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Riccitiello: "Precious little to indicate mobile is building long-term brands"

Ex-EA CEO talks about how publishers are changing and how chasing graphics on mobile can be a "road to ruin"

In a "fireside chat" at Casual Connect, ex-EA CEO John Riccitiello sat down with journalist John Gaudiosi to talk about the state of the business.

Gaudiosi asked what Riccitiello thinks of the state of the industry today and who the winners are in mobile. "It's shocking how long titles stay in the Top Fifty," Riccitiello said. He also noted that there's no publisher with broad, long-term success on mobile. "Most publishers have only one or two titles in the Top Fifty," said RIccitiello. "Almost no one has a title with more than a year in the Top Fifty, and there's never been a successful sequel."

Riccitiello's solution? "Mobile needs to build brands," he said. "Madden is in its 25th year. So far there's precious little to indicate mobile is building long-term brands." The touchstone for Riccitiello is how well people do version 2.0 of a successful mobile game. Can publishers create brands that will last for multiple years? He feels that is going to be a key towards creating a valuable mobile publisher for the long term.

Gaudiosi asked what the role of a publisher is in mobile games, and Riccitiello said that's still developing. Classically, he explained, publishers do three things: Provide capital, turn content into money (transactions), and provide editorial service. Mobile developers still need capital (especially as budgets increase), and help improving a game (both technical and design help) is always useful. What's not clear, according to Riccitiello, is how helpful publishers can be in handling transactions when the platforms provide much of that mechanical assistance. The conversion of content into money is a mix of technology, marketing, and design, and mobile games are showing themselves to be different in many ways than games on other platforms.

"I've visited with many developers since I left EA... I tell them investing in better [mobile] graphics without a better game is a road to ruin"

What needs to change, according to Riccitiello, is the balance of revenue between the distribution platforms and the content providers. "For Apple and Google over the last five years, perhaps half or two thirds of their increase in shareholder value is directly from mobile products. That's about $300 billion of capital created by the distribution platform," said Riccitiello. On the other side is content. "Games are about 75 percent of all mobile app monetization; perhaps $25 billion of shareholder value has been created by content. That's ten times more value created by the platform creator. That wasn't the case in console." Riccitiello feels that there's great potential for game creators to change that equation and generate a lot more value from the content than from the platform.

Gaudiosi then asked Riccitiello what mobile can learn from console. "I've visited with many developers since I left EA," Riccitiello said. "Many have told me they want to bring console level graphics to mobile, and that will make them better. I tell them investing in better graphics without a better game is a road to ruin." Riccitiello feels that while mobile power is increasing, the rewards will go to developers that generate more satisfying games, not just better-looking games. "One bit of advice as you're looking at more powerful mobile," said Riccitiello. "Think about how that allows you to create an experience you haven't seen before. What game mechanic wasn't possible before?" Developers that find good answers to that question will do well.

Finally, Gaudiosi asked if Riccitello had any thoughts on how second screen gaming is impacting the business. "No one really knows the answer," said Riccitiello. "I sit on my couch looking at my email, playing a game on console, and playing Candy Crush on my tablet. I'm using mobile screens all the time. I have seen some absolutely stupendous dual screen experiences with console and mobile. I don't think we're scratching the surface so much as we're waving our hand above a surface that we're yet to scratch."

Riccitiello said that some of us would argue that all you need is a tablet or a phone and wireless HDMI out, but he disagrees. "TV is going be used for mobile games and dual screen will be a really big idea when you figure out a gameplay experience that is better."

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Latest comments (8)

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
I just think mobile games need to be less like consoles and embrace the nature of what they are. A game like angry birds works very well with mobile touch screen devices and developers should not look at consoles to make mobile games, but look at the device they are developing for and come up with a game design that embraces that.

First I simply cannot enjoy a game that requires complicated control input on a touch screen. Second it doesnt matter how great graphics are, they simply cannot be enjoyed on a small screen. Third I simply cannot play a game while on the move. I need to be able to get in and out of a game quickly.

A dedicated games device, a console or portable like 3DS is different, people who buy these devices buy them to specifically play games. And in turn these devices offer optimum gaming expirience. Mobile devices on the other hand are purchased for multiple reasons and not all of them are for gaming. So fourth making a game for a mobile device also needs to appeal to a broader audience.

Case in point, mobile games need to:
1) Need to have simple and precise controls
2) Graphics need to be appreciated on a small screen
3) People need to access a game and put it down quickly repeatedly since they are on the move
4) they need to appeal to a broader audience.

For all the talk of infinity blade... who the hell even plays it? Ill tell you, its people who play games, not everyone who owns a mobile phone. Probably the same people who own a 3DS or VITA as well, that buy those devices to specifically play games.

Angrybirds is succesful because it is perfect in every way for a mobile device, easy to get into and out of, the graphics are beautiful yet simple enough to be appreciated on a small screen and gameplay mechanics are simple and precise. Its also simplistic enough that anybody from any age, gender, gamer or non gamer can get into.You cant ask for a better designed mobile game.

Building a brand takes time and often more than one attempt. More than one game may be required in order to build up an audience.

I think the things I mentioned above matter more than great graphics on a mobile device and this is where the article comes to point. And I know riccittellos stay at EA was a bit bumpy, but I respected him. So regarding this article he makes a valid point. Developers think they are going to approach a mobile game like they would a console game, and it will garner the same success... it really is not the case. The nature of both platforms is very different and developers need to learn to embrace that.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 31st July 2013 1:19pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
"and there's never been a successful sequel"

Never is a strong word, when you have an elephant in the room like Angry Birds (Seasons/Space/Star Wars etc). Didn't Infinity Blade 2 outsell the original too?
Maybe, "seldom been a successful sequel" would be more apt?
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Complete agreement, Ricky. (And our sequel did better than the original too.)

Games needs to look nice and professional but no more. I'd argue that on console too, but it's definitely true on mobile - the proof is everywhere.

As to branding, that's more about market forces that he will soon see for himself. Most developers' first titles bomb despite being good so they're not around to make another one. That's where the biggest problem is generally I think.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 31st July 2013 8:25am

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Show all comments (8)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Whether or not a long term brand emerges not only depends on the games, but also on the audience. If mobile audiences remain fickle, then brands need to be as fast to adapt. Imagine Fifa being the brand, but a racing game one year and a match-three games the next.

It is also fairly easy to build a brand, if you have as little competition as EA has on consoles. Not that there was no competition on consoles, but on mobile the competition is fiercer by far.

Mobile also replaces some of the ideas of brand recognition, with hype word recognition. Doodle Jump is a hit? brace yourself for Doodle Everything by virtually everyone.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
This man is so utterly wrong. Who does he work for?

"there's no publisher with broad, long-term success on mobile". Utter lie. Gameloft. Chillingo (part of EA!!!), and further down in scale Full Fat, Neon Play etc.

He really doesn't get that mobile games are a service with a potentially infinite life. Whilst boxed games are short life products that can be exploited with annual iterations.

His thing about "transactions" proves that he hasn't the faintest idea about mobile marketing. Also he doesn't get his head round mobiles being ubiquitous multi purpose devices. With phones and tablets having completely different usage patterns.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
"Mobile" is such a open book, there is no reason why long term brands can't be established. We already have a few strong examples and they're really successful, with sequels garnering more attention than predecessors.

As for chasing graphics, I agree to an extent that it can lead to ruin on any platform. Some games end up sacrificing game play and only serve as a platform tech demo, ending up in a product that will just be replaced by the next studio that can make a nice tech demo and probably not a lot more.

I don't think there's generally anything wrong with riding on the wave of powerful yearly hardware improvements and middlewares though - unlocking a whole host of exciting visual processing techniques. Use them in the right way and you could potentially help provide a richer, more immersive experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 31st July 2013 11:42am

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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
I've visited with many developers since I left EA... I tell them investing in better [mobile] graphics without a better game is a road to ruin.
This is probably more relevant advice for console developers than it is for mobile. And ironically, one of the primary reasons why he's a former CEO is he ignored his own advice.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up8 years ago
EA and others were maybe just not nimble enough to ride the waves of mobile development.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 1st August 2013 10:28am

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