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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 3 of 4 Next

The game industry is going through tremendous evolutions and expansions. We've got the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita, and at the same time we've got iOS versus Android, and then them all against each other. People were saying the 3DS was down and out at the beginning of the year, when it came out to sort of a whimper, and then now it's selling loads. Nintendo really realized that they were screwed if they didn't drop the price -- so they did! So I don't think you can call these battles. It's a very exciting time.

BC: I can remember back in '99 when Microsoft announced they were going into the console business, and all of us in software development at the time, we're like, "This is going to be really interesting. This is going to raise the bar, and what are Microsoft going to do, and what do we get out of that?"

I mean, console games now routinely sell over 10 million units, right? That's been driven by competition between Sony and Microsoft. There were big sellers before that, in Mario and Final Fantasy, and stuff. I'm just astonished that 15, 20 million people are playing first person shooters now, and that was driven by Microsoft's entrance to the business.

So what's going to happen now? Google and Apple -- biggest company in the world and one of the biggest companies in the world -- muscling into the games industry is going to create new opportunities and create the kind of uncertainty that people might, like me, really get excited about.

And we want to be part of that. There's a lot of predictability in the console business now, and there's a lot of unpredictability in the space that we're in, and being on the frontier is exciting for a certain type of person.

The phase that we've been in, though -- especially with the explosion of mobile games -- has been very much a throw-something-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks phase. But I get the sense that you wouldn't bring together this team and spend a year developing a game if you thought you were in the throw-something-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks phase.

BC: Exactly, and we wouldn't do it if we didn't have some degree of confidence in terms of the patterns of success that we've seen in the marketplace, but also internal learnings from Ngmoco and DeNA that would do that.

So you talk to guys about coming to work for us, and they're like, "I want to get back to smaller teams, and slightly less high end assets, and production values, and team sizes."

I think that we're rapidly going to see an increase in performance, and I give it four years' time before the mobile teams are probably going to be as big as the console teams were at the start of this generation: you know, 50, 60 people.

You really think so?

BC: Yeah, I think so. I think that's because the install base for these things is going to get bigger. Everyone who has a feature phone will end up having a smartphone. Everything is going to be to play for.

We'll see some transition of console gamers. Some of the console gamers, or some of the high ARPU kind of people, are going to be playing on console, and on smartphone and tablet. And I think it's going to be a bigger overall economy for these devices, which is going to justify bigger audiences for the hits.

But then there's also going to be an arms race between the big guys, and once monetization is solved, and usage patterns are solved, it's going to be much more about production values, and I think we're going to see a repeat of what we saw on console.

We've been through the arcades, we've been through the home devices, and now we're going through the mobile devices, and in each of those cases a few companies had some lucky hits early on. You remember the arcades in the '90s -- huge, hydraulic, specific cabinets with incredibly high-end 3D graphics.

And then that was dropped down to consoles, and consoles have gotten amazingly cinematic and deeper. I think we'll see that; we've dropped out again to mobile, and then I think we'll see really astonishing -- particularly on tablet -- experiences in four, five years' time. They will be Skyrim-style experiences on tablet.

And you know, this time next year, tablets are going to have high resolution screens -- full HDTVs. So that's already one barrier overcome. Now, if you want pixels, tablets are higher resolution than TVs. And all of this is really interesting. It's fun for us to talk about what might happen, but it's also going to be very interesting to see it evolve over time as well.

Are you taking the long view, or is your brief more to build a game and make it happen in short span?

BC: Yeah, we need to make a game as quickly as we can, given our goals. It needs to be profitable.

We're not a pure R&D group, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's more about... For me it's like, if we talk about a Naughty Dog, or a Polyphony Digital, or whatever, you know, a console game developer who got in there early when it wasn't such a sexy platform and gradually worked themselves up to having a big cultural impact, that would be the long view that I would take.

But the short view is just make great products that are valuable to consumers, and also profitable, and fulfill short-term as well as long-term business goals for the company.

So much of what's happening seems so business-led. But what we know about games really is that there has to be a creative lead to actually move the needle, right?

BC: Yeah, and sometimes, I just think about the Commodore 64 days, when I was living in the UK. There were all these companies that just sprung out of nowhere that were run by cowboys, essentially. They would just make crap games. They'd pay 18 year old kids just tiny amounts of money to produce games and throw them out there. And that worked for a while...

I think now we're at the point where home experiences are incredibly high-end and extremely culturally impactful, right? And that's an interesting turnaround. Where it's all about business, making money, getting good turnover, high profit margins. And as you get towards the end, it actually becomes about making truly creative and unique experiences.

Uncharted 3 is a great example of that, I think. Of all the stories I've experienced, whether it's movies or TV or books in the last year, that's kind of up there with them. And there would never be any reason to do that in the old days. But because the way to get your head over the parapet on console -- the only way to do it -- is to do all of that.

And this is what's starting to begin on mobile, I think. Even little things like Jetpack Joyride. Two years ago, there would be no backstory to it; it'd just be like there's this dude and he's on a jetpack. But they've added a kind of fun backstory. This guy steals a jetpack because he's bored at work. That's the first inklings of what will become the Uncharted-type experience, I think. Give it time.

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