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Ngmoco's Downie: 'We Don't See' Players As 'Faceless, Mindless Beings'

Ngmoco's Downie: 'We Don't See' Players As 'Faceless, Mindless Beings' Exclusive

November 11, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

Last week, Gamasutra was invited to Ngmoco's new San Francisco headquarters to see two of its new, in-development games for its Mobage social mobile network platform, which recently came out of beta.

The titles, DragonCraft and Skyfall, are both developed by two of the company's internal studios: New York City-based Freeverse and its San Francisco studio, respectively.

While CEO Neil Young filled the journalists in attendance in on the company's overall strategy, Gamasutra spoke to Ngmoco's head of game production, Clive Downie, to find out what his and the company's aims are, specifically, with its internally developed-games.

So what's the goal of the studio organization? "Make hits. Make great games," said Downie.

"The reason why is I want first party to make the defining product on Mobage. I want us to make our Halos. Because the platforms need defining killer apps."

"We blaze the trail for others to use the technology that we devleop. It's an important role and we're having fun with it," he said. The comany's ngCore engine and Mobage platform are open to third party developers.

"We're growing in San Francisco," he said, sitting in a meeting room in Ngmoco's newly-opened China Basin office, next to AT&T Park. "We have at least another three games in production, and live. We've recently added a new studio group that's taking a shot at a really meaningful category. I can't tell you much about that, but it's a big thing."

The company also has studios around the world, including Battlefield Heroes developer Ben Cousins' new studio in Sweden, and Rough Cookie in Holland, which is "working on a new hit very closely with Japan," said Downie.

"Every location has at least one new game in development and some have multiple. So, yes, first party is a focus," he confirmed.

The two games shown at the event, he said, say not just "that we're committed to free-to-play, freemium games, but we're committed to games that blend world-class art with the world-class science that you heard from Kenji."

Kenji Kobayashi is Ngmoco parent DeNA's global executive producer for its social games business. Gamasutra recently interviewed Kobayashi at DeNA's Tokyo headquarters. He said that, thanks to the discrepancy in ARPU between the two companies -- with DeNA getting $12 per user -- he suspects that "Zynga has not really researched monetization. I think that people who don't know much about the Japanese market just dismiss those users as crazy, but that's not the case. You really need to research thoroughly at what time monetization becomes the most fun for your users."

Downie said that his philosophy is centered on making great products.

"As a head of a development group that makes things for people -- forget that they're games, they're product that human beings spend their time on. It's very important to realize what it is about magnificent product of any kind, be it gaming product, be it hardware, be it automobiles."

"It's any great product. What is it about them that makes them special? In our mind, it's that blend I talked about, of combining great art, which is the delightful side -- it's like, how do you attract people and make people feel good? -- with great science that gives them an experience, and an engagement opportunity that grows with them."

"These games," he said of Skyfall and DragonCraft, "are the manifestation of those thoughts in their earliest form."

"Ngmoco was founded by games makers, and I'd say we have a slant toward the art side of things. What DeNA have provided us with is to consider how to meld that science of systems with art. These games represent... our first steps towards that."

Of his Japanese parent company, he says, "They have been leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of their knowledge of how to develop systems that people want to connect with time and time again, every single day." The goal is that "you feel good about spending money on it legitimately, as a consumer."

He said, however, that Ngmoco's philosophy is not like other social gaming companies, because "we don't see the people who like to play our games as faceless, mindless beings. We see them as people."

When you play a badly-developed microtransaction-based game, said Downie, you quickly recognize that "all that's doing is that it's a machine, and a system, to try to extricate money from you, and that's what not we're about. We provide entertainment."

"The best entertainment in the world engages you emotionally. We are aware of that and we use that. You have to provide entertainment; otherwise you will never have a sustainable relationship."

While he talked of Steven Spielberg and Pixar, Downie also drew a strong comparison to another kind of consumer product. "BMW has ways of putting cars together. They're delightful experiences to drive, but they're very systemic. They know exactly how you should feel sitting in that position. Because if they didn't, it wouldn't be enjoyable."

"There are systems in life," said Downie. "So using systems well, I sincerely believe, is a good thing."

Good games have intrinsic value to players "the same way that great music and movie and TV shows have intrinsic value to your life," he said. "What makes great entertainment separate from good entertainment, and that from bad entertainment, is providing intrinsic value. It's providing meaningful emotional benefit for the time that you have invested in it."

As people, "we don't like wastes of time," he said. "Not wasting people's time is what I really see as the goal. So people say 'Yeah, I've invested 10 minutes of my life in that and I got something back. Thanks.'"

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