Gameloft: Cash in the Attic
SVP of publishing Gonzague de Vallois on the shift to mobile social, copycatting and the Gree partnership
Unless you've been paying close attention, French mobile publisher Gameloft is probably bigger than you think. Michel Guillemot's firm now employs 4,500 developers, working in 25 studios around the globe. It's also moving rapidly into new markets, with the recently announced partnership with Japanese social mobile company Gree being a prime example of Gameloft's forward thinking.
At the event arranged to announce that partnership, for card battling game Gang Domination, GamesIndustry.biz caught up with the company's vice president of worldwide publishing Gonzague De Vallois to discuss the move, as well as the shift to social mobile gaming, operating as a worldwide concern and Gameloft's policy on copycatting.
Q: So tell us a little more about your deal with Gree - is it just for one game or is it a larger deal?
Gonzague de Vallois: It's just the one game for now. It's a young relationship which we're building with Gree, so one game for now. We'll see how it grows, but for now it's just one game, Gang Domination.
Q: And that's due to launch at the same time as the forthcoming consolidated global Gree platform?
Gonzague de Vallois: Yes, that's the goal.
Q: It's a microtransaction-based game, isn't it - but when you buy cards they're supplied at random rather than players selecting specific purchases, something which is influenced somewhat by the Japanese capsule machine ethos. Are you confident that people will pay for unspecified rewards?
Gonzague de Vallois: It's a combination of the random winning system and the regular store which you see in most free-to-play games. We think it can be just as exciting, as long as it's fair. That's where the tuning is and that's where Gree is very good.
"Our interest is that Gree is a very strong leader in mobile social in Japan - they're a very strong partner and that's always interesting to work with."
It can be very exciting not to know what you'll gain, as long as you know it will be significant. In this way you can win the best cards in the short or mid term. As long as it's well balanced and you don't cheat people the experience can be really good.
Q: The genre and art style seem to be very heavily Asian influenced - as a European company, have you designed it to appeal to foreign markets or global?
Gonzague de Vallois: It's for a combined global market, it's for worldwide release. It's true that the art you saw this morning is in an Asian style, but there will be three different gangs from different areas so it will be fairly balanced between Asian and Western styles.
The gameplay is very Japanese styled. Gamecards are very successful there but they haven't yet expanded to the Western world, but we see things in our portfolio like UNO, which are game cards and do very well. We're pretty confident it will work worldwide.
Q: Will that enable global play?
Gonzague de Vallois: That's really the goal of the new Gree platform, they're merging their Japanese platform with the Open Feint platform so it's a worldwide network.
Q: How involved have Gree been with development? Are they helping with metrics?
Gonzague de Vallois: It's really more of a distribution deal. We have to make sure, as they own the platform, that we have enough information on the metrics to fine tune the game to optimise the consumer experience. So it's distribution, but they're very much experts on this type of game and the Japanese market so we'll adapt the game depending on the metrics that they provide.
Q: One of the obvious advantages of the Gree platform for me is that it could greatly aid discoverability, but it still leaves you competing with other developers on the platform. What other advantages do you see it offering above the App Store or the Android Marketplace?
Gonzague de Vallois: Our interest is that Gree is a very strong leader in mobile social in Japan - they're a very strong partner and that's always interesting to work with. Secondly they are very strong experts in the card game style that we're working on. It's a new platform so we're not signing with Gree against Apple or Google. We think it's an interesting segment. We're adding a new platform.
We've been working with 200 carriers, different OS owners, different OEM stores. So, Samsung apps can be a competitor to Google Marketplace, to Amazon App store etc. We have many different partners, Gree is a new partner that we think is potentially very strong, but it's a new partner rather than one which is competing with existing ones.
Q: And it will offer cross-platform play between Android and iOS?
Gonzague de Vallois: As far as I understand it, yes.
Q: Much like Gree you have studios all over the world. Do you develop for specific markets from each territory?
"If you look at our output for the last six months, it's a major evolution and shift to more social experiences."
Gonzague de Vallois: The goal of those 25 studios is to have expertise and local guys who can design games specifically for their market. For example, when we do NFL, the game is done in our New York studio. We wouldn't do it in our Beijing studio, for example. That's why we think that this deal with Gree will work, because it's our Japanese studio that's working with Gree.
So the goal of those local studios is to be able to develop local games for each territory.
Q: Social mobile gaming is a relatively new direction for the West - do you see your development moving towards that or will you maintain your single player output?
Gonzague de Vallois: If you look at our output for the last six months, it's a major evolution and shift to more social experiences. That's where I think we're aligned with Gree on the vision that mobile games will get more social. We think it's a deep trend in the market. Where it's happening in Japan, it's also happening in Europe and the US.
Q: How much was that a result of the success of Order and Chaos?
Gonzague de Vallois: Yeah, that was a good experience. Whereas Gree is more casual, Order and Chaos is at the other end of the spectrum, much more hardcore but very social. Our success with Order and Chaos proved that social mobile could be a significant part of our success. That's why we've been adding, if you look at our catalogue, things like Oregon Trail, Fantasy Town, all the games that are live already.
If you look at Let's Go 3, that's been there for 9 months now, we're updating it every month. The latest update makes it even more social. It's a really deep trend to make the social aspects really core to the users. Order and Chaos was a good experience, a good proof of that success, even if it's on the more hardcore end.
Q: Obviously the success of social mobile relies heavily on the factors outside your control like the reliability of infrastructure and reasonable data pricing. Do you feel the infrastructure is ready?
Gonzague de Vallois: In the US, 4G is being deployed right now, so, it's there. In Europe...it's coming also. It's true it's not as reliable as Japan - everywhere you go in Japan you get a perfect 3G experience, but I think it's coming. It might take a bit longer to be on par with Japan, but I think it will be there.
In the US, 4G is being deployed right now, so, it's there. In Europe...it's coming also."
On the data plans, it's going in the right direction too. Of course, some carriers have been saying that it's no longer unlimited, so there will be some local tuning to do for each market but overall I think it's going in the right direction.
Q: Fragmentation is the other big European problem, in comparison to the US and Japan. France, Germany and the UK stand out, but at what point does it become viable for you to roll out localisations to other EU territories?
Gonzague de Vallois: It's true that Europe is very fragmented, but we've been localising in Italian, Greek...There are a lot of markets and together they make a big European market. If you concentrate just on the UK, Germany and France then you only cover maybe 30 per cent of the European market.
It's true that it's complex, but it's worth it for such a big and fast moving market.
Q: Have you found it to be a benefit to be operating from Europe because of the Euro exchange rate?
Gonzague de Vallois: In terms of teams and business we do one third of our business in Europe, we have less than one third of our teams in Europe so it's pretty balanced in terms of what is in Dollars, Euros, Yen, RMB. It doesn't have too much impact from currency rates, we are very international.
Q: What are your thoughts on the blurring of lines between influence and copycatting? I know Gameloft's position is that you don't emulate things which already exist on the platform you're developing for, but do you think there needs to be more regulation of IP?
Gonzague de Vallois: Recently, if it's pure trademark infringement or obvious copycatting, then I think Apple has been pretty clear, as has Google. I think the market becoming more diverse and more mass market so that you have to have different games for different people means you need more room for creativity because of the wider audience.
I'm not sure there is a way to regulate it more, but the market growing means more innovation. Also, the social aspect is pretty new so you have to innovate. If you look at our recent titles, they've had more interesting elements there.
Q: How would you respond to to the argument that says that Gameloft have crossed a line with some of their games, from emulation to imitation?
Gonzague de Vallois: What we've said is that there are some key elements in the video game business. Look at the football simulation, you have FIFA, Pro EVO, and we've have Real Football now for the last nine years, from Java to iPhone. You can't reinvent football completely. It's 11 vs.11, there are tactics etc.
If you look at our latest version then our control system is completely new and unique, very different from FIFA and Pro EVO. So we're present on key segments and we're trying to bring the best experience to gamers.
I don't think we've crossed the line there. We've always tried to bring something to the genre, something to the platform and something to the experience so that we can differentiate from existing IPs in those segments.
Q: One last thing which I wanted to ask about your market compared to that of Gree's, was your percentage of featurephone revenues. Europe and the US mostly skipped the featurephone generation which really kicked off mobile gaming in Japan, which is now moving to smartphones too. Have you seen that older technology filtering down into developing markets like China and Brazil?
Gonzague de Vallois: The featurephone business is still fifty per cent of our business, because we are very strong in markets like India, South America, APAC...I was in Mexico last week. The penetration of the iPhone there is very different.
The featurephone business is still fifty per cent of our business, because we are very strong in markets like India, South America, APAC."
The featurephone business is still very big, at least half of handset sales worldwide. So it's true that, as Europeans we see Europe, Japan and the US and say, oh smartphones are ruling the world now, but in fact in other big parts of the world, parts that are in pretty good shape if you look somewhere like Brazil, featurephones are doing very well.
Plus, the featurephone experience is getting better and better. Our smartphone experience has meant that we can downsize the experience to replicate it. Featurephone capabilities are going up pretty quickly too.
The line is getting fainter. If you take a series 40 from Nokia, the latest ones, they surf the web pretty well, they have touchscreen, good resolution. We can offer pretty good experiences. So it's still a big market. In Japan it's nearly 70 percent I think, more like 50 in Europe.
Q: That obviously extends the life of your catalogue, will that continue with social mobile games?
Gonzague de Vallois: You will still have to cater for each handset, for each territory. So we'll have to adapt the social experience based on the handset people have. The social trend is global, but it has to be adapted to each area.