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Frogster's Dirk Weyel

The MMO specialist's COO talks about a difficult year, and hopes for a bright future.

Frogster has been one of the companies on the front line of the free-to-play revolution, with its flagship game Runes of Magic seeing huge success in Europe and North America. Now, the company has launched TERA, a subscription-model title, and is partnering with Chinese developer and publisher Shanda to release a 'major MMO' next year.

But there have been some difficult moments along the way. Last year, the company was bought out by GameForge, an acquisition which was swiftly followed by the departure of much of the senior management team. Then, at the beginning of 2011, a hacker allegedly stole the details of thousands of Runes of Magic accounts, and attempted to blackmail the company into various demands, claiming that poor customer service and community management has left him no other choice.

That case rumbles on, and with the departure of Andreas Weidenhaupt yesterday, the management problems are still a concern. However, Frogster is keen to move on and make the most of its bright prospects. Here, we speak to COO Dirk Weyel as part of the build-up to this year's Game Connection@GDC event about the past year, and what he sees in Frogster's future.

GamesIndustry.bizFirst of all, let's talk about the changes at management level since the GameForge takeover - Is the team settled now?
Dirk Weyel

We had a management change last year, in summer. It wasn't actually connected to the GameForge acquisition, it just happened to come at the same time. Three of the managing directors of Frogster Online Gaming left the company, and some of the senior staff which belonged to them, a bunch of people.

So we had to restructure the management of Frogster Online Gaming and we now have a team in place which will continue to lead the operating arm. We've got one new person, which you've probably noticed, Seth Iorio - he used to work for GameForge before he came to Frogster. He's been a member of the board since the new year and is also the managing director of Frogster Online Gaming.

We still have a holding structure - which means that there is Frogster Interactive Pictures, the holding mother company, the publicly listed company, the executive board, then the management of Frogster Online Gaming. But Frogster Online Gaming is doing the operational work for the whole company.

GamesIndustry.bizSo there was no pressure from GameForge to change any of the management team?
Dirk Weyel

Definitely not, no. One of the reasons that GameForge was interested in buying the majority of Frogster was not only to buy the assets, the titles and the product pipeline, it was also because they saw that there was a successful team, including the management - so they didn't want to bring that down, or change that because they wanted a functioning Frogster unit after the transaction.

GamesIndustry.bizThe Frogster catalogue is aimed fairly squarely at a core market, so presumably that's something that GameForge wanted to stick with, too. Is that the direction you're sticking with, rather than changing tack to a more casual audience?
Dirk Weyel

That's right. Our strategy was to work in the core-based, client-based MMO area. To do less titles but try to make premium, high-quality MMOs. So we've done that, we've licensed Mythos and TERA for this year. Also, we have one major MMO coming next year. So this continues, and is our, shall we say, strategic fit in terms of GameForge and Frogster. GameForge was originally based around browser-based games, they added client-based games to their portfolio but they came from another corner of the online segment.

That means that our portfolio, combined with a more product and marketing-orientated approach was a good fit for them, because they have a more technical background. For us, we'll continue to focus on client-based, high quality MMOs.