GamesBeat: So The Drowning (pictured above) represents the next generation of content for you?
Downie: The Drowning represents another strategy for us. The strategy for us overall has always been that we want to give people great things to spend their time on. Time is the great value that we would like to have consumers give to us, because they feel that it’s not wasted.
When we look across the time landscape of consumers using smart devices, we are going after areas that we know we can disrupt based on the skill of the people that we have, based on the game design knowledge we know we have, and based on the ownership of smart devices within those groups of consumers. The Drowning represents a strategy to unlock another portion of that time opportunity. It’s console gamers who own smart devices.
It’s not an indication of “the future,” in the sense that that’s all we’re going to do. We’re going to do everything we’re doing now, and we’re going to do that, and we’re going to do more things. There’s far more time out there for us to legitimately be given by consumers for entertainment and games. We know we can give them some more new and exciting things — not just FPS games, not just trading-card games.
GamesBeat: It seems like the “console quality” phrase isn’t just all talk right now. It’s starting to become real.
Downie: It is starting to become real. You know more than most about the power of the hardware that’s in these wonderful devices. The quality can rival and in some cases even go beyond what we’ve experienced in consoles over the last 10 years. It’s an exciting time. Now, the challenge is marrying that with mobile play patterns. I know we can do that, because we have market-leading knowledge on mobile play patterns. We marry that with market-leading knowledge in high-fidelity game experiences. That marriage is a great thing. You’ve seen it with The Drowning today. I’m excited about it.
Downie: Well, The Drowning looks great on Apple TV. You can play it over the air through Apple TV on your flatscreen. The challenge has always been in making sure that the speed of control is accurate, that it doesn’t suffer from lag. We’ve done some work there. To your question, is there an opportunity there? I would like us to be able to offer consumers the ability to play the game how they like. Are we going to be positioned around that? No. But it’s a feature that some consumers are going to want.
GamesBeat: The Drowning looks like it’s higher-budget than some games. Are you heading toward larger teams? Although 20 people isn’t too big.
Downie: Again, to your point about “Is it the future?” It’s one of the futures. We’re not narrowband like that. We make lots of kinds of games. We make games with very small, agile teams in three months. We make games with 20 people in 18 months. We’ll make games with the right amount of people in the right period of time. There is not only one way of doing it.
GamesBeat: How do you look at the environment around mobile games right now? Do you look at other things? Facebook is getting more active. Many worry about this high cost of user acquisition.
Downie: My sense is that user acquisition is an important aspect to crack. The value of Mobage to our partners has been reducing that because of discoverability. Putting the right games in front of the right people at the right time. The sheer size of the market means that it’s just noisy. You need a friend to help you. User acquisition is crucial, and it’s hard right now.
Everyone talks about new technologies that might come out and break that. 2011 was the year of geo-location games. I don’t think we’ve seen geo break out. It still might happen today. But we’re yet to see the big technology shifts as a benefit. I’m seeing more people move to free. Free continues to be the dominant distribution mechanic. We’re seeing more people do it right. There’s an art form to it, to understanding how to deliver credible, consquential free content to consumers. We’re seeing mobile itself becoming this overwhelming target for entertainment companies, online companies on the desktop, other game companies who have existing IP. Mobile as a target is becoming even hotter than it was in 2011. That’s exciting for us. It’s great to have competition. It makes us sharper.
GamesBeat: The next few weeks are the peak of app downloads, I think? That seems to be the pattern.
Downie: This Christmas, I think, will be a tablet Christmas. I saw some data yesterday saying that more than 34 percent of 6- to 12-year-olds list the iPad as the number one thing they aspire to for Christmas. And number three on that list was the iPad Mini at about 20 percent. You have more than 50 percent desire among 6- to 12-year-olds. That says something about the ramp of tablets and what it’s going to be. If not at this Christmas, it’s still going to sustain because of that young demographic. They’re going to want to come in. That marries with the scale of the exponential growth of tablet, which has so far outpaced iPhone and iPod Touch. Tablet is going to be another facet of what we call mobile. It’s one thing that’s going to become more and more important, and it’s going to need to be prosecuted differently.
GamesBeat: Are any other platforms looking attractive to you?
Downie: We always look around to understand what’s out there and keep our options open. Right now, iOS and Android keep us busy enough. Ultimately, that’s where the scale is.
GamesBeat: I know Zynga’s had some trouble hanging on to their people. You could theoretically be in a vulnerable state as far as people moving on to other things, too. How are you able to convince people to stay?
Downie: Honestly, I don’t have to convince people to stay. That would be bad if I had to. People stay because they believe that what they do every day is consequential. People do things that make them feel happy. We talked about that. The number one thing I need to do internally is make people happy. We’re happy when we’re successful. We’re happy when people believe that what they’re doing is legitimately of consequence. They choose to do it. It’s not like work. The best times in my career, including now, have been when it’s not work. It’s what I love to do, because I just want to have success in what I’m doing.
All of the things we’ve been talking about — the proof positive points, the fact that we’re in this leadership position, the fact that we’re working hard to extend that leadership position through our content, through our platform offering — that’s what’s keeping people around. And you know what else it’s doing? People are coming to us and saying, “I’d like to work with you.” That’s a really great position to be in.