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The Verge of Change: Ben Cousins on Founding Ngmoco Sweden
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The Verge of Change: Ben Cousins on Founding Ngmoco Sweden

January 16, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Yeah, now the question becomes, I guess, becoming richer experiences, and innovative. I don't really think the answer is to make a giant console game on a mobile platform.

BC: Yeah, people are doing that already, and it doesn't get you to the top of the charts. Like Modern Combat 3 from Gameloft is a 10-hour, Call of Duty-style single player game with a persistent multiplayer component, and that's not the answer. It's impressive that they can do it, and I enjoy playing them, but that isn't getting people as excited as something like High Noon.

I don't know if you've played High Noon. High Noon's like this little Western multiplayer shooting game where you draw the phone as a gun, and just shoot random people. These are the games that are hovering around in the top of the chart in the shooter genre, rather than games like Shadowgun or Modern Combat.

That's the fascinating opportunity for me -- in five years' time, what sort of games will core gamers be playing on mobile? I don't think they'll be playing Fruit Ninja. I think that there will be something with a Fruit Ninja style usage pattern, and the price point, but with a very different tone, and feel, and level of gameplay.

Is that where you're headed?

BC: I think so. I think there are three areas where which are going to collide in what we build. It's the social freemium experience at DeNA and Ngmoco. It's the high-end graphics of the games that we've been building. And it's starting to become the established way of structuring content and filling in usage patterns that we're seeing on the fantastic mobile games line.

Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope -- I mean, those are fantastic games, right? What we find when we talk to core gamers is they say, "It's a fantastic game, but it's not Mass Effect, is it?" Whereas I think we can find something which feels like Mass Effect -- feels as high-end, and as dramatic, and as cinematic, with the production values of that sort of game, but that doesn't require you to boot up a console, go through a long cutscene, walk to where the action happens, play the action, and then hit a save point. Great for getting value out of a PC or console usage pattern, but not great for mobile.

Here's a question that I would love to hear your answer to. You talked a lot about the upside of joining DeNA/Ngmoco. Your reasons are Ngmoco having about as much as experience as you can have with these platforms, and DeNA having solved monetization better than anybody on the globe. But what are the downsides, if any?

BC: The downsides are, well, they have a great tech platform, but some of it isn't usable by us. So we have to use either our own proprietary engine or, for 3D ones, someone else's engine. I think in the future ngCore will become a pretty nice high end engine as well. It doesn't fit our timelines.

And the guys at Ngmoco understand this, but from a DeNA point of view, a one year dev cycle or an eight month dev cycle, for them, feels kind of long. Whereas the guys here have gone through three to five year dev cycles, it feels very short, so. We're educating them and they're educating us, and they wouldn't have gone into this and if they weren't ready to learn from us.

It's great to look at the DeNA financial reports and we're bullet point number five of what's important to them in terms of growth, so it's great to have that backing.

Ngmoco's We Farm

How closely do you work with and how do you feel about [DeNA global executive producer Kenji] Kobayashi?

BC: I've met him a couple of times, and we've sat down and had a long conversation over dinner in August, and he's... There's so many super smart people there. And those guys, they have a lot of fantastically valuable learnings, and are incredibly analytical and data-driven.

But also in the way that they present the way they work, it's extremely ordered, and well laid out, and easy to understand. It's so great to come into a company that have it all ready for you, and they're like, "Here's how we think it works."

Whereas a lot of the time if you go into a really successful studio, they kind of have an idea of why they're successful, and they can teach you some stuff, but they don't know for sure how to do it, and they also don't know how the best to communicate it to you.

And it feels like DeNA, the way they're managing expansion, is to institutionalize this knowledge, and share that knowledge in a great way, and also be very passionate about communicating it, and about sharing it.

Is that down to the fact that it's a web culture company, you think? With a different way of looking at stuff?

BC: Yeah, I think so. I think people in the web industry are more open to sharing learnings. I was fascinated by the difference between the web industry and the games industry about four years ago, and I did a talk at Nordic Game about the differences, and it kind of preluded the social games explosion.

And it felt like the web guys came from academia and were therefore more open, and were more willing to sit on the shoulders of each other, and just say, "Here's the software standard, and here's the browser standard, and hey, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. We're going to just create great content and learn from each other."

And this is what we get from DeNA, absolutely. Whereas game developers have come from a different background, and they tend to be more guarded about their learnings. And there's a bit more of a "not invented here" kind of mentality than in a lot of web companies, and we've talked about the siloization in a lot of game companies.

People come to game companies to invent the wheel, right?

BC: Yeah, exactly.

In a way it's interesting to me that you do get people away from studios like DICE. Especially a coder working on Frostbite 2. That was one of the most monumental wheel inventions of the generation.

BC: Yeah, exactly. Obviously, the majority of guys who are working on that project are fascinated by creating new scientific inventions, or however you would describe new technological innovations. But there's also people who just want to make great games. The best engineers have tremendous technical chops, but also think about the end user experience as well, and [ex-DICE engineer] Malte [Hildingsson]'s one of those guys.

Malte wrote the engine for a PS2 game in a weekend -- he's that kind of guy. He does incredibly technical memory management on console games, but also he loves to play games. And the root to getting to that end user experience quicker and more efficiently is what excites him at the moment.

Making games used to be about welding circuit boards, right? Pong wasn't programmed -- it was chips. And then it became about writing assembler, and as the technology becomes higher level, and higher level, and higher level, there's always some people that drop out because they're not interested in doing that anymore, right?

And I think as the tools get more abstracted and more high level, there will be people who'll say, "You know, I don't think I want to just work with scripting anymore; I'm going to go and work in Formula One car chip design," or something, something nice and low level, or even in Hollywood.

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