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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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    The early 90′s are alive and well in a new bid to bring back Toejam and Earl. Toejam and Earl released for Mega Drive (Genesis, Americans) in 1991, and the eponymous characters went on to count among Sega’s best-known characters. They appeared in a platformer, a light gun shooter and finally a 2002 Xbox game […]

  • New Wander trailer shows off Azertash form

    Wander is a collaborative, non-combat MMO in which you can take on a number of unique forms. Wander players begin as an ambulant tree called an Oren and can progress through several different bodies as they explore the environment, learning its secrets. One of these, which we’d not seen before this trailer, is the amphibious […]

  • SOMA approaching beta phase on PC and PS4

    SOMA, the new horror game from the Amnesia: The Dark Descent crew, is getting close to playable. Frictional Games has apologised for its recent silence over the project, but said it’s focused on reaching beta. Sorry all for the silence! We're closing in on Beta and everyone's working hard to get there. Once that's done, […]

  • Square Enix does not condone Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest HD Remaster

    Square Enix has said it’s not involved with a fan remake of Final Fantasy spin-off Mystic Quest. 1992 SNES game Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is being remade by Dark Design as Mystic Quest HD Remaster. The developer is even taking pre-orders for the project. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in no position to be […]

  • New Hunger teaser released by LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers

    LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers Tarsier Studios have released a teaser trailer for Hunger, which was announced in May 2014 at the Nordic Game Conference. The game has been rumored to be the firm’s unannounced Sony project since 2010. Platforms are still to be announced, but the studio became a first-party SCE developer a few years back, […]

  • Here’s two Mario Party 10 overview videos, one featuring amiibo

    Overview videos for Mario Party 10 and the amiibo which work with the title have been released by Nintendo Japan. Obviously each one is in Japanese, but you get the gist all the same. Mario Party 10 releases on Wii U March 20 in North America and Europe. Thanks, AGB.

  • Clan Raids announced for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App

    Activision has announced a new Clan Raids mode will be made available through the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App. According to the CoD community blog, raids are time-based challenges where success earns you a spot on the Clan Raids leaderboards and new Clan Raid-exclusive in-game gear like the Equilibrium set. Clan members will […]

  • Play Battlefield Hardline starting March 12 through EA Access

    Xbox One users with an EA Access subscription will be able to play 10 hours worth of Battlefield Hardline starting March 12. EA Access members will are being granted access to the game five days before the street date, with full multiplayer and all saves transferring over into the main game. It was announced yesterday […]

  • This video summarizes the contents of Destiny patch 1.1.1

    With Destiny patch 1.1.1 now available, here’s a video summary of what to expect. In the video above, Arekkz Gaming gives you a rundown of the important bits in the update. Subscribe to Arekkz Gaming for more Destiny tips and trick through the link.

  • Destiny 1.1.1 patch notes out, update is live

    Destiny’s 1.1.1 patch arrives today, so if you have been kicked from activities, it means you will need to download the patch now that it’s live. We will be pushing the 1.1.1 patch for Destiny shortly. Players will be kicked from activities and required to download the patch. — Bungie Help (@BungieHelp) February 25, 2015 […]

  • Payday 2 packs based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number coming

    Starbreeze has announced another collaboration with Dennaton Games which will see masks based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number appear in Payday 2. The collaboration consists of two free updates when you acquire Hotline Miami 2 or its deluxe version on Steam from February 25. The two updates, called Hotline Miami Mask Pack and Jacket […]

  • Velocity 2X making its way onto Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One

    Velocity 2X will be released on Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One Futurlab has announced. The developer is in charge of the port, which will be published by Sierra. According to Futurlab, the deal with Sierra came about when self-publishing proved to be difficult due to spending “more time doing PR and marketing on Velocity […]

  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number finally has a release date

    A release date for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has been announced, finally. The game will arrive on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita March 10. It is now available for pre-order on GOG, Humble and Steam for 10% off for $13.49/£10.99. There’s also a Digital Special Edition available which includes tracks from […]

  • Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena is a twin stick shooter MOBA for PC

    Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena has been announced as a twin stick shooter MOBA blend from Whitebox Interactive. Set for a 2016 release on PC, the game’s beta will be on show at PAX East next month. An Early Access release is slated for Q2 2015 and you can already purchase early access for a […]

  • More information, videos for cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun surface

    A trailer for the cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun title from Climax which was reportedly set for an E3 2012 reveal, has surfaced. Along with the above video is another which is described as a pre-boss battle cutscene. It’s below. According to a source of NeoGAF’s Mama Robotnik, the game was being developed under […]

  • Three additional games added to Square Enix Humble Bundle

    Kane & Lynch Collection, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Startopia have been added to the Square Enix Humble Bundle. All three are made available when paying the average price of $7.69. Those who have already purchased the bundle will automatically be granted the titles. All three are available for PC only. The […]

  • Forza Horizon 2 gets Fast & Furious with standalone expansion

    A Fast & Furious tie-in and standalone expansion to Forza Horizon 2 will arrive for Xbox consoles next month. Titled Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious, the downloadable title does not require the base game to play. “We’ve been talking with the folks at Turn 10 for a number of years and have always […]

  • The Evil Within: The Assignment has a release date, new trailer

    The Evil Within: The Assignment will be released on March 10 in North America and March 11 in Europe, it was announced today. Along with an exact release date was a trailer detailing more information about the first set of DLC. The Assignment is the first of two DLCs centering on Detective Castellanos’ mysterious partner, […]

  • Steam and GOG cross-platform multiplayer added to AvP Classic 2000

    Steam and GOG have announced Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 owners will be able play multiplayer with each other across both platforms. With the recent online multiplayer update for for AVP Classic 2000, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley has made good on his promise from June to offer cross-platform play between the Steam and GOG platforms. […]

  • OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood arrives on PS4, Vita next week

    Roll7 has announced it will release OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood next week. The developer announced the dates on Twitter this morning alongside the launch trailer. You will be able to download the game for PlayStation 4 and Vita March 3 in North America and March 4 in Europe.

  • Week 7: Play GTA Online with VG247 tonight at 8pm UK time!

    Heists got a date! Come play GTA Online with us to celebrate. We’re playing GTA Online on PS4 tonight with whoever else fancies it. That means you. This week’s playlist is Happy for Heists, because we kind of are. The six jobs involved will last about 45 minutes. Anyone can turn up. Here’s how. We’ll […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight – first look into the story

    Batman: Arkham Knight has a new trailer available that gives us a peek into Scarecrow’s plan to unite all villains against Batman. The trailer below has a different tone to the ones showing Arkham Knight. Instead, we get a look at Scarecrow’s team of super-villains including new footage of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. There […]

  • Vita knocks New 3DS LL out of top slot on Media Create charts

    Thanks to four new titles, one of which was God Eater 2: Rage Burst, PlayStation Vita has knocked New 3DS LL out of the top slot on the Media Create charts in Japan. The handheld, which came in thrid place last week, moved 35,203 units for the February 16-22 period, compared to 10,901 units the […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes coming west in 2015, PS4 only

    Dragon Quest Heroes will be making its way to west this year. Square Enix has announced that it’s bringing Dragon Quest Heroes to the west this year. The press release mentioned only PAL territories (Europe & Australia). Though it’s unlikely it will miss the US. The game will release on PlayStation 4, both digitally and […]

  • Destiny: how to make sure Crota stays down for longer

    If you’re familiar with the final encounter of the Crota’s End raid, then you know every second Crota is immobilised counts. Arekkz Gaming has a handy tip for anyone who’s played Crota’s End or anyone attempting it. The trick is simple to execute and will ensure Crota stays on his knees for longer, making for […]

  • NBA Live 15 added to EA Access just four months after release

    EA has added NBA Live 15 to the list of games available instantly to anyone with an EA Access subscription. NBA Live 15 has been added to EA Access’ Vault, EA has announced. As of today, anyone with an EA Access subscription on Xbox One can play it alongside other available games. NBA Live 15 […]

  • Deal: get Advanced Warfare Limited Edition Xbox One bundle + extra game for £299

    UK retailer GAME is offering a good deal on the Advanced Warfare Limited Edition 1TB Xbox One bundle and is throwing in an extra game. The retailer has reduced the price of the bundle to £299, which is the usual price for the standalone console. The bundle is of course Advanced Warfare-themed. The console and […]

  • That Metal Gear Rising 2 logo was for the second anniversary of the original

    Metal Gear Rising developer Platinum Games has confirmed, once and for all, that the “2″ logo we saw during Sony’s presentation at Taipei Game Show was definitely not for a sequel. Platinum posted this on Twitter earlier. デザイナーの趙&ニシイから、『MGR』2周年記念イラスト! ディレクターの齋藤( @PG_saito )が、開発スタッフブログでご紹介しています↓↓ http://t.co/IW1aOxAZQR #mgr pic.twitter.com/ZbNF3Jk1tF — PlatinumGames Inc. (@platinumgames) February 25, 2015 The illustrations were made by artist Yong-Hee […]

  • Resident Evil Revelations 2 is formulaic and I’m okay with that

    There’s something comforting about the lack of ambition and plain old gameplay in Resident Evil Revelations 2, says Matt Martin. “It’s locked from the other side.” Of course it is. What did I expect? I’ve been here before. So many times. Not just in Resident Evil but a million other games. It’s so familiar as […]

  • Battlefield 4: double XP event live now through Sunday

    EA is holding a double XP event in Battlefield 4 on all platforms. The publisher is celebrating Battlefield Hardline going gold by offering all Battlefield 4 players double XP in multiplayer matches. The double XP event is now live and through 23:59 UTC on Sunday, March 1.

  • BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Rayman Legends free with March Games with Gold

    The list of free games coming in March as part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold programme has leaked. The leaked list of games include Rayman Legends and #IDARB for Xbox One along with Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite for Xbox 360. In addition, Microsoft will be offering double the amount of games in April. The […]

  • Telltale’s new IP will be a “super show”, bridges the gap between TV and game

    Telltale’s upcoming mysterious new IP will be produced in collaboration with Lionsgate and will be a hybrid game and TV show. Entertainment Weekly spoke to Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner to understand what’s a super show. “A “Super Show” episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content,” said […]

  • Next Mortal Kombat X stream to show Brutalities, new character

    Brutalities will be making a return in Mortal Kombat X and we’re getting a look at them very soon. The next Mortal Kombat X live-stream has been dated and we know it will show Brutalities for the first time. Developer NetherRealm Studios posted this on Twitter. pic.twitter.com/ZJYN1FNRZ9 — NetherRealm Studios (@NetherRealm) February 23, 2015 Notice […]

  • PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 does not support offline co-op [Update]

    Players who bought the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 have realised that the game doesn’t support offline co-op. Unlike the console versions, the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 can only be played in single player, with no offline co-op option. Capcom has not revealed this prior to launch. Instead, users on […]

  • Deals with Gold: Assassin’s Creed, Sleeping Dogs, Thief, and more

    This week’s Deals with Gold is offering hefty discounts on some good titles. The list of discounted games for this week’s Deals with Gold promotion includes Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, Thief and others. The deals cover Xbox 360 and Xbox One and are only available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. […]