The Year Ahead in Gaming, According to the Mobile Guys
Year-in-review posts are so last week (and last website). Instead, let’s look ahead: After a busy year of increasing competition in videogames, what’s next?
The truth is, it’s becoming more and more difficult to define gaming as a single industry. The positive early sales numbers for Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 suggest that, at least for now, console gaming is not as doomed as some pundits tried to argue last year. Their fretful reasoning, that the rise of mobile gaming would cannibalize demand for good old-fashioned couch play, now seems a bit off.
That’s just the buzzy at-launch numbers, though, and mobile is still growing faster than kudzu. Its continued growth means one can’t not pay attention. Here, then, is half the story — what the people on the kudzu side of the industry are saying as we head into 2014.
Clay Kellogg, Chief Revenue Officer at Chartboost
Chartboost is one of the more frequently heard voices amid the cacophony of mobile advertising companies, but Kellogg, an alumnus of Admob and Google, has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since he joined in June 2012.
Predictions: Watch out for chat apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat as potential gaming entrants, a la their Korean and Japanese counterparts KakaoTalk and Line. “Even dating apps are becoming effective distribution mediums,” Kellogg said. And expect gaming companies to do more with data. 2013 was the year of data transparency, but “2014 will open up business models to build off of that transparency,” he said. Chartboost, naturally, has already taken one step in this direction, adding the ability for its clients to manage in-app item stores on top of their advertising offerings last year. When asked whether a fuller suite of monetization and analytics tools was in the offing, Kellogg declined to comment.
Mitch Lasky, General Partner at Benchmark
Although he also sits on Snapchat’s board, Lasky is one of only a handful of venture capitalists best known for the bets he has placed on videogames. He’s not just mobile, though, having invested across the board — in Riot Games, the creator of PC juggernaut League of Legends; in thatgamecompany, maker of the arty console game Journey; and in mobile companies like NaturalMotion, responsible for hits like Clumsy Ninja and Hammer & Chisel, which is prepping a League of Legends-esque tablet game called Fates Forever.
Predictions: The mobile hits of 2014 will rely less on winning the “paid install game,” Lasky said. Instead, the new winners will be designed for virality and quality. “If you had asked me five years ago if I would be, in 2014, investing in content for its quality, [I would have said,] ‘You’re out of your mind!’ It turns out quality is a way to reduce customer acquisition costs.” And while offering games within social/messaging apps makes sense, he said, the reverse is also true: Developers will need to consider offering a high-quality community experience within their games. “At their best, games are single-purpose social networks,” he added.
Alisa Chumachenko, CEO at Game Insight
Headquartered in Moscow, Chumachenko’s company found early mobile success with a casual hidden-object games like Mystery Manor. But lately, even as the casual titles still dominate its roster, Game Insight has pushed harder into more “serious” free-to-play titles like Starborn Wanderers and the World of Tanks-esque iPad game Tank Domination.
Predictions: Surprise! Not really. Chumachenko believes mobile has to become more hardcore, which of course aligns perfectly with Game Insight’s recent pivoting. She echoed the idea of a sea change in social distribution: “If KakaoTalk or Line or others open their APIs for us, we are doing that,” she said, later calling out Viber and WhatsApp as on the list of “others.” However, she stressed that different audiences have different preferences, so a game that works on “Facebook’s mass market” might be totally different from what works in Korea.
Gabe Leydon, CEO at Machine Zone
Even more hardcore than Game Insight, Machine Zone struck gold with its first game last year, the real-time multiplayer title Game of War: Fire Age. One of the game’s killer features: The ability to translate players’ discussions around the world in real-time.
Predictions: “There’s no turning back now,” Leydon said. Mobile games are not just bound to bring in more hardcore audiences, but will also take advantage of the unique things about mobile to network those players together. “A lot of companies are going to be scrambling to catch up” to bring real-time multiplayer to their games, he claims, and mobile will outpace even the new consoles as the opportunities for new big businesses expand. Remember, past consoles like the PlayStation 2 and Wii sold well to mainstream audiences because those people “wanted DVD players and Wii Sports. … I think those people would [now] prefer an iPad.”