for smaller, more casual experiences.
We are also looking at the changing landscape for monetization. What started as a premium purchase experience changed into free-to-play games with in-game advertising options and in-app purchases. We don't think that's the only way to monetize, and we want to also work with our players in providing them options that best appeals to them.
One example is exploring subscription models like Apple Arcade, which has proven to be popular and which we launched Ballistic Baseball, but is only one option of many. We're both working in that space and looking at all types of innovation, and even in 2019 was chosen by Italian telecom TIM Italy to create their subscription service platform for games.
Finally, we are anticipating a fluid and changing landscape regarding technology and platforms. There is a lot of new technology out there, but we are really interested in the advances in cross-platform gameplay. While Gameloft is known primarily for making mobile games, we consider ourselves game developers first and foremost. We are currently developing cross-platform projects for mobile, PC and consoles