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Rockpool MD Paul Gouge

Last month, UK mobile games developer Rockpool announced the launch of a new company, SoGoPlay, which will offer casual games to the global online market.

However, as MD Paul Gouge explains in this exclusive interview, that doesn't mean there will be any shift in focus when it comes to Rockpool's activities in the mobile gaming market. Read on to find out more about Gouge's opinions on casual gaming, publisher commitment to the mobile sector and the current transition the industry is going through.

MobileIndustry.biz What's the thinking behind SoGoPlay?
Paul Gouge

Rockpool is only part of what we do; we've also got a licensing business called Ironstone Partners. We look at game development through our Rockpool studio, licensing and brands through Ironstone, and we've more recently started looking at the casual games business.

SoGoPlay for us is our foray into that world. It seems to us that's a market which has been evolving quite dramatically over the last three or four years; it's one that we've watched carefully, and we've taken the decision to get involved.

For us, it's about exploiting some of the original IPs we've developed in the Rockpool studio, but also it's about trying to learn how that consumer segment plays games, how they like to pay for games, and we believe we've got the right skillset to make some money out of it - which is obviously our fundamental premise.

MobileIndustry.biz Can you see a time when casual gaming comes to overtake the more hardcore sector and dominate the market?
Paul Gouge

No, I don't think so. It depends what you mean by overtake. The size of the market, the number of people we're talking about is certainly larger. Casual is an expression we're all kind of throwing round glibly - I'm not sure it actually means that much.

I think there are a number of people out there who are now seeing their PC as a way of getting entertainment, and as a games industry that's a new part of our market we can sell to.

In terms of overtaking numbers, that is a bigger marketplace, because there are a lot of people now who have an ability to get involved in playing games, and the games they want to play are available to them - i.e. there are these short, snappy opportunities to play.

But in terms of revenues, these people probably aren't prepared to spend the same amount as your hardcore gamer, so in terms of the actual gaming marketplace I think the hardcore market is still going to represent a large amount of revenues, certainly for the short to medium term - and then maybe moving forward, as the more mass market player gets involved, we might see a greater share of that revenue coming from those people.

MobileIndustry.biz So it's harder to make money in the casual gaming market?
Paul Gouge

Yes, it's kind of an educational process. The games industry historically, in my opinion, has done a bad job of selling itself to the world market. Everyone in the industry is very close to it, and we all talk about ourselves being a mass market provider of entertainment. The reality is that unlike the music industry or the film industry, we don't shout enough about what we do, and we're also quite insular.

We're trying to say to the world, 'This is a valid form of entertainment; you don't have to be a geek to do it, and you don't have to pay fifty pounds, and you don't have to be unemployed or a student to participate.' That's really important for the industry.

MobileIndustry.biz Now that Rockpool's moving into the casual gaming sector, are you moving away from mobile?
Paul Gouge

No - we've got a strategy of setting up these businesses as separate companies. SoGoPlay's strategy is very different from Rockpool's and Ironstone's, and we're still absolutely committed to those.

MobileIndustry.biz How are you finding the mobile market at the moment? Is it becoming more difficult to compete?
Paul Gouge

We're actually in a really good place right now. We've managed to establish a very good reputation for ourselves, and as a consequence we've got some long standing deals in place with major publishers - Sega is a good example; we've signed a multi-title deal with them.

That, combined with deals with other big publishers, means we've got pretty much a full order book going into 2008. It's great - it's one of the few times in my life, being involved in videogames development, that I can actually sleep easy at night, knowing there's a strong contract flow going through for the next 12 months.

But I'm certainly conscious that there's a squeeze going on. There's a lot of people out in the marketplace trying to decide, from a publisher's point perspective, how important mobile is to them and how much they should be paying for games, what the quality standard should be, what platforms they should be looking at...

I think a lot of people are analysing their strategy. We're just fortunate we've got a good reputation, and as a consequence we've been able to establish these long term relationships with publishers.

MobileIndustry.biz Are publishers taking enough of an interest in the mobile market?
Paul Gouge

The publishers that we work with are absolutely committed to mobile, and certainly we're seeing inside their businesses a much greater link up between their PC and console strategy and their mobile strategy.

I think that's partly driven by the fact it makes marketing a lot easier, but also they're now seeing mobile as a legitimate other platform for their brands and there franchises.

There have been a lot of publishers who have taken the option to sit on the sidelines and see how the market evolves, but when you look at EA's entrance into the marketplace, which was obviously rather dramatic with buying Jamdat, that was the litmus test really - EA was the player looking to see how the market developed and they took the decision, as market leader, that it was the right place to be. A lot of other publishers have taken that as a lead and are following suit.

We believe absolutely that mobile is here to stay. I doubt that it's yet an important part of the big publishers' profitability, but going forward, inevitably that will be the case.

MobileIndustry.biz There's been a lot of talk yesterday about the fact that the mobile gaming industry seems to be going through a transition at the moment. How do you think that is unfolding?
Paul Gouge

There are two dynamics going on at the moment. There's a dynamic in the console market which is being largely precipitated by the Wii. A lot of people have followed a relatively similar evolution in consoles, where it seemed that with each console iteration we were looking for better quality graphics, better sound, a more cinematic experience. That, to a certain extent, is what we've seen with 360 and will see with PS3.

With the Wii, we've seen a much more interesting approach and a much different strategy, with a lower price point - which is very important - but also with a product which is based much more around a social style of gameplay, defined by the controller.

It's giving a different approach to the marketplace; it's not just playing first-person shooters, it involves you jumping around the living room, getting other people involved, and the consequence of that is to bring more people in.

The other dynamic is the social side in terms of online. There's a big play being made by all those console players with regard to connectivity, and obviously in mobile and online, that's something that's a big part of the business going forward. Again, I think that's a dynamic will shape the industry going forward.

Paul Gouge is the MD for Rockpool Games. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

Paul Gouge is the MD Rockpool Games. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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