Chillingo is best known as the publisher of Angry Birds -- but once that game became an App Store success, developer Rovio decided to go its own way. That opens up some questions: does a developer really need a publisher on the App Store? And if so, why?
"We're actually at the forefront of the mobile gaming industry. We're always moving ahead. We don't want to just be known for the publisher of Angry Birds," co-founder Chris Byatte tells Gamasutra.
"We have 12 number ones. Angry Birds was our sixth."
Though they lost their biggest game, it clearly doesn't seem to bother Byatte and Joe Wee, the company's co-general managers and co-founders. Though acquired by EA in 2010, the company is still "autonomous as can be," says Byatte.
Certainly, Chillingo gives that impression at events like GDC and E3. While it does join up with the rest of EA's mobile lineup, there's a clear division of what's Chillingo and what's not, and Wee and Byatte clearly see themselves as helming a boutique brand within the EA mothership.
But if developers can go straight to consumers, why work with Chillingo at all? The pair also see themselves as additive to the development process.
"We do see ourselves as a developer's publisher," says Wee. "We strive to meet the needs of developers. We explore them in ways that they can't really do themselves, be it lack of time, resources, knowhow, or knowledge."
It's not just about taking the reins when it comes to things like marketing, which many developers aren't interested in to begin with. It's also pushing the developer to make the game everything it can be, Wee says.
"We strive to help developers turn their games from seven to 10. ... Actually, we're deeply engrained in the whole production process. We have producers that we assign to games," he says.
Still, he recognizes that not all developers want the same level of publisher involvement. "We know that when we sign a game it's the developer's baby. And the level of support we provide is flexible," says Wee.
"It really depends on what state the game is in when we sign it. Sometimes it's a concept. Sometimes it's just a sandbox engine, and sometimes it's in a state where the developer thinks it's ready and we say, 'No, no, let's nudge it up to a 10.' It's about the last mile that really makes a difference."
"We're absolute perfectionists," says Byatte.
The questions the two ask themselves when they're about to release a game is "Is it ready? Would we buy that game? That's our benchmark. Can we hit that again?"
One thing the pair are clear on is that what makes a great game is different every single time. "You try to pin it down and it escapes you," says Byatte.
"People ask us: 'How do you define what is going to be a hit?' ... We look at the competitive landscape. Has it been done before? What's the potential of even the developer? Do we think we can work with them? Are they open-minded to take our feedback onboard? It's an indefinable X factor that we've got, and we continue to foster that."