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Leaving PopCap: Why this mobile exec is pinning hopes on indies

Leaving PopCap: Why this mobile exec is pinning hopes on indies Exclusive

April 8, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

Alongside a certain maturation in the mobile space comes vast opportunity for new business, says Giordano Contestabile. The veteran games exec recently left his longtime role as PopCap's Bejeweled franchise manager to join Tilting Point Media, which aims to fund established indies and new IP on the mobile market.

"I love PopCap, and some of my best friends are there," he says of his decision to take on a new role. "But if you look at the mobile market, and you look at the top games on iOS, 75 percent of them are made by independent developers."

Meanwhile, major publishers like Activision or PopCap parent Electronic Arts have made massive investments in the mobile space as strategic arms of their business, and have published hundreds of games -- "but none of them have a market share [on mobile] bigger than 10 percent," he says. "Mobile is a space where the barrier of entry is much lower, and there's much more opportunity for independent developers to play."

Alongside advances in hardware and competition on the mobile markets, budgets and production values are increasing rapidly. Marketing begins to play an increasingly-essential role in mobile visibility, for example, and these days a developer is expected to sustain a relationship with a game for months after launch, providing content updates and an enduring connection with the community.

For indies, mobile is becoming an expensive proposition

"Players are becoming more discerning," Contestabile says. "For a lot of people, their first games were mobile games, and now they're learning about games and they want better, more immersive games. The problem I saw was that there are so many indie developers with great ideas and skills, but it's going to become more difficult for them to succeed in mobile, because it's starting to become an expensive proposition."

Just as EA Partners aimed to lend its larger publishing footprint to established independent game studios, Tilting Point hopes to nurture and publish new talent in the mobile space. Fittingly, Tilting point -- which plans to invest $40 million in independent mobile studios over the next three years -- was established by EAP executive heritage, including former general manager Tom Frisina. Tilting Point now plans to fully fund marketing and development and offer services and support through the launch and maintenance of new mobile games.

Other larger publishers often fund and support independent studios, but Contestabile, who'll act as VP of product management and revenue, believes the fact that Tilting Point isn't also developing its own games should be appealing to indies.

tilting point.jpg"There are several mobile publishers you can work with as an indie, but most of those publishers are also developers themselves," Contestabile notes. "[Are they] really going to promote your game in the way they promote theirs? Are they putting their best resources to [your] game or their own?"

Currently, Contestabile says the company plans to work with indies that have an established track record of quality. "The team might even be a new company, but the team that forms this company, for us, has to have a lot of experience," he says. "And we look at the concept: The market is changing so fast, and the average game will be out in nine months, but if we're to invest in what we think would work now, once the game is out, the game will be completely non-competitive."

"I probably saw 50 Clash of Clans clones in the last month," Contestabile notes. "We're not interested. But if you find a developer that says, 'we are learning out there, and we take inspiration but we're innovating with a completely new game mechanic, or setting, or production value, something you haven't seen on mobile yet' ... that would be our ideal target. Someone who looks at what people play and like, but wants to add more novelty and more polish."

Mobile leans toward television

A focus on high production values assumes that eventually tablets and phones are going to form an important connection to the television and migrate further into the living room, Contestabile believes. He says he's already seen games that take this into account, and that make him long to bring a complex and higher-end portable experience home with him to the living room.

"Are you really making a game that can be played anywhere? We're also keeping an eye on that," he says. "While we're definitely focusing on tablets and phones, we hope that's the assumption."

The product management team in particular will assist with every aspect of development including the business model -- which, Contestabile enforces, the studio will not aim to force or prescribe.

"Globally, 80 percent of the revenue does come from freemium. But that means 20 percent comes from premium games, and that means there's much less competition in the premium space. The business model has to be the one that works better for the specific game. If you do a premium game, we're always going to get some kind of demo or free version... we're always going to get people to try it for free, if they can."

"My underlying excitement now relies on the fact that nearly one billion people now have smartphones. The majority of them are playing games," he continues. "Of those, I'm convinced a majority of those were not playing games before. You have hundreds of millions of people who are new to games, and games are finally becoming a mainstream phenomenon."

"I believe people that play games start knowing and caring about them, and they go to games that are deeper, better and higher value," Contestabile adds. "I think there's going to be an explosion, in that sense. The challenge is how do I find the games that are better for me? I hope there will be companies that do that."

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