Here is the presentation I delivered at Casual Connect Europe in Hamburg.
We’re in full swing in the conference season, and next week, one of the more exciting conferences in the game space opens its doors in pretty Hamburg again: Casual Connect Europe, the old world iteration of the event by the Casual Games Association gives a fantastic cross-section of the state of the game across platforms. There are a number of strands to follow, including mobile, where a lot – unsurprisingly – centers around smartphones and the iPhone as well as the change to ecosystems that app stores but also the higher (actual) connectivity of these newer handsets have brought about.
I will be there, too (attending and speaking). So if you are in town (or want to get a good grip on the latest and greatest in the casual games space, head over to Hamburg and give me a shout.
So it was just as well that, one day before CTIA Wireless, I had the great pleasure of contributing to the “Connecting the Consumer” panel at Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G Symposium (with Disney, Samsung, Buzznet and Atlantic Records all contributing, providing for the various facets of content [games, video/film, music, web]). The ground had been laid by the keynote of the formidable Mitch Singer, Sony Pictures CTO and a long-standing thought-leader in changing sectors (he’s one of the people who brought the original Napster down and – in his own words – “look was the music industry has become”). Mitch had reminded us of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (Read it! It’s worth it!), which deals with how businesses should tackle change…
Having just spent three incredibly inspiring days at Casual Connect Europe in beautiful Hamburg, there were – in respect of mobile games – two observations to be made: 1) the horror online and PC game developers express when looking at the fragmented space and the resulting “crazy” (quote) business models and 2) the iPhone is different, from a developer perspective this time.
With the conference season upon us, I shall be trekking to my former hometown of Hamburg on Monday to join the good folks from the Casual Games Association for their European iteration of Casual Connect. It looks like a pretty cool show with lots of interesting stuff going on, in particular also on social gaming and cross-platform initiatives: they have numerous panels and keynotes on both and a whole strand on mobile. Interesting speakers, too: Rob Unsworth (Digital Chocolate), Ami Ben-David (Oberon/I-Play), Philippe Dao (Gameloft) are there plus an interesting panel with Fishlabs’ Michael Schade and Handy Games’ Christopher Kassulke on the same panel (their two companies had a little bit of a tiff recently). I’ll be there to elaborate a bit more on mobile social gaming… Fingers crossed.
Playfish, the social network gaming company founded by wireless industry veteran Kristian Segerstrale, announced a series B round worth a very respectable $17m from Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Playfish boasts 10m monthly users and claims that 4 of its 5 games are in Facebook’s top 10. The company also said it recently joined Google’s in-game advertising solution and presumably banks on capitalizing on this success. No word on financials but they surely are getting their slice of it (just how thick that slice is, I’d like to know). No word either on any mobile activities (which might be coming given Kristian’s background as founder of Macromedia).
Viacom’s Paramount announced to enter the sphere of video game publishing, and they want to concentrate on “casual, hand-held and mobile” because of the lower production cost compared to “proper” consoles. The latter would, it seems, remain reserved to sister company MTV, which recently entered the space with Rock Band, a title that sold a respectable 1.8m units since November 2007.
Paramount still seems to be looking around for the right models though: Sandi Isaacs, its SVP Interactive & Mobile said that they “are entering into deals now where we will be publishing games this year. There’s going to be a slate where in some cases we’re publishing, in some cases we’re co-publishing, or in others we’re funding development and another publisher buys it. It’s important for us to have a flexible model.” She also said that the studio might use external finance to fund video game development, which would be closer to business models widely applied in the film industry but which is still relatively nascent in games (although there are a select few project finance companies out there that also take on game development).
Irrespective of the relatively cloudy nature of the announcements, it is good to see that a major studio starts putting more emphasis on gaming as a way to capitalize on their IP besides (relatively speaking) shabby guarantees and advances for licensing their rights to others. For mobile, the most exciting bit may well be a co-publishing model: Paramount does not and – at least for a while – will not have the distribution footprint of many mobile publishers, so a partnership there might be mutually fruitful for both parties. Should this become a successful example, it might well help to break open the somewhat old-school business models that sometimes tend to strangle developers and publishers in the mobile space: they are required to cough up money that they would really require to put into game development, marketing, sales and promotions rather than contributing what is a relatively tiny percentage to a movie’s overall revenue. Encouraging!