[Ngmoco CEO Neil Young discusses his grand vision for the future of mobile gaming, a move he feels Ngmoco, bolstered by its November 2010 acquisition by Japanese giant DeNA, is poised to not just capitalize on but shape.]
Less than three years ago, Neil Young left EA to found Ngmoco. At the time, he described the company as a "publisher" -- but it is clear from the conversation he had with Gamasutra this month that his ambitions for the company, which was acquired by Japanese mobile entertainment titan DeNA late last year -- are much bigger now.
"It's kind of like a once-in-a-generation opportunity," Young tells Gamasutra.
His belief is that, using DeNA's hugely successful Mobage-Town service as the blueprint and matching it with carefully-crafted and targeted games, the possibility is there to launch a service that can dominate the entertainment landscape, just as cable networks such as MTV and ESPN defined their niches in the Wild West of cable television.
In the following interview, Young outlines his roadmap for the company, discusses its integration with Tokyo-based DeNA, and offers up his thoughts on the ascendency of Android -- a platform that plays a big part of the future of the company. He also discusses the opportunities for developers to hop onto the Mobage service.
So how long has it been since DeNA?
Neil Young: We announced the acquisition in September; we closed November the 9th. So it's been about three months.
And how are things going in terms of the integration?
NY: It's good. There's a lot to do and a lot to learn. I was telling someone the other day I kind of feel like I'm in The Matrix, you know? And you go [mimics the quick learning segments from the film], you know, and I feel like I'm going to come out of that and know some kung fu. So there's a lot to learn.
DeNA has built this incredible business machine in Japan, and we've been spending a lot of time really understanding the parts that are truly globally applicable; the things that resonate at a human level, and then the things that are just cultural.
Whenever you're dealing with media and entertainment, the content is often specifically related to the culture, but the formats are actually quite common, especially in Western markets. But in games the mechanics are fundamentally human, so humans respond to mechanics in certain ways, certainly in social games.
And so we've been going through the process of really trying to understand the DeNA businesses completely as possible and preparing to bring mobile games to a global audience. You know, not take the Mobage-Town services -- the feature phone service in Japan -- and just bring that across, but actually build our new smartphone service on a global scale. So there's a lot of work to do. We've accomplished a lot in 90 days, and I'm looking forward to the next 90 days.
Around the time of the acquisition you launched the Mobage program for Western developers. How has that been going with uptake and interest?
NY: It's good. I think we announced at the time that we had 40 developers in the West and the East -- about 50/50, so a split down the middle -- as a part of the private beta. We're still in the private beta, I think we're at 0.93S right now. 0.95 is the next big major release, and then 1.0 will come out shortly thereafter.
The priority is on launching for the Japanese market first, and then the Western markets, and then China. But we expect the Japanese launch of both Mobage and the general availability of the set developer sandbox and the APIs, those things will happen in the next couple months.
What is your goal, ultimately, for it? It's a private beta right now. How open will it get? And will developers be able to populate games onto the service as freely as, say, Facebook?
NY: Yeah, mostly. As freely as Facebook? I mean, there is a review process, but the review process is, you know, does it have pornography in it? It's not a "Do we think you are a competitor?" or anything like that.
Apple App Store-esque, I guess, in that way?
NY: Well, it's sort of different... I'll tell you what our ultimate goal is -- we think there's an opportunity to build one of the definitive destinations for games and entertainment.
And on Android, that means, today, sort of an aggregated application and individual applications available in the marketplace. And on iOS, obviously you can't do the aggregated applications, so it's really just the disaggregated approach where any game that you get, you become a part of the network.
We've become very adept as a company, as we built the Plus+ network, of being able to build and maintain a relationship with the audience over time, and introduce that audience to new applications, so that we can keep people cycling through and engaged in the business.
As the mobile operating systems move from phones to tablets and televisions, there's really an incredible opportunity to build something that feels like a future entertainment network. Something that's as impactful to the digital generation as, say, MTV was to the rock 'n' roll generation, or ESPN was to sports fans, and that's sort of what we're trying to accomplish.
Now if you could do that, it would be incredibly valuable. DeNA generates about 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, at about $630 million of profit, from a service that is much like that. In just a single territory. It has the reach of a television network, the monetization of a social games business. So that's sort of the vision; that's kind of where we're headed.
Along the way, we will modify our plans based on what happens in the ecosystem, and how things develop, and what new devices come out, and how quickly things move from phones to tablets, and then tablets to televisions. But all with this basic kind of core premise, this core idea is if you can maintain, manage, and monetize a relationship with customers over time. That is actually the valuable IP at the end of the day; that's the thing that you can build a really big company around.