Interview: Namco Networks' Jason Ford
We speak with former Sprint games GM about his new position at Namco, the company's leadership position, and his Sprint exit...
Mobile gaming is continuing its meteoric rise, but it sometimes can seem that this rise is happening in spite of the carriers, and not because of them. Fundamentally, they aren't gaming companies the way the developers and publishers are, and some just don't seem to understand or appreciate the tremendous opportunity mobile gaming presents.
One carrier that most publishers often point to as a clear exception to this rule is Sprint. With its Gamelobby and other gamer-centric features, Sprint is often considered the most progressive North American carrier. Much of Sprint's enlightened attitude towards mobile gaming can be attributed to the company's former games General Manager Jason Ford.
Ford abruptly left Sprint in mid-May however, and last week joined Namco Networks as Vice President of Strategy and Planning. Modojo spoke with Ford and Namco Networks Vice President of Marketing Scott Rubin about what exactly a VP of Strategy and Planning does, how Ford ended up with the company, and what this means for Namco Networks moving forward.
Be (kind of) a Jerk. Ask Tough Questions
The first interesting thing about Ford's move is the position he moved into. Not all companies have a VP of Strategy and Planning - what exactly does the position entail?
"My position is to be a bit of a jerk - to ask 'why aren't we doing this?' or to question why things are done a certain way," Ford explained. "I'm here to examine what regions, what carriers, what technology Namco should be looking at, and when it should be looking at it."
"Basically, I'm here to think about the answers to questions that other publishers haven't even asked yet," he continued. "We obviously do title-level strategizing but my role is to be thinking bigger than that - thinking many steps or years down the road."
Namco is Good People
The second interesting thing about the new position is where Ford ended up. Namco is a leader in the space to be sure, but why them instead of another large publisher, or another carrier?
"I'm extremely excited about being here with Namco. I've known Namco for five years now, since I arrived at Sprint," Ford said. "When I came to Sprint five years ago I took a west coast trip to visit all the major game publishers - EA, Midway, THQ, all of them - to pitch them on the idea of mobile gaming. Only one of them said 'yeah, let's do this' and that was Namco."
"I feel my experience carrier-side allows me to bring something unique to the table for Namco. I feel like I've been able to see a lot of what was going on in the [mobile games] biz. One example is that I recently put out an [internal] newsletter pointing out some really great and some really poor mobile titles from our competitors, and examined why the games did or didn't work," Ford said. "It's true going to some small start-up and helping build up their business would be exciting, but it's great to go to someone well-established. Tiger Woods is arguably still the best golfer around, but even he still has a coach, right? Even leading mobile companies like Namco Networks can use another head to help plan strategy."
Modojo didn't ask about Ford's exit from Sprint, but it was clear that he was happy to be with a company focused on mobile gaming alone. His thoughts make it clear why he didn't end up with one of Sprint's competitors instead of a mobile games publisher.
"I don't necessarily believe that carriers are holding mobile gaming back," Ford explained. "I think the [gaming dept.] people at carriers have their hearts in the right place and believe in what they're doing, but they're constrained by their corporation's beuracracy."
Namco's Leadership Position
Ford and Rubin both made it clear that they firmly believe that Namco is a leader in the mobile space in not just numbers, but also thought, despite the bulk of the company's line-up consisting of arcade classics.
"We were the first mobile publisher to implement micropayments in a mobile game," Rubin noted. "We also believe we've taken a lot of the burden of educating consumers onto ourselves. We had a large booth at E3 just for mobile, and we're also running TV spots during United flights educating consumers about mobile gaming. Letting them know that it's another way they can pass time during their airport layover."
Ford had another take on Namco's classic arcade focus.
"You know the plain black shirt that just features three Pac-Man ghosts on it? If you wear that shirt, you will get a comment on it. Someone will comment on it, every single time you wear it. People have an emotional tie to Namco games," Ford said. "People have a woobie-like [defined -Mo] experience with our games."