Mobile "as difficult or more so" than boxed retail, says Frisina
EA Partners founder Tom Frisina talks to us about his new mobile publisher and how he'd like to get Journey dev thatgamecompany on board
Last week we brought you the news about EA Partners founder Tom Frisina's new mobile/tablet game publisher Tilting Point. Frisina and company are looking for some of the best and brightest digital developers around, and the company's investing $40 million in said developers over the next three years. The mobile market has evolved tremendously in a short timeframe, and while the digital marketplace has afforded developers a seemingly easier way to reach the marketplace, it doesn't mean reaching consumers is an easy task by any means.
Frisina believes his team's expertise and experience in signing top talent will lead to some very high quality, and lucrative, mobile/tablet projects over the next few years. In fact, Journey developer thatgamecompany might just get some help from Frisina, who used to be on the studio's board. He told us that he's "working very hard" to find a way to partner with the talented, award-winning studio. For the record, thatgamecompany would not confirm that it's pursuing mobile. Studio manager Sunni Pavlovic said in an email, "We're looking at platforms for our next game that best serve the experience and emotional engagement we want to give our players. I'll be happy to discuss the specifics after we've announced them, but not before then."
That said, Frisina recognizes talent when he sees it, and he wants game makers to focus on game creation, not game promotion. Creative types often have a difficult time getting a handle on the business side of releasing games, so Frisina hopes that Tilting Point can alleviate that stress while helping a developer to get noticed in an overly crowded mobile landscape. GamesIndustry International's full Q&A follows below.
Q: A lot of development talent in today's digital, self-publishing world would say that they can control their own destiny. Why do they need Tilting Point's help?
Tom Frisina: Many believe that access to all those users in the iOS and Android world makes the big difference compared to the boxed game business, where they need large publishers to get placement. But no, it's as difficult or more so due to the volume of product choices and the stringent challenges in building a game that's viral and monetizable in today's F2P game universe. Elite developers can benefit from guidance and wisdom, both on the configuration of their game features, engagement techniques, and retention elements, but also on the acquisition side, where driving today's mobile customers to the product has become one of the most challenging exercises in the history of game marketing. Tilting Point provides what we consider to be very valuable expertise and advice on the product side, including our market leading data assessments, and in addition the right approach towards attracting a large user base.
"thatgamecompany, while venture capital funded, may not fit squarely into our business model but we're still going to work very hard to find a way to partner with them. They epitomize the term 'elite'"
We also provide funding for development, which many developers need, even if already successful and even if only helpful to them as a means of mitigating risk. They don't have to bet their whole studio on a single project, or be reliant on Kickstarter. We provide funding in a way that allows them to retain 100 percent of their equity - no dilution or liens or giving up board seats. Even developers with financial resources often don't release games frequently enough to justify building out full-blown marketing and analytics teams internally.
Developers don't need distractions from what they are best and most passionate about - making awesome games. By providing the resources and services these teams need to top the charts, they'll never be under pressure to sell their companies - we enable them to remain independent and therefore continue to control their own destiny. We want to see the best developers taking a long term view.
Q: What are the key traits that you're looking for in development talent when you seek to fund more studios? And are you going after studios that are already in the mobile/tablet world or are you looking at developers who are on PC/console but want to do mobile?
Tom Frisina: We look for developers with a measured and consistent record of both high revenue and critical acclaim in the digital realm. PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam development talent certainly qualifies, but of higher importance are the creators of iOS and Android titles to date. There are always exceptions to every standard, and we're willing to take a chance on top PC/HD console talent provided it makes sense.
Q: Since you were on the board of thatgamecompany, have you been talking to them? I bet they could make a wonderful mobile or tablet game!
Tom Frisina: You bet. It's gratifying to see our industry recognize their very special talents with the awards accorded Journey this year. It's the first time a digital game won Game of the Year and it bodes very well for our industry as it progresses from a traditional retail business, one which is not going away soon, to the new realm of mobile/tablet. thatgamecompany, while venture capital funded, may not fit squarely into our business model but we're still going to work very hard to find a way to partner with them. They epitomize the term “elite”.
Q: What have you learned from signing developers while at EA Partners - how will that experience be applied at Tilting Point?
Tom Frisina: Many of the same measuring techniques we used at EAP are relevant here: track record, the team's creative sensibilities, technological prowess, schedule and budget maintenance, willingness and ability to push the product genre boundaries in special, innovative gameplay ways. Innovation in game design, technical leadership and great execution are vital and this is what EAP was about. By example, Medal of Honor from Dreamworks Interactive on PS1, the next greatest shooter in a category started by Golden Eye N64; System Shock 2 from Looking Glass Technologies; Battlefield 1942 (PC Game of the Year 2003) from DICE; Crysis from Crytek, Rock Band from Harmonix, just to name a few.
Q: What's the business model - are you taking a 30 percent cut of revenues from the developers?
Tom Frisina: I'll tell you this, we have what we feel is the most fair, pioneering, respectful deal available to elite developers. And the motivation and energy it provides the creative team is of course a real plus to TP also. We pretty much take the down side risk of dev and marketing and share as partners the rewards resulting from product creations with high market value.
Q: Where does the $40 million come from, CFC Capital? In the console world that would be one AAA project but how many mobile/tablet projects will this fund?
Tom Frisina: CFC Capital has funded Tilting Point from its inception. We anticipate releasing 20-25 games over the next three years and we'll be rolling revenues back in to fund our growth strategy.
Q: What are the biggest problems mobile developers are currently facing and what are the biggest opportunities?
"I believe Valve exudes the kind of relationship with its users that sets a great example"
Tom Frisina: The biggest opportunity for developers is the chance to create from scratch, own, and control the destiny of their creative work. Before mobile, most of these participants worked for larger organizations in selective, more focused job roles, either inside or external to large publishers, but in each case on massive teams. These talented people ended up with having only a small contribution to the whole, and an even lesser share of the reward. Today a talented person, or two, or four or six, can create a product they own and control, and jointly share in the earned rewards. This can never happen to that extent in the retail model. Tilting Point is here to ensure our partners reach that success level.
The major obstacles are known to everybody reading this interview, the two greatest of which for me are getting noticed among tens and tens of thousands of products, and, solving the monetization and retention dilemma with ingenuity, such that users use their viral power to generate a long lasting engagement.
Q: Obviously you're committed to the mobile space and a lot of the industry has migrated that way too. What will the impact on consoles be in the long-term?
Tom Frisina: Consoles will always have a place for those looking for deep experiences with high production values and an intense time commitment, whether it's on the next-gen consoles or high-end PCs, or on the cloud connected living room boxes of tomorrow. While the revenue from just that part of interactive entertainment has softened over the last few years, the total revenue from game software has risen due to the digital side. And it will continue to rise with consoles always having an important, if not growing, share.
Q: Does your definition of mobile include systems that are based on mobile operating systems, like the Android-powered platforms, Ouya, etc? That is, will you fund developers looking to get games onto platforms like Ouya?
Tom Frisina: We are digital platform agnostic. It is easy today to point at iOS and Android. If Ouya and other new platforms are successful, we'll make sure our titles appear on those also, provided each is capable of conveying a great gaming experience. But we will not underwrite development on a new platform until it's proven.
Q: Do you believe free-to-play will become the dominant business model? Are you advising developers you sign on what business model to use in their games?
Tom Frisina: Obviously nobody that competes in the mobile and tablet arena can afford to ignore the power with which the freemium model has infiltrated our business in recent years. Whether or not it dominates, freemium is here to stay, at least for certain game genres. So just as we are digital platform agnostic, Tilting Point is also open to all pricing and monetization strategies, provided they make sense for the success of the game. Our partners can rely on us for expert advice and deep, comprehensive insights into what's working in this rapidly changing market.
Q: Your old company, EA, is doing pretty well for itself in mobile, but many traditional publishers aren't adapting as well. Should we expect a lot more consolidation among companies in the games business?
Tom Frisina: Yes they are, and deservedly so. Consolidation is a normal part of our industry as it matures, with those surviving having listened and adapted to their users' needs and expectations, while the others did not. Our historical industry problems in many ways stem from developers and publishers not listening either to one another or to their customers. My view about our industry is we often times fail commercially when our end users are not placed first in line of priorities. If I may, I believe Valve exudes the kind of relationship with its users that sets a great example.
Q: Thanks Tom.