Neil Young, former CEO of DeNA's business in the west, has spent his career innovating in the mobile sector
Neil Young, former CEO of DeNA’s business in the west, has spent his career innovating in the mobile sector

Develop is the UK’s largest game developer conference. It’s kind of like a British GDC, and as you’d expect from a British GDC it’s held by the seaside, in Brighton to be specific. This is the place in the UK where the games industry goes to talk amongst itself, and people like yours truly go along to eavesdrop. So over the next few days I’ll be summarising a few things I heard. Lets start with a look at the state of mobile.

Once more, Develop opened with Evolve, a one day conference dedicated to discussing the future of entertainment platforms and disruptive technologies. With VR and AR both pretty close to being market ready this year’s Evolve was more vital than ever. But first the keynote, delivered by Neil Young (no, not that Neil Young), spent some time reflecting on the tech at the heart of the previous paradigm shift, which was, is and probably will continue to be the entertainment platform of the future, given its central role in everyone’s life: the smartphone.

Neil Young has an illustrious history with the mobile platform having founded ngmoco in the early days of the gold rush, which he then sold to Japanese company DeNA, and became their CEO of Western Acquisitions for a time. If DeNA sounds familiar to you, then it should, because it’s the company that Nintendo are teaming up with to bring their games to mobile. In his talk Neil used his unique insight into the Japanese market to answer the question of whether the mobile market place is fully saturated – or as one article has put it ‘Mobile is Mordor – it’s time to sail west’. Neil’s response to that? Hell no! “Don’t sail west, that’s where the Elves go to die!”

Neil believes that we are basically at the same point that Japan was at in 2008, with a similar level of penetration into the populace. Just as Japan’s mobile industry has continued to boom, with titles like Puzzles and Dragons eclipsing everything else out there, Neil anticipates that over the next five years the mobile market here will increase tenfold, with many new opportunities and ideas forming. Using Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations Model (here comes the science bit, concentrate), Neil argues that the adoption of the tech has now reached its late stage, with the majority of consumers who will likely own a smart phone already possessing one. There’s no longer a flood of new users, so acquisition costs per user are increasing, yet according to the model the market share at this stage is only around half of its overall potential.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations. The uptake of a new device is represented by the bell curve. The arrow is my addition.
Rogers Diffusion of Innovations. The uptake of a new device is represented by the bell curve. We’re just waiting on the ‘laggards’ now.

But don’t panic! The continued growth of mobile need not instil the fear of god into core gamers. Neil spent a good chunk of his talk outlining how freemium economic models need to be reconsidered and overhauled to afford the user more respect. Since the industry has run out of a steady flow of saps to hoodwink with cheap tricks, and the larger public are becoming more suspicious of such activity, developers need to work harder to retain users, which means offering people a fair deal on a quality product and building and maintaining a healthy community around it.

Building money hungry games is not sustainable, Neil warns, rather developers need to create games where people don’t have to pay, but want to

Building money hungry games is not sustainable, Neil warns, rather developers need to create games where people don’t have to pay, but want to (ie: quality products). In short it’s time to start thinking in the long term, where the Life Time Value (LTV) of a product needs to be higher than the cost per acquisition. Neil would like to see, and indeed expects to see, visionary developers, who understand the unique aspects of the medium, exercising their creativity in creating innovative new genres and approaches. Since this is a time when a small team can create something on mobile that out performs a commercial console game, the potential cross over with the incredibly vibrant indie scene is more than apparent. I think that’s a vision of the future that we can all get behind.

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