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Mobile’s long game: Chillingo on the importance of indies

Wednesday, 9 January 2013 13:02 GMT By Dave Cook

Chillingo was acquired by EA in 2010 for $20 million, but has its new owner changed the company’s approach to the indie market? VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with COO Ed Rumley to find out.

Chillingo

Acquired by EA in 2010 to the tune of $20 million and brought under the publisher’s label.

Notable Chillingo-published titles include Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Contre Jour. Angry Birds in particular has shifted – to date – over 12 million downloads on Apple’s App Store since it launched in 2009.

You can check out more of Chillingo’s published titles over at its official site. There’s tons.

Whenever a band suddenly changes genre to make its work more palatable and to ‘fit in’ with tastes at the time, fans of their old material tend to get rather upset by the shallow, cash-grabbing antics at play. The same fears are levied at game developers that become ingratiated in-house at a large publisher.

For Chillingo COO Ed Rumley, the decision to greenlight the company’s sale to EA wasn’t an attempt to change the way the business operates, to dominate the lucrative mobile market with console ports or to peddle shallow hash-job titles. It was an incredibly smart play that has seen it help bring many indie developers to market, companies that may not have had a fighting chance otherwise.

The publisher is itself shepherd to a growing flock, as the App Store gold rush first seen after the birth of iOS continues to roll along, churning out titles of varying levels of quality at an alarming rate. How can a studio with a bright, million dollar idea, but no business acumen or marketing spend hope to stand out in the flood? It sides with a company like Chillingo, naturally.

“We all love our jobs at Chillingo,” Rumley told me, “We’re all gamers, we’ve all been in the mobile space for at least 5-10 years, and we’re always trying to discover that next hit. I think some games we publish knowing that they’re more ‘core’, and that they might not have that mass market appeal, but we’re looking for great talent.

“Obviously we don’t publish every game thinking, ‘Hey, this is going to be the next Angry Birds or Cut The Rope.’ I think what we’re looking for is the talent, and the diamonds in the rough. Sometimes the diamonds simply come through the door and sometimes the games are much earlier in development. Whatever happens, we assign a team to work with the developer to really try to make that game sparkle.”

The process Chillingo employs is surprisingly straightforward, but it makes you wonder why more publishers aren’t taking the same approach. First it identifies a game with great potential at the development stage, or it speaks with indie studios coming to its doorstep, then it looks at said game and puts its developers to work in helping polish the game, and to bring it to a solid standard of quality.

“What we’re doing is looking at a game and saying, ‘Look, can we bring value to you?’”, Rumley explained, “If we’re aligned, if we like the game, and if the partner likes us – because we have to like them and they have to like us – because it’s not just a case of publishing a game, putting it in a box and then getting it on shelves any more. Games have become services, so we need to be truly aligned with the indie developer, get on well and have a good feeling about their work.

“What we’re doing is a developer comes on board, our producers will do a deep dive into the game – even if it’s at the prototype level – or sometimes games come to us exceptionally late in development. Sometimes they’ve even been submitted to the App Store but haven’t gone online, and the developer might have got nervous.

“So we really do see games at all levels of development, and what never happens is that we’ve never seen a game come to us that’s already complete. Whether we’ve worked on a game for one month or twelve months we will assign a producer and their job is to act as a consultant, as an external pair of eyes just to say, ‘Look, I think you’ve missed this’, or ‘The level balancing is off, the tutorial is missing’.

“Whatever it is, 50% of their job now is in monetisation, and to find out what is the best way to give a great experience to the consumer and create a great way for the developer to make money.

“They’re difficult things to put hand in hand, but that’s our job. I think outside of that we assign QA resources, we have creative services to advise on things like app icons and the screenshots, all the way through to publishing. The process is very clear. We want to get the game ready for market.”

Last year Tiger Style, the indie developer of the critically acclaimed Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor released a barrage of lifetime sale stats from its game Waking Mars, showing an immense drop-off once it disappeared from the App Store featured channel and charts. It suggested a fad-like cycle, where flavours of the week come and go, followed by a sharp drop in sales.

Comparatively, when dealing with its own published titles, Chillingo employs the might of EA’s marketing machine to make damn sure you know about its releases, but this is a luxury developers acting on their own cannot afford. This is the part of the publisher’s process that Rumley feels very strongly about, because as he told me, “Brands win”.

The problem, Rumley explained, is that too many indie games are going unnoticed, “There’s no doubt about it that there’s a huge amount of games that will never get discovered. To illustrate this, I remember Apple – probably about a year and a half ago – had a promotional folder on App Store called ’49 great games you’ve never played’ and that’s kind of telling that Apple were promoting that.

“Now, I take that as 49 great games that haven’t really sold, and these games are out there, but the market is exceptionally crowded. I’m not a mathematician, but I know in the top 100 there is only space for 100 games, and there’s a lot of static games in that charge – titles that end to hang around. You can see that it’s a crowded space. The odds of success aren’t in anyone’s favour in particular.

In this regard, the App Store can be viewed as a pond dominated by sharks. Angry Bird’s unwavering success is just one example of a game that has staying power, but at the same times makes it harder for newcomers to compete. Placement on the iTunes front page or featured channels is paramount according to developers like Tiger Style.

Monetisation is also key, as developers need money to survive. Selling a few thousand apps in the £0.69 threshold isn’t exactly going to put new silverware on tables, and this points to another issue standing in the way of independent studios. But because many gamers are still wary of ‘freemium’ titles as some kind of long con, talk of money can prove to be a sore point.

“I think from a consumer’s perspective, there are obviously a lot of consumers who like free-to-play games, and there’s also a huge number who hate them, “said Rumley, “I think the confusion comes from most people talking about ‘Freemium’ and talk about it as a genre, rather than a business model.

“There’s obviously a lot of games where you’re grinding away, or building up a city or whatever it is. That’s a particular genre, and I think there’s a market for people who like those games, but there’s also a lot of people who still like pay-per-download games.

“From an indie developer’s perspective I think free-to-play games scares a lot of people because it’s a complex market, and I can imagine that developers put a lot of time and effort into their games, and that they’re very proud of their work, but it’s scary that they’re about to give this game away for free.

“Then there’s our perspective which is, we’re very comfortable with the free market, and we now earn more from free games than paid, but paid is still an important market for us. The way we look at this – the bottom line – is that consumers are king, so for us the consumer comes first, and we will always try to make games with developers something that consumers are happy with.”

Chillingo is certainly doing a sufficient job in making its consumers happy, as it is releasing a wide range of diverse and polished games that put lesser, clone or cash-grab titles to shame – of which the App Store has many. Its notable successes of late include the stunning Contre Jour and the wickedly nostalgic He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe, just two games that hit a consistent level of quality without sacrificing indie sensibilities.

Although it has a handle on the market, Rumley doesn’t see his job getting any easier – thanks to the growing range of mobile formats, the rise of the tablet and other factors, but it’s a challenge both he and Chillingo at large relish.

“What’s interesting is where I see the market going,” Rumley concluded, “which is lots of companies, lots of platforms, and that fragmentation is challenging. We always say that, ‘Fragmentation is our friend’, as we’re well positioned to deal with that. We’ve got the knowledge, the ten years of Chillingo history, the support of EA and giving us knowledge of what they see working, as well as what’s not working.

“When you put that together – along with EA’s broad marketing and distribution channels, and I think we’re exceptionally well-placed in the market. However, those challenges will still be there for the rest of the market – and I’m not even talking about indie developers – you could start naming some of the biggest gaming companies in the world, and they can’t address the digital platform in the way EA can.”

What’s your take on the indie approach to iTunes, Google Play and other mobile marketplaces? Does it seem harder for them to compete now the big boys have got a firm foothold on the market, or is there always room for the Rovios and Tiger Styles of the world? Let us know what you think below.

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4 Comments

  1. OlderGamer

    Excelent reading Dave.

    I wonder if, as the number of devices increase, as digital increases, as the push for indies increase we won’t have some of the same situations on consoles that indies have at app stores.

    I think the floodgates could be opened next gen, and it won’t be from trip A pubs. Great for gamers, bad for a studio trying hard to stand out.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. DSB

    “For Chillingo COO Ed Rumley, the decision to greenlight the company’s sale to EA wasn’t an attempt to change the way the business operates, to dominate the lucrative mobile market with console ports or to peddle shallow hash-job titles”

    Alright, I stopped it right there. Chillingo is swiftly becoming the biggest hash-job publisher on the AppStore at the moment. With precious few exceptions it’s just low quality derivatives.

    Secondly, that’s what everybody says about EA right when they get bought. You’d think looking at the last bazillion acquisitions there wouldn’t still be people out there who actually believe that schtick.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @2 cheers for like, not reading my article and all. Appreciated.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. DSB

    @3 Fair enough. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and the guy certainly made him and his company sound like a swell operation, but the reality is that Chillingo is still flooding the appstore with sub-par trash.

    Which isn’t to say that they don’t have a hit here and there, just that it comes on the heels of five or ten completely unnecessary pieces of shovelware.

    That’s been a real disappointment for me as a newly minted iOS gamer. You have to wade through so much crap to find something that’s worthwhile, let alone something that doesn’t come in 5 different, ever blander variations of the exact same gameplay.

    Sorry if it hurt your feelings, but honestly that paragraph told me everything I needed to know about how that piece would play out. His statements are massively, massively embellished and ultimately in conflict with reality.

    #4 2 years ago

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  • Final add-on for Sunset Overdrive arrives in April

    The final add-on for Sunset Overdrive, Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines, will be released in April. On April 1 to be exact. No, that’s not an April Fool’s joke from Insomniac Games either. Below, you can watch a fist-look at the new story, area, and traversal mechanic.

  • Heroes of the Storm playable at EGX Rezzed

    Heroes of the Storm will be playable at EGX Rezzed. This will be the first UK public hands-on with the online team brawler. Blizzard will also host giveaways and friendly tournaments at its stand. Tickets for all three days of Rezzed are still available, and you can purchase a pass through the official website. EGX […]

  • PES 2015 Data Pack 4 coming next week with Winter Transfers, new faces

    Data Pack 4 for Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 has been dated, and it updates the game with Winter Transfers, new player faces, and additional stadiums. The latest free update contains real-time player transfers made within the January window, and player ratings have also been updated. Additionally, a number of improved likenesses to key players will […]

  • Here’s the changelog for Dragon Age: Inquisition Patch 5

    Notes for upcoming Patch 5 for Dragon Age: Inquisition have been posted, noting improvements to gameplay and stability, and the new features outlined back in early February. Along with the new party storage system added to the Undercroft at Skyhold, players also have the ability to adjust the size of subtitles. Below you will find […]

  • Game of Thrones, Mortal Kombat X, Batman mobile games on the way

    Warner Bros. has announced free-to-play mobile titles spanning its DC Comics, Mortal Kombat and Game of Thrones properties. The following five new games under development are: Mortal Kombat X from NetherRealm Studios: The game blends fighting and card collection with cinematic gameplay and Fatalities. Play as both classic and fighters, and if you own the […]

  • Win! Beta access to new MMORPG Skyforge and DLC worth $70

    We have ten Wrath of the Gods Founders Packs to giveaway for new RPG Skyforge, worth over $70. All you need to do to win a Wrath of the Gods pack is enter your details in the form below and we’ll pick 10 winners at random on Thursday, March 5, after 3pm GMT. Skyforge is […]

  • PC gaming expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018

    PC gaming is alive and well. In fact, it’s expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018. According to game-business group Open Gaming Alliance, the PC gaming industry is expected to grow beyond its current $26 billion worth and to a massive $35 billion by the year 2018. The information is based on data collected […]

  • Advanced Warfare: new patch adds new weapon, Master Prestige ranks, more

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has received a new patch that gives season pass holders early access to a new weapon and everyone else a myriad of fixes and additions. The patch went live today on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, without any official notes. CharlieIntel reports that among the new additions is the new […]

  • Destiny’s end game and raids explained

    Destiny’s end game can be a bit obtuse to those not used to MMO games. Fear not, we’ve got a few quick tips on how to crack it. Arekkz Gaming has a video for new players of Destiny or those who are looking to brush up on their knowledge of the game. Today’s theme is […]

  • Capcom adds local co-op to Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on PC

    Following fan outrage over lack of local co-op support for the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Capcom has now added it. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 now officially supports split-screen local co-op in both campaign and raid mode. The update is currently in beta on Steam, but anyone can opt-in to try it. Capcom […]

  • New Destiny glitch spawns infinite Thralls on Earth

    Destiny’s latest glitch spawns infinite Thralls to help fuel your bounty hunting and loot lust. The glitch is simple to replicate. You’ll need to start The Dark Within mission on Earth, on any difficulty. Then follow the steps in the video below (Via DualShockers) to get to an area out of the map. You’ll then […]

  • Battlefield 4 Winter Patch is here with new game mode, netcode improvements and more

    DICE has released the Winter Patch for Battlefield 4. The patch brings an eSports focus with new game mode Squad Obliteration and plenty more. Battlefield 4 Winter Patch is now live on all platforms. It’s just over 400MB on PC and 1.34GB on consoles. The patch adds new game mode Squad Obliteration and more customisation […]

  • HTC hopes to see Half-Life on VR headset Vive

    Vive manufacturer HTC said that it hopes to see Valve games, including Half-Life, on the virtual reality headset. Speaking to the BBC, HTC chairwoman Cher Wang said that Valve is keen on having its games available on the VR headset. “I think Valve’s best game is Dota, right, and Portal and [Team Fortress] and I […]

  • Make money easily in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

    If you’re looking to buy a fell set of armour for your character in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate but keep falling short on Zenny, this video will show you an easy way to make lots of it. Arekkz Gaming has a very handy tip for all Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate players: how to make Zenny […]

  • This is how you claim free Xbox One games from your Xbox 360

    Microsoft is giving everyone the ability to claim their free Xbox One Games with Gold titles from their Xbox 360 console, even without owning an Xbox One. If you don’t yet own an Xbox One and want to make sure you don’t miss out on all those free Games with Gold games, you’ll be pleased […]

  • Destiny weekly reset for March 3: Heroic and Nightfall detailed

    Bungie has reset the weekly cap of Crucible and Vanguard marks and added new Heroic and Nightfall strikes, now with burn. From now until next Tuesday, the weekly Heroic strike will be The Devil’s Lair with Heroic and Lightswitch modifiers. As for the Nightfall, you’ll be fighting Sepiks Prime with the help of Arc burn. […]

  • Few Mass Effect FemShep cosplays are as elaborate as this one

    The internet is full of Female Commander Shepard cosplay from Mass Effect, but very few are as terrific as this one. Visual artist Freya Willia has spent over two years painstakingly creating the perfect suit of armour and the best weapons to make her cosplay of Female Shepard as authentic as possible, Omni tool and […]

  • Deals with Gold: Assassin’s Creed Unity, Red Dead Redemption and more discounted

    This week’s Deals with Gold titles for Xbox Live subscribers is a good mix of modern games and old favourites. The list of discounted games through this week’s Deals with Gold is live with discounts on Assassin’s Creed Unity, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, and more. The deals are live now […]

  • Destiny guide: how to maximise your Grimoire Points

    Destiny players regularly compare the size of their Grimoire Points. Learn how to make yours the biggest. Destiny guide: how to earn Grimoire Points In Destiny, earning most Grimoire cards is just a matter of playing the game, maybe a little more attentively than usual. You’ll either need to complete a certain number of actions […]

  • Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows will let you play as a baddie

    Shovel Knight owners will benefit from the generosity of Kickstarter backers quite soon. Because Shovel Knight was overfunded during its Kickstarter campaign, developer Yacht Club Games committed to releasing free content updates. The first of these, Plague of Shadows, has now been detailed. The expansion stars baddy Plague Knight, who turns on his former allies, […]

  • GTA controversies, from Hot Coffee to PR manipulation

    GTA has a long history of controversy. The latest Did You Know Gaming tells the full stories behind the sensational headlines. Grand Theft Auto is such a byword for controversy that it’s easy to forget the full context of what actually happened to bring mainstream press, politicians and interest group awareness to the Rockstar series. […]

  • Infamous 2 one of five new PlayStation Now additions for March

    PlayStation Now will expand to the tune of five new games this month. The March PS Now additions are Infamous 2, Twisted Metal, R-Type Dimensions, Alone in the Dark: Inferno and Operation Flashpoint: Red River. PS Now will set you back $20 per month or $45 for a three month subscription. It offers all you […]

  • Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster gets PS4 release date

    Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster hits PS4 in May. The PS4 release date for Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster is May 12 in North America and May 15 in Europe. Gematsu reports a special pre-order bonus calendar with art by Yoshitaka Amano is available through the Square Enix Store and participating retailers. In Europe, pre-ordering […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare getting 15 new Prestige levels

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare players can now aspire to the ranks of Grand Master Prestige. Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games will add 15 more Prestige levels to the latest Call of Duty, giving players at max XP a chance to grow even further. According to the Sledgehammer Games blog, when you enter Master level […]

  • Destiny: Crota’s End recreated in Minecraft

    Destiny’s toughest challenge gets even nastier if you throw Creepers into the mix. The ultimate Destiny challenge – for now – is the Crota’s End raid. Taking place in an alternate dimension accessed through the Hellmouth on the Moon, the Raid takes Guardians through a pit of darkness to the resting place of Crota himself. […]

  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3D trailer introduces the Heir to the Monado

    Xenoblade Chronicles 3D protagonist Shulk is the Heir to the Monado, his distinctive red sword. Let this trailer fill you in on what that means. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D releases for New 3DS on April 2 in Europe and April 10 in North America. As well as all the content of the Wii original, it has […]

  • The Elder Scrolls: Total War mod covers Morrowind, Oblivion and more

    The Elder Scrolls: Total War is a terrific mod allowing you get get intimately involved with the history of Bethesda’s detailed fantasy universe. The first release of The Elder Scrolls: Total War dropped on the weekend, giving players their first chance to try out LoRdNazgu1‘s creation. This version runs from 3E 427 to 4E 45, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 out now on Steam

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 is out now. Yes, we’re surprised too. You can grab Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 on Steam for $8. Developer Scott Cawthon really doesn’t mess about; the game was only announced in early January. Here’s the blurb: Thirty years after Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza closed it’s doors, the events that took […]

  • EVE Online heister makes off with $13,000 worth of goods

    EVE Online is a hotbed of villainy, espionage and backstabbing, but one intrepid corporate thief has made waves even in this setting. The thing about EVE Online is that it’s a true sandbox: the game’s rules are very loose, and allow players to make careers out of theft, piracy, assassination and espionage in addition to […]

  • Marth Amiibo getting a stock refresh in North America

    Nintendo of America has announced a fresh supply of the difficult to find Marth Amiibo. The Marth Amiibo will be back in stock in the US in late April, the platform holder said on Twitter today. Planning to pick up Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and don’t have a Marth amiibo? More are headed to stores in […]

  • Skyrim beta update upgrades creation kit file size

    Skyrim has been granted a new beta update – more than three years after launch! – to improve the experience for modders and those who use them. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim released in November 2011. I think that’s worth noting before we discuss the beta update that dropped today, even as Bethesda is working […]

  • Paradox’s next epic RPG is, uh, Knights of Pen & Paper 2

    Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is very serious business so please enjoy this very serious trailer. “Return to the dicey world of Knights of Pen & Paper for a new turn-based adventure, where players get to take on the role of players, and also of the game’s encounter-designing, rules-laywering GM in a fully customizable […]

  • Amplitude looks amazing in new gameplay trailer, has a team multiplayer mode

    Amplitude may have been delayed but we still get something this March: a fine new gameplay trailer. Amplitude is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 sometime in northern summer. It’s a reprisal of Harmonix’s classic rhythm action game, a forerunner to its later efforts with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and was crowdfunded. Update: Turns […]

  • DayZ creator’s “crazy”, “esoteric” next game developed with Improbable

    DayZ creator Dean “Rocket” Hall has dropped the first vague details of his new game project. “I do not want to make safe games. I do not want to make games the way we have been making them. What if the most experienced video game staff in the world collaborated on the most esoteric and […]