Active Gaming Media
Active Gaming Media has its fingers in a lot of pies; CEO Ibai Ameztoy founded the company as a Japan-based game localization agency, but since then AGM has done work in public relations, QA, and other aspects of the industry.
This year, Ameztoy and AGM get the Power 50 nod for Playism, a digital distribution platform that they're using to bring Japanese indies to overseas markets (the English-language Playism portal launched with a localized version of indie Japanese hit La Mulana) and vice versa (localizing and publishing Dear Esther and SpaceChem in Japan). Way to spread the indie love (and make a buck doing it), Ameztoy.
Both the Gamasutra and Game Developer staff were in complete agreement about one of this year's Power 50 candidates for the business category, but we didn't know his name. We all just wanted to make sure we recognized "Whomever it was that got Adam Saltsman (Canabalt), Paul Veer (Super Crate Box), and Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, Canabalt) to make a licensed game for iOS based on The Hunger Games."
Turns out that person is film studio Lionsgate's VP of digital marketing, David Hayes. In the world of film marketing, Hayes has made a name for himself by building innovative marketing campaigns; by getting an indie dream team to make The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire, and getting that indie dream team to make more than just a Canabalt reskin, Hayes has left his mark on the game industry as well.
Sure, PR and marketing is hard at any publisher. But when you're a niche company like Atlus, which focuses almost exclusively on the decidedly untrendy genre of Japanese RPGs, you live or die by the thinnest margins. That's what makes Aram Jabbari's job so hard.
Jabbari interfaces with the company's finicky community on games like the Persona series, making sure their voices are heard, and along with vice president Tim Pivnicy, makes sure the games are presented to the community's exacting standards.
Though the trend for Japanese niche games is supposedly downward, Atlus's most successful years have been its most recent -- and its "Atlus Faithful" fans, carefully cultivated by Jabbari's always-on-message but sincere marketing efforts, are driving that success.
[Note: Since this article appeared in Game Developer, Jabbari has parted ways with Atlus and joined Sony Computer Entertainment America as the publisher's new Public Relations Manager.]
While game-related Kickstarters were a dime a dozen in 2012, FarSight Studios caught our eye with The Pinball Arcade, a cross-platform pinball game that featured licensed digital remakes of real-world classic pinball tables.
Far Sight Studios's VP of development Bobby King, along with CEO Jay Obernolte, were the ones responsible for getting the licenses to more than 20 tables from manufacturers Bally, Williams, Stern, and Gottlieb -- which included running successful Kickstarter campaigns to get the necessary funding for licensing fees and production for the Star Trek: The Next Generation and Twilight Zone tables. We wouldn't wish that kind of red-tape wrangling on our worst enemy.
Two cloud-based streaming game companies entered 2012 with vastly different business plans; OnLive aimed its cloud game service directly at consumers, while Gaikai developed its tech and courted bigger hardware companies like Samsung and Sony. Gaikai, led by cofounder and veteran game developer David Perry, sold to Sony for $380 million, while OnLive laid off its entire staff and got bought and restructured by a VC group. Perry's work speaks for itself; it takes more than good tech to make it in this business.
If you first heard of NaturalMotion Games during Apple's iPhone 5 event, when CEO Torsten Reil demoed Clumsy Ninja, then you haven't been paying attention. NaturalMotion Games seems to get exactly how to build a free-to-play mobile game that looks good, plays well in short bursts, and -- if CSR Racing's $12 million take during its first month on the iOS App Store is any indication -- get players to pay with well-designed monetization strategies. Watch out, world: Reil is one to watch for 2013.
Double Fine Productions
By now, everyone knows the story of the $3.3 million Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, so we'll keep this one short. These days, game-related Kickstarter campaigns are flooding our in-boxes and news feeds, and we blame all of that on Double Fine Adventure (tentative title) producer Greg Rice, who was that Kickstarter's mastermind. Next time you disrupt the traditional developer-publisher business model, give us a minute or two to prepare our spam filters first, okay?
As Behaviour Interactive's creative director on Temple Run: Brave, Frederic St-Amour was responsible for taking the magic behind Temple Run and adapting it to a license that demanded more than endless running. The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire showed us that you can make a good licensed mobile game with the right license and the right team; St-Amour and the team at Behaviour showed us that this kind of pairing should be the rule, not the exception.
From the outside, designing free-to-play games looks kind of like juggling flaming swords. Your game needs to be profitable, but not exploitative; engaging, but not demanding. We don't know if Hero Academy lead designer Marcin Szymanski can actually juggle flaming swords, but considering how well Hero Academy attracted casual and core audiences and got them to open up their wallets without sending off pay-to-win vibes, we think he could probably do it if he really, really wanted to.
It wasn't that long ago that conventional wisdom dictated breaking into the top five Facebook developers was impossible, thanks to the unassailable value of cross-marketing to an existing audience. Tell that to King.com CEO Riccardo Zacconi, who, on the back of the success of Bubble Witch Saga -- a title with 3.7 million daily active users in October 2012 -- now runs the number-two game developer on the social networking site.
Yes, King.com's premier game is, at its core, a rehash of Taito's 1990s arcade hit Bust-a-Move, but according to Playdom's Steve Meretzky, it's an expert application of social mechanics that made it a success, and that's King.com's secret (and explains why Taito didn't get there first).
The company releases over a dozen games a year to its casual portal, and only the top performers are selected for Facebook. A carefully designed "social envelope," in King.com parlance, is wrapped around a game, and then it's ready for social network deployment.
The company has also moved into mobile versions of its titles, with clever integration between Facebook and iOS -- meaning that players' progress carries over between versions. This led to a very successful launch of Bubble Witch Saga on that platform without a meaningful marketing effort. This is leading, in turn, to an expansion of King.com as a company -- a big business win for an organization that saw an opening for traditional casual games on Facebook, realized it could provide them, carefully executed its plan, and took the platform by storm.