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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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    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]

  • Kojima Station show suspended

    In another episode in the the ongoing kerfuffle between Hideo Kojima and Konami, the publisher has suspended the Kojima Station web show. Recent tweets from the newly created Japanese Metal Gear Solid account confirm that Kojima Station will not be broadcast tomorrow, but would not provide a date for the next episode. The Tweets were […]

  • Watch Battle Royale for free this weekend on Xbox Live

    Square Enix is celebrating the launch of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD by offering Xbox Live members in the UK a free rental of Battle Royale. Starting Saturday, March 28 and through Sunday, March 29, Xbox Live members in the UK will be able to rent Battle Royale through the Xbox Video Store, for free. The […]

  • Bloodborne journal, part 1: managing anxiety on the path to the Cleric Beast

    Bloodborne is both like and unlike the Souls games. Brenna descends into Yharnam with reluctance and trepidation. Need help succeeding in Bloodborne? You need our Bloodborne walkthrough and boss guide. Bloodborne isn’t Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. Let’s get that out of the way right off. I enjoyed both Dark Souls games, but it was […]

  • PS Store Easter sale discounts MGS: Ground Zeroes, Far Cry 4, more

    The Easter Sale is live on the EU PS Store, with Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes for less than £10, FIFA 15 Deluxe Edition for £30 and other savings. Some of the PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita discounts are valid through April 8, other through April 15. PlayStation Plus members can also take an […]