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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 4 of 4

Though you did speak about that you're still going to have to somehow work within the use patterns of mobile. On one hand you do expect people to take their console time and play on these devices, but I don't think you fully expect people to sit down as you might do to play Mass Effect -- like burn your Saturday playing Mass Effect, right?

BC: I'm very interested in, I think that social and mobile, how they compare to console is very much like the way TV was compared to cinema, and TV had to invent new systems of storytelling. So you know the "previously on"? That was an invention of TV, and the cliffhanger was an invention of cinema serials, and then became used by TV.

So I think we'll see all those interesting hooks of push notifications to remind you to play for five minutes a day, and maybe we'll have a "previously on", or the equivalent of a cliffhanger, to cover these usage patterns. And all of that is an invention that someone will invent, and it's going to be fascinating to be part of that, I think.

And then sometimes you do sit there and consume an entire TV show and you get into it, even though it's not how it was intended to be consumed; you do sit there with the DVD, and shotgun the whole thing.

BC: I guess the thing about freemium, you've got the free players and then you've got the whales at the very top who spend the most money. I'd imagine the guys who buy the box set of The Wire are the whales of the TV world, and then the people who wait for it to be on advertising-supported TV are like the free players. So there's all of these analogies that are kind of interesting to look at.

And they may or may not actually hold water in the end.

BC: Yeah.

I guess part of your job is to figure out what does.

BC: [laughs] Yeah. I did cultural studies at university, and one of the things that cultural studies does is it tries to find analogies between philosophy, and art, and cinema, and literature.

So I'm very much used to stepping back and saying, "In what ways is mobile development like punk rock?", and "Can we find an analogy there?", or how is playing a console game... what's the relationship between usage patterns and business compared to cinema? And working through those abstractions and thought experiments you can sometimes find an interesting conclusion.

People don't think too much beyond the game they're making, sometimes. They're in this microcosm, this sort of tunnel. Because there's a tremendous amount of pressure, there are unbelievable things to do, and there are ship dates that are not going to move. So sometimes a cultural picture isn't being investigated.

BC: One of the things I do is, I don't play everything that comes out. I try and spread my spare time between TV, and movies, and books, as well as games and music, just because I always have done it and it just gives me a perspective. So I miss out on playing... What haven't I played this year that I really should've played? I haven't started playing Skyrim yet; I only just played Halo: Reach; Gears of War 3, I've yet to play. So I sacrifice a little bit of my core gamer desires so I can try and stay in touch with crappy U.S. TV series, and British reality TV shows, and science books, and stuff like that.

What about indies?

BC: When I can, I play indie games. I like to credit myself with being a Minecraft player fairly early on; it was maybe August of last year [2010]. It was before that guy set fire to his house and everyone started playing it -- that YouTube video.

And I dip in and out of playing through some of the games from the Ludum Dare competitions, and various bits and pieces, but I wouldn't call myself an expert in the indie landscape. But I do have a real interest in that space, and it's great.

People used to talk, 10 years ago, about, "Is there going to be an indie music equivalent in gaming?" This was before digital distribution was really viable. And we do now, and that's amazing, and we'll see those innovations bubble up.

Epic have just announced a game which they blatantly say is really influenced by Minecraft, so we'll see a lot more of that happening, I think. And that's very healthy for the industry, and that only happened because the big companies lost their control of distribution, and then these guys suddenly could bubble up, and that's a great thing that's happening.

Ngmoco's Touch Pets Cats

Yeah, it puts some pressure on them. This generation, the first person shooter becomes this huge thing, and we got this sort of pervasive samey-ness. And then we need that kind of external creative pressure to keep things moving.

BC: Minecraft, from a revenue point of view, is going to be below Battlefield 3 for Swedish studios, but maybe by playing hours around the world, it's going to be the bigger game. That would've been inconceivable five years ago. And the unlocking of the power of these young guys in obscure locations, and with obscure backgrounds, is very good for the industry. Even if we're not participating in it, it's really great.

It's also likely to be a bigger game by revenue per employee.

BC: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think you could say that that is by far the most profitable, in percentage terms, game ever to come out of this country. And before BF 3, it was also the game with the highest number of unique users in this country as well, including the free guys and the paid guys.

I've always worked for big companies. I love big companies, but I have a rebellious streak, so I just love the idea that the two big studios in Sweden are one hugely successful and tremendously talented mega-studio, and the other one is like five guys in a little converted apartment in Södermalm.

There seems to be kind of a duality among the people at Ngmoco. There's a bit of a rebellious streak, but people know that they're working for a company at the same time. And I guess the best of both worlds is sort of what you're trying to go for.

BC: Yeah, I think we've happened upon that, just through our hiring process. Everybody meets everybody else, and when we hire someone, there's no one person that has complete control over bringing them in. So we've developed a fairly homogenous personality type in the studio, and I think you've hit on that -- which is like not the rebel that would quit the job and start on their own indie game, but the rebel that would have a slanted view on the mainstream, or have a desire to work within the confines of a more stable environment, but still do something unique and creative.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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