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GDC: ngmoco's Young: iPhone 'Better Than DS, Better Than PSP'

GDC: ngmoco's Young: iPhone 'Better Than DS, Better Than PSP' Exclusive

March 23, 2009 | By Chris Remo

March 23, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, GDC, Exclusive

"Our love affair with the iPhone began by simply touching it," said ngmoco co-founder Neil Young, speaking on his first experience with Apple's touch screen device during a Game Developers Conference Mobile keynote address.

"This was rapidly becoming the most important device I had ever owned," he continued. "It was an all-encompassing, complete device. And I knew that that device was going to enable incredible things for gaming."

It wasn't long until ngmoco was founded in June 2008, releasing its first two games in October, and another four games since then. Today, it was announced that the company has secured $10 million in series B investment from firms including Norwest Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Maples Investments. As a result, Norwest's Tim Chang joined the company's board of directors.

Young called the phone "better than the DS, better than the PSP," because it's "always on, always with you," and, "most importantly from a business standpoint, there were no first-party games." Showing a graph of device adoption over time, he pointed out that iPhone has greatly outpaced the sales of the DS and PSP upon their original release, now already reaching a significant proportion of those devices' total lifetime sales despite having been out for a proportionally smaller amount of time.

There have been four giant changes to cell phone games thanks to the iPhone, Young claims: the market, the games themselves, game making, and publishing.

While many people see the dozens of new games released to the App Store each day as clutter, with 25,000 games from 10,000 developers, Young says it is in fact an "awesome opportunity" -- Apple, he claims, is essentially generating new game developers all the time, which benefits the industry.

"Don't let the haters tell you it sucks compared to the DS or the PSP," he warned, bringing up slides of full real-time 3D iPhone games. "It doesn't. It's good. It's clear that the quality of iPhone games is eclipsing its [portable] console counterparts, and that's even more acute when you compare it against the prior generation."

But "graphics and sound alone do not a great game experience make," he said, noting that gameplay is also important, and that there is "one company" from which the mobile industry can learn: Nintendo. "It didn't do it by competing on spec, it did it by competing on its unique capability. Nintendo was able to win that battle by combining great software with hardware that it understood very well."

Comparing the eventual results of Nintendo DS versus Sony's PSP, Young suggested that iPhone developers look to how Nintendo dominated the portable space even with a system whose traditional technical capabilities did not stack up to its competitor's.

"If Nintendo made the iPhone, what would they focus on?" he asked. "I think they would build games that could only be on the iPhone. The designs would be progressive, discontinuous, and would have the user and the user's context always in mind. They would have great underlying game design with native device functionality at the core."

In the case of the iPhone, that native device functionality is primarily that the system is constantly connected, Young argued, recalling the company's recent announcement of first-person shooter Livefire, which features online multiplayer, social features, and online commerce.

"For those of you concerned [that we're going to] sell rocket launchers for 99 cents, don't worry," he reassured the crowd, referring to widely-publicized screenshots last week. "That's not going to happen. We're not going to prioritize greed over gameplay."

"I know that there is a general malaise over the game industry today, but I can say it's never been a better time to be an independent game developer," Young said. "The gap in job security between you being independent and you being at a big company has changed pretty dramatically over the last year."

Still, the volume of games released means that even high-quality games frequently cannot survive. To break through, Young encouraged developers to identify their "super power," their distinguishing factor that is likely to create a hit.

"We're at the center of the new everything," he concluded. "The iPhone has revolutionized everything."

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