Interview: Gameloft's Eric Albert
Modojo spoke this week with Gameloft's Director of North American Operations Eric Albert about the company's 100% 2005 growth, and what steps the company intends to take to maintain that momentum into 2006.
Gameloft, although founded in 1999 by Ubisoft co-founder Michel Guillemot, didn't make a big push into the North American mobile market until almost five years later, in early 2004.
This was by no means a "late" entry, but it put them up against such well-established U.S. presences as Jamdat and Sorrent (now Glu). Despite this stiff competition, Gameloft very rapidly built an American mobile empire, and now stands beside these companies as one of the "premier" publishers releasing titles in North America. Gameloft's global workforce now stands at about 1900 individuals.
Modojo spoke with Eric Albert, Gameloft's Director of North American Operations, about what advantages the company had over their competitors that gave them so much U.S. success, as well as where the company intends to take its business in 2006 and beyond.
"Exploitation" is perhaps not the most accurate way to describe Gameloft's treatment of Ubisoft's considerable software catalogue, but the fact remains that this close Ubisoft relationship is a big contributing factor to the company's success.
"We have first right of refusal for all of Ubisoft's console titles," Albert said. "The rights to mobile versions of Spinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Brothers in Arms and other Ubisoft titles creates some major leverage for us."
Albert was quick to point out that it's a two-way relationship, however, and that it isn't always just Ubisoft giving its mobile-focused cousin a leg-up.
"We create our own mobile brands as well. Vijay Singh Pro Golf began as a mobile property and has now been picked up by Ubisoft for a console release," Albert said. "We've also created other mobile brands including Asphualt Urban GT and our 'Midnight' line of sports titles."
In Gameloft's early days the Ubisoft connection undoubtedly gave the company a foot in the door with both carriers and consumers, but the company's product line now stands on its own two feet. Albert noted that only one of Gameloft's top five titles from 2005 was Ubisoft licensed.
The Big Mobile Pie
As for Gameloft's competitors, especially the mobile giant that is EA/Jamdat, Albert is unconcerned. Not because of overconfidence in his own company, but because of the extremely rapid pace of overall market growth.
"Right now I don't necessarily see it in terms of one company taking marketshare from another," Albert said. "For now it's a big enough pie and that pie is growing fast enough that those well-established companies can all enjoy healthy sales and growth. It won't be like this forever, though."
Albert is confident that Gameloft's history puts the company in a good position going forward. He pointed to EA's Jamdat acquisition as one indicator that previous experience and history in the space is more important than some late entries into the market probably anticipated.
"I think [EA's Jamdat purchase] speaks loudly that existing expertise is required to success, at this point," he explained. "In the console space the development cycle and development team is huge compared to mobile development, but the mobile market is complex in its own ways. A big mobile release might have hundreds of SKUs, instead of three or six for a console title. Very specific knowledge is required."
Albert outlined Gameloft's three major ways it intends to expand its business in 2006. It seems the year will be driven by technology, with highspeed networks and high-end phones allowing for 3D and multiplayer game content to now hit a much wider audience.
"In 2006 we're going to put a greater emphasis on 3D content. 3G phones are much more mainstream than they were 12 months ago. Last year 3D was very niche. We've also seen that even though the number of these devices in the marketplace is much smaller than lower-end handsets, their content consumption is much much higher," Albert said. "We also intend on broadening and extending our catalogue via more diversified product offerings."
"Lastly, we're going to feature realtime multiplayer in a greater number of titles. Last year we had four-player races in Asphault, and co-op multiplayer in Ghost Recon, but we have expanded plans for 2006. In addition to multiplayer, we want to encourage competition and replay via high-score posting and other community elements."