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Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Nexon chief financial officer Owen Mahoney has some simple advice for free-to-play mobile developers looking to make it big: Make good games.

Such advice may seem self-evident, but Mahoney feels too many mobile developers are eager to cash in on the latest App Store trend.

“Our message is: Don’t make junk. You got into the games business because you love games,” Mahoney said during a GamesBeat 2013 fireside chat covering the growing influence of Asian game developers on the U.S. industry. “A lot of what you see in the App Store is based on a fast-follower strategy. And fast follower is really a euphemism for copycat.”


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In other words, while it’s tempting to prioritize a strong monetization strategy over good, solid gameplay, the truth is that the two feed into one another. The more immersive the game, Mahoney feels, the more likely players are to keep playing long-term. And the longer they play, the more likely they are to spend money.

As it continues to try to build on its presence in Western markets, Nexon hopes to apply some of those lessons to its own games. A large free-to-play developer originally founded in Korea, Nexon is eager to develop a truly international presence. Now that titles like the immensely successful free-to-play arena game League of Legends have broken out in the U.S., Nexon sees what Mahoney calls a “massive opportunity” in the West.

League of Legends happens to be the exemplar of Mahoney’s philosophy on free-to-play: “The brilliance of [League of Legends] is that they didn’t just focus on monetization. Really, free-to-play is about focusing on creating a great experience and keeping players in that great experience for as long as possible.”


Such in-depth free-to-play experiences have largely been confined to PC at this point, but that doesn’t need to be the case, said Mahoney. The technical gap between the PC and mobile devices is smaller than ever, giving rise to the potential for in-depth free-to-play games on phones and iPads.

With that, Mahoney hopes the mindset among Western free-to-play and mobile developers will begin to shift: “When you think of mobile devices, you mostly think of casual games. But you can make a very immersive experience. When you do that, the metrics are as good as they are on PC.”

As for Nexon, Mahoney envisions his studio spearheading a future in which the Eastern free-to-play philosophy is matched with high-quality Western game design.

Whatever that ultimately entails, Mahoney hopes that Nexon isn’t alone in its aspirations: “I hope Western gamemakers continue to pursue free-to-play in a passionate way. And don’t copy stuff. Because copying stuff is the road to bad business.”

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