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Nexon: We need to focus on heart first and money second

The powerful philosphy of free-to-play CEO Owen Mahoney

It would be easy for Owen Mahoney to be complacent about the state of the industry. As the CEO of money-spinning free-to-play company Nexon he's managed to sidestep many of the pitfalls of the last few years whilst happily bringing cash and new business to the table, but sit down with him and you find a man who thinks it's greed, not art, leading the industry and that that needs to change.

"I don't want to criticise the industry too much, but I think all of us who are executives, who are responsible for spending money and investing capital in the games industry have done a disservice to the industry by focusing on money first and hearts second," he told GamesIndustry.biz

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"I think what we need to do is focus on heart first and money second. By the way, that's a good business strategy. And when you do that a lot of things start to fall away as very unimportant and it makes for a much better industry."

One of the areas where Mahoney sees issues is that of free-to-play and the west's attempts at it so far. The first issue is the rise of cloning in the games industry, the success of one free-to-play title spawning an embarrassing number of copies all looking for same dollars.

"You the game developer are not any smarter than the next guy. In fact those were the exact words that were used among a lot of these development organisations. You are not any smarter than the guy that made this game that you are copying, stop trying to do something original, just do exactly the same thing. You'll get the time to market much faster. "

That attitude accounts for the lack of innovation in the market and the proliferation of the same tired out mechanics. In Japan the biggest free-to-play games are RPGs and MOBAs, over here they're titles where your only input is tapping, waiting, tapping, waiting and paying.

"I had a lot of conversations with executives in the industry who really had only been to Korea or China once, literally, and they said to me things like 'oh yeah I know what free-to-play is, that's that thing where you trick people into playing your game and then you trick them into buying a lot more than they would have spent before.'

"And so what they had was these rocketing up user numbers and then these user numbers crashed to the ground, in individual games and then of course overall in the company. The reason why they crashed to the ground is because the customers aren't stupid after all. You can trick them once but you can't trick them a second time. And fundamentally in a creative business if you're a cynic you get burned."

Mahoney doesn't plead total innocence, admits that in the past Nexon has over-monetised a few of its titles and then had to go through the process of readjusting the games. He totally understands the temptation, but says getting it right is the difference between keeping a player engaged for years and decades.

"I don't think the western developers are guilty or are just evil or anything like that, it's just early in the learning curve and it takes years," he says with a smile.

"The customers aren't stupid, after all. You can trick them once but you can't trick them a second time"

"So the companies that we've been partnering with want to accelerate their learning on that and learn how to do live game operations and how to build a live game operations team who knows how to do that and get that learning from us and hopefully we're able to be helpful to them in doing that."

And Nexon is doing that and with an impressive list of partners - one of Mahoney's tactics for building Nexon's presence in Western territories.

"More and more people are hearing about us because some of the companies that we've partnered with, Cliff Bleszinski, John Schappert, Brian Reynolds and the folks at Valve and some of the folks at EA, they've been very vocal about us because they've had, hopefully, they seem to have had good experience so far working with us.

"You can try to push this ahead of time but our view is really you have to earn it first and so if they have a good experience with us they'll say nice things about us."

One of the biggest challenges is introducing the idea that the development doesn't stop with the game's release, in fact in Nexon's case that's often where the real work starts.

"A lot of the western companies that we talk to have no concept that they need a live game development team, they'll sort of figure it out in the back end but what you really need to do is think about that starting off and you need to move backwards into the new development game phase. "

He praises League Of Legends and Dota 2 as examples of games that are getting it right, and says other developers will follow, it's really just a matter of experience. And the pay off is worth it. The percentage of players that pay Nexon actual money? 10 to 11 per cent, depending on the quarter, says Mahoney.

"Our average revenue per paying user, so those 10 per cent that pay in our case it's usually between $20 and $30 US depending on quarter which is very very high versus casual games."

As yet the gaming public might not be familiar with Nexon's portfolio, titles like Mabinogi, Vindictus and even MapleStory might not ring any bells, but between its philosophy and partnerships Nexon seems to be shaping up to be a major force in the Western market. And Mahoney seems damn dedicated to the cause.

"I don't think the western developers are guilty or are just evil or anything like that, it's just early in the learning curve"

"As a personal philosophy I think your time, working certainly, but your time on the planet is actually very very limited, it feels like hundreds of years when you're in the beginning but it actually feels like hours later. So you've got hours left, what am I going to do with my life and my career and my time that's really cool?

"And although it sounds like almost a morbid way to think about things it's actually a very liberating way to think about things because it allows you to filter out all the extraneous things very quickly. "

For more on Nexon, check out last week's interview with Min Kim, CEO of Nexon America.

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Latest comments (11)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
So first this article talks about not burning out your customers with cynic f2p business models, building relationships which last for decades. At the end the article basically says, life is too short for video games. Hurray for eat-sleep-eat-sleep-die at the retirement home.
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Diana Hsu Product Manager, Free-to-Play, Big Fish Games4 years ago
What? That's not what he's saying -- he's saying that he's dedicated to the cause of making Nexon a big force in the Western market.

In context:

"As yet the gaming public might not be familiar with Nexon's portfolio, titles like Mabinogi, Vindictus and even MapleStory might not ring any bells, but between its philosophy and partnerships Nexon seems to be shaping up to be a major force in the Western market. And Mahoney seems damn dedicated to the cause.

'As a personal philosophy I think your time, working certainly, but your time on the planet is actually very very limited, it feels like hundreds of years when you're in the beginning but it actually feels like hours later. So you've got hours left, what am I going to do with my life and my career and my time that's really cool?'"

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Diana Hsu on 7th October 2014 5:20pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
Narrative in original sequence:

(1) The reason why they crashed to the ground is because the customers aren't stupid after all. You can trick them once but you can't trick them a second time. And fundamentally in a creative business if you're a cynic you get burned.

(2) getting it right is the difference between keeping a player engaged for years and decades.

(3) your time on the planet is actually very very limited, it feels like hundreds of years when you're in the beginning but it actually feels like hours later. So you've got hours left, what am I going to do with my life and my career and my time that's really cool?

You can either understand this sequence of events as a warning to developers to not waste their life by doing bad business strategies, or as an argument against making f2p games, or any game, or playing them. Go cure Ebola or something. That is the beauty, it does not say. If he wants to make Nexon a big force, then that can certainly also be found in this article and is not in conflict to what I said. Did Mahoney say it in that order? Did Rachel Weber arrange it in that order by accident or not? Who knows, but I find it rather curious in any case.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Klaus Preisinger on 7th October 2014 5:54pm

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Show all comments (11)
Maged Hamdy Studying Computer Science, Rochester Institute of Technology4 years ago
This is really starting to bother me.

What is GI's writing style, exactly?

"The percentage of players that pay Nexon actual money? 10 to 11 per cent, depending on the quarter, says Mahoney."
"He totally understands the temptation"
"might not ring any bells"
"over here they're titles where your only input is tapping, waiting, tapping, waiting and paying."

Is this supposed to be a professional publication? I am a stickler for professionalism. This does not seem to be a blog, considering I had to register an email from an educational institution. If it is not a blog, I would prefer the journalists not act like it is one.

I feel like I am reading the writing of a teenager, not a professional journalist.
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 4 years ago
Huh, playing games is cool and fun, why is everyone in the comments assuming that the message is "life is too short to play games"
When it could easily be "life is short, have more fun [playing games]"
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Matt Jeffries Senior Producer, Telstra4 years ago
To be honest the line has blurred between "quality game journalism" and "unpaid game-related blogging" in the video games industry for a while now. GI is no exception, its just better than most at being a professional publication.
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Dan Pearson Business Development, Purewal Consulting4 years ago
If you're bothered by the content, Maged, then nobody is forcing you to read it. By all means, feel free to find what you're looking for elsewhere.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop4 years ago
I like GamesIndustry.biz's writing style. I don't want to read dry writing.
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Pin Wang CEO & Co-Founder, Substantial Games4 years ago
Really great to hear top game executives like Mahoney and Riccitiello bring it back to what game dev should be all about. Definitely reminds some of us why we got into the industry in the first place and what not to forget even when things get tough.

Re: other comments, the assumption by the writer is that games have real value, that they can be great, and that they are worth dedicating your life to. I would imagine that should be the assumption for anyone writing or commenting on this site!
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Maged Hamdy Studying Computer Science, Rochester Institute of Technology4 years ago
Reading my comment again.
Yes. I was a jerk.
I should leave this in feedback.
I was burned by what's been happening lately and let off steam here, which is inappropriate.

@Dan

I just expect better.
If you're trying to be the publication you seem to want to be and not the rest of the 'blogs,' than keep it professional.
There are plenty of 'blogs' out there, is that what GI is supposed to be too?

@Eric

I did take my "Angry Elitism Pills" today. I read Kotaku. I am okay with Kotaku. I will not go on Kotaku and chastise them for being a blog because they ARE a blog. They are not expected to be journalists, just bloggers.

However, saying that the author just had her chances at a Pulitzer prize ruined is ridiculous. You don't get a Pulitzer prize for how much criticism you get on some comment section. Pulitzer prizes are awarded for the best of the best, those can pick up an issue and deeply analyze it, show every view. No one has ever received a Pulitzer prize for just reporting the news, publishing an interview. It must be THE news in the best way reported (journalists on the scene, up to the minute, working tirelessly to get the best coverage in the business,) it must be THE interview, it must be THE commentary, well thought out, flawless in execution.

If you deserve a Pulitzer prize, you will not be stopped by what people 'say about it.' Some people will say you're crazy for sticking around a mall in Kenya during hell. Some person might leave an offensive comment as a response. Does it matter? No. You still stuck your neck out.

I wonder why you actually jumped from relatively novice journalism (3 years is both a long time and an incredibly short time) to THE prize for the best of the best. It's like assuming that my comment just stopped Usain Bolt from breaking a world record.

In other words. Find a better '3rd bullet point' to tack on.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Maged Hamdy on 8th October 2014 4:04pm

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He wasn't knocking games, just bad games. I think he was saying life is short but important, so whether you're a gamer or developer don't fill it up with shite.
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