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Neil Young Charts Ngmoco's Mobage-Powered Future

Neil Young Charts Ngmoco's Mobage-Powered Future

November 7, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

Last week, Ngmoco invited Gamasutra and other journalists to its brand new San Francisco development headquarters to announce two new games, which together will be the first to launch since the company's Mobage platform exited beta last week on Android.

The company's grand vision for creating a next-gen mobile content network revolves around Mobage, a social games network married to the company's ngCore development platform, which is available to external developers and offers cross-platform tools and analytics.

Two Mobage-powered games -- Pocket Frogs and Zombie Farm -- were in the top 20 games on Android as the platform exited beta, said Neil Young, Ngmoco CEO. "That software is every bit as good as the software you can download natively on that device."

"There are a lot of titles that are coming to Mobage between now and the end of March," said Young. Meanwhile, he promised that the platform will hit iOS in December and ngCore games will be able to be published to Apple's devices at that time.

DeNA and Ngmoco, a Year On

A year ago, reflected Young, Japanese mobile giant DeNA, the creators of the original version of the Mobage platform, acquired Ngmoco.

Since that time, he said, "We've been transitioning the company from an application developer with an affiliate network... to a platform company with first party development and a third party ecosystem."

"When we were acquired by DeNA, we wanted to take advantage of everything DeNA knows," said Young. "At Ngmoco, we wanted to suck the brains dry of the people who had lived through a very robust and large-scale social game market on mobile, and learn as much as we possibly could -- and combine that knowledge with the knowledge we had accumulated over our life as an independent company."

Ngmoco's Global First Party Strategy

To that end, the company announced the upcoming RPG Skyfall and strategy game DragonCraft -- showcasing them to the assembled journalists later in the day.

"They represent the coming together of that knowledge and our experience," said Young. "Game making is alive and very well at Ngmoco."

Skyfall is a simple RPG with social elements, while DragonCraft is a strategy title which sees gamers both raising dragons and building a city.

The company has its Freeverse studio in New York City, Stumptown Game Machine in Portland, Rough Cookie in Holland, and a new studio in Sweden, alongside its new San Francisco development offices.

That new Sweden studio is headed by EA veteran Ben Cousins, "who is thinking even further ahead in the tablet landscape," said Young, "to reinvent" tablet games. "The console business is going to be disrupted... in a pretty big way... Airplay is a glimpse. We want to make sure that Ngmoco and DeNA is at the forefront of this in a very big way," he said.

Young also confirmed that the games developed in partnership with Grasshopper Manufacture will be launched globally.

He also talked up co-founder Alan Yu's early efforts to build the company's London office, which will spearhead a European expansion tailored to each country individually.

"Our overall goal is that some percentage of the population believes that this service was created natively," said Young.

"At the end of the day, we want our service and our network to be the number one service in the world."

The Future of Mobile

Meanwhile, said young, "the Android tablet ecosystem will change quite radically when the Kindle Fire comes out," as Amazon understands it's "not just a tablet, but the collection of services around the tablet, that make it useful."

That said, "The iPad is a fantastic machine, and it's a fantastic market."

He claimed the advantage of the company's ngCore development framework is that it will not just allow developers to target both Android and iOS easily, nor allow carriage on the Mobage network, but that it also has a strong analytics backbone.

With ngCore, he said, "The focus right now is mobile and mobile operating systems," and to "create a leadership position in these mobile operating systems. As those move from phones, to tablets, to televisions, you have access to that audience anywhere."

Lessons Learned from the Mobage Beta

When asked about Papaya Mobile CEO Si Shen's comments about the low downloads of Mobage-powered games on Android, he called them "a little bit mean-spirited."

He chalked the comments up to the "fact" that Papaya is "a competing platform, with a whole bunch of shitty games."

He did acknowledge her criticism that requiring users to download the Mobage platform separately was a barrier to entry, however. "Now, the service application is embedded in all of the applications."

"You double down on the things that did work, and change the things that don't," during beta, Young said. "We've made well over 100 changes to the service since we first introduced it" -- this July -- "and we will continue to make changes."

What's at Stake

The partnership with DeNA, Japan's largest social games success, is crucial to the future of Ngmoco, Young said. "If you look at Japan, it's really easy to say... it's completely different from the West and it has no relevance," he said. "It's true that there are a lot of differences... When you strip away those cultural differences.. and look at user behavior," however, there are striking similarities.

"What has happened in Japan over the last five years" -- the rise of mobile, social gaming enabled by powerful phones and fast mobile connections -- "will happen in the rest of the world. It will happen differently... but the macro trend is kind of inevitable," said Young.

"We're making the investments now, so one, three, five, years form now, we've got a business."

DeNA has 1.5 billion dollars in revenue a year -- $457 million in its most recent quarter -- and there are ten times as many people in the developed world as in Japan, he reflected. "That's what's at stake here."

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