Last year, Ngmoco turned a corner. Its Rage of Bahamut proved that its monetization strategies -- learned from its Japanese parent DeNA -- were sound in the West, as the game parked at the top of the top-grossing charts for iOS and Android for months on end.
"I truly believe that we are the leaders in maintaining and growing the live services in Western mobile because of what we've been able to learn from DeNA in Japan," says Ngmoco CEO Downie. He hopes to leverage that success into new arenas -- and instead of porting Japanese games like Rage of Bahamut, to instead offer homegrown titles aimed at Western players.
Of course, Ngmoco has published Western-developed titles before. But this year, the studio will take aim at the console competition by launching The Drowning, a core-targeted free-to-play FPS, on iOS. The game is developed by a team of veterans of franchises such as Battlefield and Halo by DeNA's Scattered Entertainment, headed up by EA and DICE vet Ben Cousins, who told Gamasutra all about his plans for the game in this interview.
"We are in a leadership position, so it's ours to lose," Downie tells Gamasutra. "We retain our advantage by making great things." That leaves him, he says, with one strategy: "To continue to make great content and to continue to innovate our platform offering and what it gives to consumers."
The company's platform is Mobage, which offers analytics and game development tools both for its internal studios and external partners. It's also a mobile social network for players. Downie hopes that 2013 will bring continued improvements to Mobage on all fronts, but recognizes that improvements to a platform like this are only driven by games that push the envelope of what's possible on it.
"You need killer apps to push the platform, and a platform is only as good as the content that's on it. So it's our job to push the envelopes and make a platform be something else in terms of... its back-end systems, its back-end architecture, the technology that it offers to make great things so that then our third party partners can benefit from that. We live that loop," Downie says.
The Importance of Time
As a first party -- Downie sees Ngmoco in a position similar to Microsoft Studios or Nintendo EAD -- deciding what games to develop is crucial. Though The Drowning is a core-focused FPS, Downie says that his company doesn't focus on demographics or genres when looking for new opportunities to expand the mobile market. What it looks at is time -- the time a potential player has to engage with a Mobage mobile game.
"We look for where there are legitimate blocks of time that we can offer really great content and really great games, and then we go after that because we only want to do great stuff," says Downie. "I tend to think about it in terms of opportunities of time allocation rather than demographic or genre-based. You'll get to genres. That's what we do. We get to genres after we look around for available moments of time."
"If you just think about how people's lives have changed because of these devices, they've migrated time from certain other areas of -- from other consumer products over to their smart devices," Downie says. "It's happening all around us, so, yes, I do believe that people will migrate away from consoles and their time away from consoles to these devices if the content is consequential enough."
Peeling the Console Onion
Downie doesn't believe that The Drowning will capture the entire console audience in one fell swoop. "These things take time," Downie says. "I think what The Drowning is going to do is it's going to take a certain percentage of time away from console from a certain type of player. Because as we know, there isn't just one type of player on the console."
Downie thinks that The Drowning can begin to capture players on the edges of the console space -- to start. "I think we're going to effectively pull away at the layers of the onion, if you like, and take away, probably, consumers around the periphery who feel that every time they go into a multiplayer world, they get their ass kicked," he says.
What really excites him is that there's still a long way to go on smartphone adoption around the globe. "The long term opportunity for Ngmoco, then, is as these devices scale," he says. "The era of smart devices has already started and has a long way to run, which is really exciting for us when we're in a leadership position. Is that era going to see mobile content or content on those devices become as impactful as other entertainment content? Yeah. We are getting there. It comes down to scale."
His goal, then, is to start to have the "consequential" content lined up for when the scale is ready -- and by that time, he hopes, Ngmoco and DeNA will be well positioned to keep the lead.