In August last year, Cambridge-based developer Jagex announced that former PayPal and eBay executive Geoff Iddison was joining the company as CEO. The company is best-known for the browser-based MMO RuneScape, which has over six million registered subscribers in the US and Europe. According to Iddison, RuneScape averages over 6 million unique visitors over a two week period, and is helping the business grow around 35 per cent year-on-year.
This February Jagex launched it's latest project - casual games portal FunOrb - which initially sounded as far away from the time-consuming fantasy role-play of RuneScape as possible. But here, Geoff Iddison talks to GamesIndustry.biz about using MMO tech and business practices in the casual market, as well as ambitious plans to expand the business globally along with new additions to the Jagex portfolio.
Q: Jagex's business has always been in MMO development with RuneScape. Is the company still in it long-term with MMO games?
Geoff Iddison: Jagex's business is RuneScape, which is known to be a very high quality, very large MMO. There's new updates every two weeks and we plan to invest in RuneScape five years from now. We've got a massive investment program this year and next with RuneScape. We're internationalising it, we rolled it out in the German language last year and we want to take that further - there's a long investment program in RuneScape, it's not something we've put out and that's it.
Q: Massively multiplayer online gaming sounds poles apart from the casual gaming market. What are the connections there, and why did Jagex decide to go casual when it's best known for it's MMO?
Geoff Iddison: Our player base likes to get into the deep gaming side of an MMO and doesn't really like a light experience. And that gave us ideas of how do we get the ageing MMO player to pick up a compelling games offering when they haven't got the time to dedicate to something like RuneScape. So we decided to look at a deep casual game model, where those that like an intellectual gaming challenge didn't just go to a casual portal for a 20 minute fix, but experienced something that was perhaps integrated into RuneScape or perhaps other MMOs. That gave us the idea for FunOrb. It's aimed at the gamer who no longer has time to play a big MMO but wants something deep in a shorter time. And again, there're new games every two weeks. That model of two week releases has worked well with RuneScape so we wanted to use it with FunOrb.
Q: Are you concerned by the number of companies in the casual market at the moment, there are a lot of casual labels, studios, divisions being set up?
Geoff Iddison: No, and the reason we're not is because we've been leveraging the technology that Jagex has been building for the past six or seven years. That technology is going to allow us to release a lot more browser-based games. It's about starting a game straight away rather than the hassle of a big download. That's exactly what our technology enables people to do. You don't need broadband, you don't need to pay, you don't have to go into a shop and buy anything. You get a quality gaming experience within 20 or 30 seconds of clicking onto FunOrb. We're going after a different market too, we're not going after the miniclip market. It's somewhere in between the casual market and the MMO market.
Q: You joined the company in August last year. What were your priorities when you joined the company and what are you planning to do with Jagex in the next two years?
Geoff Iddison: Well, what attracted me to Jagex was the potential of the business. Prior to Jagex I was at PayPal and prior to that I was at eBay - they were fantastic business models and I see that again in Jagex. My focus for the first two years of my time at Jagex will be to leverage the technology base that Jagex has and to bring in more games offerings to boost the portfolio. FunOrb is the first fruits of that but we have a massive year planned. We're in a position with our business, technology and distribution model that no other business in this sector is in. We're going to leverage that as quickly as we can.
Q: Are there any business models or operational methods from eBay and PayPal that you're looking to incorporate into Jagex?
Geoff Iddison: Yes, tons. The internet is a very different space to retail so you can't take a retail model and expect it to work on the internet. Jagex is an internet business, but it's like a start-up. It reminds me of the very early days of eBay when I joined in 2000 and similarly with PayPal when eBay purchased it. That experience of taking a business from start-up to being a worldwide player is the business experience I'll be bringing to Jagex.
Q: You've said you plan to invest in RuneScape for the next five years - can you go into more detail with that? In terms of international expansion, how far are you hoping to take that?
Geoff Iddison: We've got a big improvement to the game happening in Q2 this year. There is massive content changes that are happening throughout the year and we plan to role it out in another European language this year. It's a massive investment program for RuneScape.
Q: Would you consider taking RuneScape to Asia?
Geoff Iddison: We do plan to go East with it to the Asian market and the Eastern European market too.
Q: What are the challenges in those markets?
Geoff Iddison: China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, they're all different markets. There are markets in Asia that are more relevant to RuneScape than others. RuneScape is not for Japan, but it could work well in Malaysia for example. And where's India in all this? I think RuneScape is a game that would be adopted in the english-speaking Indian world and the local-speaking Indian world. We're looking at all those markets individually. Payment options are very, very crucial in this as well. You can't go into China and only accept credit cards and dollar subscriptions, it doesn't work that way. Each of the payment options and relationships with payment providers needs to be localised, as does the content of the game.
Q: Are you also planning more MMO products along similar lines to RuneScape, as that's your speciality?
Geoff Iddison: You're absolutely right, we've got a very, very big investment into another MMO.
Q: Would that be something you would start in Europe again and then filter into more markets across the globe?
Geoff Iddison: No, it will be launched in the US and Europe at the same time.
Q: Can we expect it to be launched this year?
Geoff Iddison: You can expect it early next year, Q1 2009.
Q: Is that the rumoured MechScape brand?
Geoff Iddison: I can't say too much more, I'm afraid.
Q: How confident do you feel going against multiple MMO competitors, in such a vibrant and growing market?
Geoff Iddison: It's always helpful to be paranoid in managing a business, and certainly we're always looking over our shoulder to see who's coming along to compete in the MMO space. There're new companies coming along every week. It's certainly going to get a lot more competitive.
Geoff Iddison is CEO of Jagex. Interview by Matt Martin.