Interview: VUG Mobile President Paul Maglione
We harass VUG Mobile's President about when we can expect WoW Mobile, but he wouldn't take the bait...
Is Vivendi Universal Games Mobile just another console publisher trying to muscle their way into the mobile space, in an attempt to grab a piece of the vertically-growing pie? The answer to that question ultimately depends on who you ask. But with almost two years of studio experience under their belt and the leadership of an established mobile veteran, the company seems serious about their mobile move.
Modojo spoke with VUG Mobile President and former I-Play VP Paul Maglione about why the company waited so long to formally announce their mobile division, and why mobile-specific pure play publishers might be in trouble. We also grilled him regarding the inevitability ofWorld of Warcraft Mobile, but he wouldn't take the bait.
Operation Older than it Appears
It's true that VUG Mobile just formally announced their mobile division last month, but the company has actually been in the space for almost two years, now.
"We did the reverse of what most companies do. A lot of companies trumpet their big mobile intentions, then ask themselves 'ok, now how the heck are we going to accomplish this?'," Maglione, said. "VUG began its [mobile] studio operations in late 2004. The team started with about three or four guys, and today the studio employs about 45. We have developed or produced nine titles, now. We waited until now to formally create and announce a mobile division because we were able to see firsthand the traction and the growth curve."
VUG Mobile previously looked to companies like I-Play in the US or Wonderphone in France to publish and distribute their titles, but such duties are now being handled internally. The company is "hiring weekly" according to Maglione, with the primary mandate being to grow the commercial side of the division by bringing on sales and marketing employees.
Of the Asian Persuasion
Maglione explained that in a lot of ways VUG Mobile's operation wouldn't differ significantly from other mobile publishers. The company will publish a mixture of internally and externally developed titles, with about 2/3rds being internal. He also reiterated porting as a major hurdle that needs to be overcome.
"Our CTO came to us from Gameloft, and built a porting solution from scratch," Maglione said. "Keeping porting internal is beneficial for a number of reasons, but I feel that the biggest is that it allows you to manage your product's lifespan. With porting internal it's easier to support new handsets as they come to market with your back library of titles. If your porting is handled by a third party and then in two years they go out of business, you're then left holding the bag.
VUG Mobile does have one major area where they diverge from most western mobile publishers, however. Maglione repeatedly stressed the company' intention to aggressively pursue the ever-burgeoning Asian market.
"In 2006 we expect our business to be about a 50/50 split between the US and Europe. We're talking to Asian carriers now, and in 2007 we expect Asia to take a large piece [ of our revenue]," Maglione said. "We're not in a big hurry - we won't overpromise and we intend to do thing at a steady pace. We're not writing off 2006, but we think 2007 and 2008 will be our big years, as we grow our global business. We expect to be very present in Asia.
Is There Room for the Little Guys?
Maglione also reiterate language Modojo has heard from other console companies making mobile moves - it's going to become increasingly difficult for pure-play companies to survive with the likes of EA Mobile and (he hopes) VUG Mobile in the space.
"They're in a difficult position. If you look at those companies, none of them are able to create big IPs and franchises, with the possible exception of Jamdat Bowling. All their big hits are licenses, and those licenses are going to be harder and harder to come by," Maglione said. "It's going to be the established IP holders who are the big, longterm winners in the mobile space. We're able to do things like create tie-ins with VUG's big games, and leverage those hits to then diversify our portfolio."
It was at this point that Modojo asked about the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Does VUG Mobile have plans for a mobile release of World of Warcraft? The mobile games business has been talking for almost two years about the one, mythical title that could vault mobile gaming awareness to new heights of awareness and adoption. Similarly to what World of Warcraft did for the MMO market, in fact.
"We're certainly looking at it," Maglione said. "There's no rush on it, though. When we announce the ability to check on your auctions from your mobile phone, or whatever the case may be, you'll be the first to know."