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George Fraser, InfoSpace

Industry forecasts are going through the roof, attracting investors to the mobile content space. However, without a unified vision and collaborative action, George Fraser of InfoSpace believes that industry growth and overall customer profitability will be limited.

InfoSpace started out life in 1996 as an Internet search and directories company. It was the acquisition of US mobile content provider, Moviso in 2003, which signalled a change in direction for the company. InfoSpace now dominates the lucrative US ringtone market and has only in the past 18 months committed to game content.

InfoSpace has acquired three studios Atlas Mobile (US), IOMO (UK) and Elkware (Germany), creating a network of game developers, all with varying skill sets. Cornerstone of the European operation, George Fraser, VP of European Sales and Marketing took some time out to talk about driving demand through bigger ideas, broader targeting and the need for collective industry action.

MobileIndustry First off, introduce yourself and tell us some more about InfoSpace.
George Fraser

I'm pretty new to InfoSpace, previously I ran RealNetworks in Europe and so have a lot of industry knowledge from a casual games perspective, because they've got a product called RealArcade, which is very much focused on casual games.

The press, certainly within Europe, will have seen most of the announcements for the games business, simply because we bought Elkware and IOMO in Q4 of 2004. What's less known, certainly within Europe, is that we are comfortably the market leader in mobile entertainment in the US.

A lot of people see us as just a games company, and that is incredibly important to us, but there's also a much, much bigger part of our business elsewhere. So, we're interested in broader deals, looking at licenses that transcend ringtones, graphics and games, we're trying to think of things in a much more holistic mobile entertainment way than necessarily just games. But games are, right now at least, the most important thing in my head.

MobileIndustry So what's your positioning and USP in the market?
George Fraser

A number of components really, we have three different studios and what we're trying to do is focus on particular aspects within our portfolio of games. We're increasingly going to carriers, spending much more time with them saying what type of titles do you want, what type of titles are not in your portfolio right now, what type of titles are over represented and therefore spending far more time building a portfolio of products that meets the needs of the carrier.

We're also spending a lot of time understanding who the customer is, my sense is that historically at least, the mobile games industry has been run by gamers, so the natural inclination is to go for console and arcade titles, rather than building new IP that are mobile-centric. Now, some of this works, some it does not, but if you actually analyse something like the ELSPA chart, you'll see a very significant proportion of titles are actually own brand, not huge licenses and the other interesting thing is that it is far more casual in terms of the portfolio of products that actually sell well.

We're steering much more towards a balanced portfolio of products that more accurately meets the needs of the consumer than necessarily coming in from a console background which is to bring in lots of console titles and do lots of film license deals, I just think the world is different here, far more casual, the customer is really quite different.

With that comes the need to build the industry, rather than just build our piece of the pie. My view coming from an outsider is, we need to grow the pie, as an industry, I'd like to put a call out to our competitors to join us to do what we can in terms of building the pie, than just about fighting for title space.

At the moment mobile games, as far as the carrier's concerned, are far too low a priority than they deserve. So where I'm thinking, and we're having lots of discussions with carriers, is in introducing much more bolder, more imaginative marketing initiatives, building awareness of mobile games, and not just necessarily our own titles.

Also looking out at the broader PR area, in that, not a lot of PR is done beyond the games and mobile industry titles and the games and mobile specialist titles - we need to get features in Loaded an FHM. We haven't really gone mainstream in getting our stuff featured in those kinds of magazines, and yet our target audience is exactly that, far more mainstream than console. That's where my head is in terms of where we're going to spend a lot of time and effort on.

MobileIndustry You've talked about getting to know your customer more, how will you do that?
George Fraser

An initiative we've just started kicking off is to carry out some market research, particularly in understanding the profile of our customers and increasingly looking at the male/female mix as well as the age mix. It's one of my favourite areas, as I know from my past life, that certainly casual games are actually skewed towards females, and the data I've seen to date suggests that the whole mobile games stuff is being skewed towards male.

MobileIndustry What are the major differences between the US and European operations?
George Fraser

Certainly because we bough IOMO and Elkware, we've got very significant penetration with the vast majority of carriers, most of our games here are single or double player, non-connected games, so you're just playing it on your handset, whereas the emphasis in the US, because of our studio called Atlas, which is in San Mateo, the focus is more on connected.

Our view is that we currently have the world's leading community platform for games, and moving forward we're going to increasingly build out those community features, whether that's putting leaderboards in there, whether its doing loyalty point systems which we've just made a press announcement last week in the States, where we're definitely trying to build that sense of community and I think the carriers are interested in doing that, and that's the thing about trying to build interest and build the whole segment as well through community tools, and SMS and things like that, you can get some of this community stuff to go viral pretty quickly if you do your job well.

MobileIndustry So what's next in the pipeline, any more acquisitions or plans to move into Asia?
George Fraser

Right now we're spending our time focusing on the studios that we have, IOMO in Eastleigh, Elkware in Hamburg and Atlas in San Mateo. Our focus right now is on integrating those studios, its about bringing out a consistent flow of very high quality titles, on an extremely regular basis, it's about nailing the heightened marketing around each of those titles, it's about heightening the marketing around the industry. So we've got enough to cope with on that than necessarily looking at what's going on in Asia, for now at least.

That's not to say we're ignoring Asia, but from my perspective I look after Europe, so I'm making sure Europe is nailed. Yes, we do keep an eye on what's going on in Asia, but for now we've got a big enough and exciting enough market in Europe to spend a lot of our efforts.

MobileIndustry At the moment, specifically in Europe, demand and uptake of mobile games is still relatively low, compared to the likes of US and Asia, one of your tasks is to grow your customer base, what steps are you taking to do that?
George Fraser

I think as an industry, we need to do much more broad-based marketing, rather than specialised marketing. What I mean by that is PR to the likes of FHM, Loaded or Cosmopolitan, it's about educating the broader marketing audience about what mobile games are all about.

I'm also considering how we can do more try-buy stuff, whereby people can explore a game, one play or sixty minutes, and then look at buying it after that. The biggest thing is getting people to try games in the first place, I fear that the WAP decks don't do a sufficient job in terms of promoting what's hot and what's not, some are better than others, but I think we do need to do more in terms of educating our customer base about mobile games.

MobileIndustry What more can network operators be doing in this area, there seems to be a lot of pressure on the publishers to grow the market.
George Fraser

Some carriers are much more imaginative than others, and some are driving things forward. I was delighted to hear a radio ad from 3 where they're actually talking about playing games on your mobile. I think if there's brand marketing taking place, where the carriers are looking at brand marketing, we should try and tap into that brand marketing.

At the moment the numbers don't justify themselves to be doing TV ads for a carrier just to promote games, and frankly they're far more concerned with customer acquisition and their marketing is about features and pricing, its not about games. So, we need to come up with creative ideas where if they're doing a pure branding ad, that we can get something in there.

That's a plan in progress for us, you'll see some in the coming months some of the things that we're doing, but we've just got to attack that market segment and find out the places where we can get at them, I know that some carriers, if you look at Virgin for example, Virgin are really quite dynamic in terms of some of the work they're doing, and in some ways its about tapping into the general entertainment component, rather than just games on its own.

When it comes to marketing budget, the game guys don't get the budget they'd necessarily like, but there's a broader marketing entertainment budget that we need to tap into as well. We've certainly done that with Virgin, and we just need to look at each carrier on an individual basis to see how we can connect with what their broader ideas, rather than being too narrow in our thinking on games.

MobileIndustry You emphasis is on bold marketing, can you talk through your plans more specifically for Europe?
George Fraser

I don't want to say too much, but we have started incorporating some raffles on some of our particular titles to generate interest. A big reason for our success in the States is promotion, it's probably the biggest reason we've got so much market share on ringtones, we've done exclusives with particular artists on particular networks.

We've got a very significant promotion team in the States, I've already started building one here, we've got a couple of guys specifically on promotions around Europe, and we're going to be very focused on who is our target audience, what kinds of things are going to be cool, whether that's specific game induced promotions, or its broader initiatives around the time of year, or broader initiatives with a particular carrier.

Promotion is key to capturing the imagination, getting people who haven't downloaded a game to download one, and giving them a good reason and having an exciting enough offer that makes them think "wow I could win an Xbox or PSP in a few months time", I think those are the kinds of things that'll make people think well it's only five quid, why not?

I think we've got a lot of strength in that area, because we do it all the time and it's not just about coming up with the idea, it's about analysing it and knowing what works and what doesn't.

MobileIndustry What next for Infospace, what should we be looking out for in the next 6 months?
George Fraser

Within the games you'll see much more around the community. Community, connected, viral, building loyalty, all of those kinds of things are key to ensuring that if people do buy a game they come back and have another.

We need people to come back and build that sense of community, you'll see a lot more from us around that. We've got some fantastic tools already in place, you'll see us making a lot more announcements and initiatives around those. Once you've got your community you've got a group of consumers that you can market to as well.

If there's a theme coming out of this, it's about thinking big. As an industry, if we're not thinking big, we're not going to be the size that any of the analysts say we're going to be and I believe we've got the potential to do that, but we all need to focus, so this is my rallying call to the industry, we all need to be focused about building the industry size, and I for one am totally up for it.

George Fraser is VP of European Sales and Marketing at InfoSpace.

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