GamesBeat

With a new leader, Ngmoco shoots for mobile gaming empire (interview)

San Francisco game publisher Ngmoco was acquired by Japan’s DeNA in 2010 for $400 million. Since that time, the Ngmoco has strived to prove that it was worth that high value, launching Asian games such as Rage of Bahamut in the U.S. with great success.

the drowning 2 But today, the company and its Swedish game studio Scattered Entertainment are announcing The Drowning, a high-end game that attempts to bring the multibillion-dollar market for first-person shooter games to mobile. If it’s successful, Ngmoco could unlock a new audience for hardcore gamers on devices such as tablets and smartphones. And that could go a long way toward making the U.S. market more lucrative than Japan, where DeNA already has a $1.8 billion business.

We spoke with Clive Downie, who recently took over as chief executive of Ngmoco after founder Neil Young left. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.

GamesBeat: It can be interesting to take over a company that has been bought and had its founders leave. What’s this like?

Clive Downie: Well, two of its three founders have left. Alan [Yu] is still there. Alan is still a very trusted partner of mine on a day-to-day basis. I’m lucky to have him, fortunate to have him.

What it’s like, really, is good. I have the benefit of working at Ngmoco for close to three years, anyway. I came in very early on in 2009, and I’ve worked in a large number of positions around the company. I’ve had visibility with a large number of people. They know me, which always makes transitions easier. They respect me, which is good. That makes transitions easier. Neil [Young] and Bob [Stevenson] were very genuine about why they were leaving. Everyone appreciates that and they realize it’s time for a change. That has all meant that the transition has been very positive.

From a business standpoint, what makes the transition positive is that the things we set out to do close to two years ago when DeNA acquired us are bearing fruit. You’re seeing them and talking to some of them today. The outside world is seeing proof positive of what are tactics were and what our strategy is as a key player in the social mobile game space in the west. Grossing positions in the charts. The size of the Mobage platform as measured by the time it takes per day from our consumers. The number of developers. The number of markets. Monetization as the end result of all of that, because it is a business. That’s also making the transition positive. What we’re doing is working, but we still have more to do.

GamesBeat: Is Rage of Bahamut the game you can point to as the biggest success?

Downie: What we are very fortunate to have now, because it’s the strategy that has played out. … We’re starting to have games from one of the four areas that we targeted. There were four because we needed solidity in our foundation.

We set out to get partners from Asia, from our Mobage relationships in Asia, across to the West and provide them with the value of Mobage so they could be successful here. That’s happened. Rage of Bahamut is an example of that.

We set out to bring our first-party games from DeNA in Japan — the forefathers, if you like, of freemium social mobile gaming — to the Mobage Western platform and make them successful. The likes of Blood Brothers, the likes of Ninja Royale, are examples of those products.

We set out to take what Ngmoco was always known for, which is creating delightful, consequential experiences on mobile and smart devices in the West, partner that with the know-how from DeNA, and bring successful games from our first-party studios in the West out. You’re seeing Hellfire today. You’re seeing Transformers Legends today. You’ll see The Drowning today. Those are clear and present examples of that.

Finally, but not least, our third-party partners in the West. We set out to deliver a large portfolio of third-party partners that came because they could see the value in Mobage. We wanted to make them successful in the space. You’re starting to see examples of that with Backyard Monsters from Kixeye and our Flutter. The guys from Massive Damage and their Please Stay Calm products.

Those are the four product and content areas that we set out to bring content from across to Mobage in the west. That, in certain areas, is starting to prove successful. It’s not all about Rage of Bahamut. Rage of Bahamut is an example of one of those four.

GamesBeat: It seems like Ngmoco still has a ways to go reaching the level of profits and revenues here that matter to your Japanese parent company.

Downie: Let’s say it matters to us, right? We are choosing to do what we do. Nobody’s telling us. We’re choosing to do it because we can see the opportunity in front of us. Let’s not forget, DeNA in Japan took more than eight years to get to the point where they are now — $2 billion dollars in gross revenue, more than $5 billion dollars in market cap, that took eight years.

In two years, we’ve gotten to the point where our quarter-on-quarter growth is going in the right direction. Our portfolio structure that I just explained is going in the right direction. The visible signs of success in the grossing charts are growing and going in the right direction. Our portfolio of partners is going in the right direction. The time spent by consumers in our platform is going in the right direction. I don’t think it’s going to take eight years in the West. We know what our trajectory looks like for the next two years. We’ll build on the successes we have and the leadership position we have to get to that success level we are choosing to get to.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting to watch Gree move right alongside you guys here. They’re a little bit behind. They chose tactics that were more expensive for getting into the market. The critics are out there saying that the Japanese mobile game companies here are going to learn that they’ve overspent on this market and that they’ll have to retreat. One or two signs of that are emerging on their side. But the critics seem to lump you guys in with them. I don’t know how you’d react to that.

Downie: I think it’s not accurate. We are in a market that has 1.1 billion smartphones globally right now. By estimates, I think about half of them are in the West. We know at the peak of the feature-phone business, the number of subscribers was 5 billion. So I know that we can go from 1.1 billion to 5 billion in terms of global subscribers on smart devices quicker than feature phones did it. I know that at least half of those can legitimately be in the world that we’re operating in, in the West. Those consumers will gravitate toward great content. I think we’re in a position to be able to deliver that. When we do that, the kind of consequential business scale that we’re talking about will more than recoup the investment. I just look at the numbers and I think that’s not accurate to say what’s happening.

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