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RockYou and Playdemic discuss the UK's role in the evolution of social gaming

Last week social app company RockYou announced its first acquisition of the year, as it swooped for Manchester studio Playdemic. The UK developer has been working on Gourmet Ranch for Facebook and is comprised of former Ubisoft Reflections, THQ and Eidos staff - and counts Ian Livingstone as a major investor.

Here, in an exclusive follow-up interview with GamesIndustry.biz, RockYou's Jonathan Knight, senior vice president for games, and Playdemic's general manager Paul Gouge discuss the deal, why the UK isn't aggressive enough when it comes to embracing the new games economy, and how social gaming will evolve in next 12-18 months.

GamesIndustry.biz What attracted you to Playdemic as an acquisition target?
Jonathan Knight

It was pretty simple really. One thing we've all learnt over the years is that the most important thing is to go with a great team and these guys have a really strong chemistry, they're very talented, they understand how to build great games. We wanted them be part of RockYou and Gourmet Ranch is a great product.

GamesIndustry.biz Will Playdemic be using the game engine TirNua, that RockYou bought last year?
Jonathan Knight

No, not at all. Playdemic is going to operate on its own. It's obviously part of RockYou but we really want them to retain their creative independence, their working culture, their values, technology and franchises. We're really excited about the technology that they've built for Gourmet Ranch which can be used for future games. It's super-smart. The acquisition of TirNua last year bought us a very different kind of technology which will be used for a very different kind of game.

GamesIndustry.biz Can we expect more development acquisitions from RockYou this year?
Jonathan Knight

We're always looking for opportunities to grow our business and we're very serious about becoming a leader in social gaming. So we're always going to be on the lookout.

GamesIndustry.biz We're seen Zynga and Playdom makes moves to acquire European studios - do you think there's going to be a rush to grab Euro teams in the social space?
Jonathan Knight

It's not part of a deliberate strategy. I've been in the games industry a long time and have worked with teams all around the globe. We've got a lot of respect for British game developers - there's a lot of great talent here.

Paul Gouge

The UK has a very strong history in game development and there are some very, very talented people in the UK. I think it's almost testament to that that these sort of acquisitions happen because it isn't easy to manage a UK business from the West Coast of the US. The fact that US businesses can accommodate those issues reflects the fact that they do appreciate the talent in the UK. Some of the transitions that you can see in the games industry in the UK, the lay offs that are resulting in changes in the traditional physical games industry, there is a definitely a need for us to embrace new technologies and the way the market is going.

We're very excited to be part of a large US parent company but equally, it's a shame that there aren't any big UK-owned businesses in this space. That needs to improve in the UK.

GamesIndustry.biz Could that prove a problem in the longer term - there's no social firms breaking out from the UK, not on the same scale...
Paul Gouge

The most successful was Playfish and it was an early mover in the market - born in London and operating out of London but now very much a part of Electronic Arts. What we've seen in the states and in silicon valley in this industry has a very clear, aggressive and well-funded ambition to be world leaders in a new marketplace.

In the UK, historically, whilst we're very strong creatively, we haven't always been leaders when it comes to commercial opportunities that have been presented in the marketplace. The UK's great when it comes to game making but we don't necessarily have the secret sauce to be aggressively pushing these new market trends. Certain players in the UK need to be more focused on that.

Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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