Social network games are becoming increasingly attractive even to non-gaming businesses - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is the latest in on the act, having very quietly picked start-up firm Making Fun late last year. The acquisition came to light in February, along with the news that Making Fun would be a publisher rather than developer - seeking and funding independent projects of note.
With the nascent publisher having now made its first dev deals, GamesIndustry.biz spoke to the outfit's VP and GM John Welch (previously co-founder and CEO at PlayFirst) on just how these indie partnerships would work, what level of involvement the parent firm is taking, how Making Fun could partner with other News Corp divisions and whether or not this new endeavour could ultimately outdo Zynga.
The short term plan is that Making Fun has announced itself as the first full-service publisher to be addressing the social games space. By full service we mean not only providing distribution for a game which someone else may have financed and created, which a few companies are doing, but rather funding games from the concept stage. Literally I had conversations in the hallway at GDC - "hey John, I saw you talking about this or that thing, I've got this idea for a game..." and we're about to sign the contracts. So we will provide the full budget for developing a game, we will partner on the technology side. We've got an extensive platform technology on the back-end side, and you can imagine running games as a service as opposed to package games is a bit of a different proposition in terms of being a publisher. So we have to have some conformity in the back end in order to be able to run what's going to be three or four games in the very short term, and could be 10 or 15 games pretty quickly in a year or so.
Then we'll partnering with the developer along the full spectrum of game development disciplines, so I have what would be one of the best game development teams in the world internal to my studio, except we don't actually make games ourselves - we make games with partners. Some developers might need help on the technology side, others on the design side, others on the art side. It really depends - we partner in whatever ways is necessary to have a successful project.
There's marketing, of course, as well - both cash marketing and a variety of different things we can bring to bear because we'll have the economy of scale, being a publisher.
If a developer ships a game and it makes a dollar, they will be making a royalty from day one.
I think at a high level it's very similar - the concept being the publisher takes the financial risk and provides expertise technology and distribution. What's different is I've built my career in online gaming over the last ten years or so being really pretty friendly to our developers. Without going into the details, what we've done in our first three contracts that we've signed I think is a pretty innovative deal structure, where we're really underwriting the exact cost of the game, so we really don't want our developers making a profit on the development side. The day the game launches, we share a very small bit of gross revenue royalty, which means the developer, if they just ship a game and it makes a dollar, they will be making a royalty from day one while we're still trying to dig ourselves out of our investment. Then once we make enough money to repay the investment - and it's definitely a repay the investment, not a loan to developers in the traditional publisher recoup model where the developer never sees any royalties - then we increase the royalty to the developer.
We look at it as a partnership, we really try and structure a deal where we're all on the same side of the table. We want to spend as little as possible on the game, as does the developer, because as soon as we get our money back they get a higher share, but at the same time once the game makes any kind of a profit the developer's getting a little bit to keep their motivation being a profit motivation and not a development fees motivation.
That speaks to more of the long-term plan, and I guess I just say I don't know at this stage. My last company, PlayFirst, we were the first company publishing in the casual download space and we built an internal studio pretty quickly there. I can say that there are advantages to the outside model - you tap into the creativity of a global community, which really is global - whereas ten years ago there were countries where game development wasn't the focus. Today, the focus is much, much broader there; there are talented teams in places that just didn't exist ten years ago.