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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

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    A new video for Dying Light has been released, which allows you to hit the Z key to change between day and night. Titles Life and Death in the Quarantine Zone, the interactive story video showcases how the game changes between day and night. Daytime and nighttime are shown side-by-side but the z key allows […]

  • Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare out on PS3, PS4; PC delayed

    The Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available for PlayStation 3 and PS4. Havoc contains the four multiplayer maps Core, Drift, Sideshow, and Urban along with the AE4 directed energy assault rifle, its custom variant, and the Exo Zombies cooperative mode. You can purchase the DLC separately or pick up the […]

  • Here’s a teaser for Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 2

    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]