FUTURE OF SOCIAL GAMING: An Interview With Social Gaming Pioneers And Moguls

nicolas gaume mathieu nouzareth
Nicolas Gaume (left) and Mathieu Nouzareth (right)

Nicolas Gaume is an iconic figure in the European gaming industry, having founded beloved games studio Kalisto at 19, ridden its rise through the boom and seen it crash in the bust.He is now the founder of Mimesis Republic, a Facebook games company whose flagship game, Mamba Nation, pushes the boundaries of Facebook games.

Mathieu Nouzareth is a serial founder of online gaming companies: casual gaming portal Boonty.com, which was acquired in 2008, IsCool Entertainment, which makes Facebook games and is publicly traded in Paris, and FreshPlanet, based in New York.

We managed to get these two moguls together in a room and chat about the future of the gaming industry. Here’s a lightly edited transcript.

BI Intelligence: What’s the future of social games? 

Nicolas Gaume: Games that are truly social. Social games right now get a player to rope his friends into an experience that’s asynchronous and, often, pretty lonely. You sometimes do things with others, but not enough. That may be where the future is.

Mathieu Nouzareth: The convergence of social and mobile. It’s very hard to do, it’s going to take time. It’s hard because the platforms are different. Every platform has a specificity–virality for Facebook, touch for iPhone, so the games are different. The payment options are different. So having a game that works on all platforms is really hard.

Gaume: Other things that are in the future are 3D games, games where people create their own experiences.

BII: Who’s going to win the future? Is it going to be the incumbents, or is it going to be new startups?

Gaume: Facebook will steer the game makers on its ecosystem to mobile and create a space where they can learn and experiment together. 3D is a big deal, because it’s a fundamental paradigm shift in the way you create those experiences. Another aspect, as Mathieu said, is understanding the different ecosystems, which is hard to do for everyone. When you’re a big company, you have a DNA that’s structured around a certain way of doing things and it’s hard to adapt to new things.

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Nouzareth: The social gaming people are going to win on mobile instead of the other way around. People say: “Yes, but look at Angry Birds.” Ok, let’s look at Angry Birds. Let’s say it’s the leader in the space. Well, the leader in mobile is doing $100 million in revenue, the leader on Facebook is doing $1 billion. So the social gaming people have already won.Gaume: Yes, I agree.

BII: Well, that’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison. Mobile is a newer paltform, so revenues are going to be lower. 

Nouzareth: Yeah, but Zynga is already starting to do very well on the app store. If you look at the top grossing games on the app store-

BII: Well, they basically have Words With Friends up there. 

Nouzareth: Yeah. But they’re up there, one of the top-grossing. Name me a mobile games maker that has one of the top games on Facebook. There isn’t one.

Gaume: The stakes are getting bigger. The more that people who play on Facebook and mobile play games, the more they’re going to demand deeper experiences. The audience is going to become what we in the industry refer to as “midcore gamers.” 3D is coming, social is coming, immersiveness is coming, synchronous gaming is coming. That’s going to be hard to do for everyone–Rovio, Gameloft, Zynga and any others. Different cultures are going to have to merge. What has been fascinating about the rise of Facebook has been to see how people who aren’t from the game industry reinvented games through the web. But if you want to get that depth into the games, you need to have some of that culture from the game industry.

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Nouzareth: What’s amazing about this market is that the leading company in the market does not come from the gaming industry, and its founders do not come from the gaming industry. And that’s why a lot of people in the games industry dislike it. Let’s be honest, they started out with games that weren’t very good, and there was a feeling of “this guy doesn’t belong in our industry.”Gaume: I don’t think that, I have boundless admiration for what Zynga does.

BII: Do you think social games will escape from the gatekeepers? Or you guys will always have to kick up 30% to Facebook and Apple?

Nouzareth: Everyone knows it’ll happen some day.

Gaume: There’s always a gatekeeper. When you put a shrink-wrapped game on store shelves, the store is a gatekeeper. I come from the video games industry. When you work on console games for Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft, and you have to pay these companies a fee, and at the same time they make their own games to compete with you. Let me tell you that’s a lot more uncomfortable than being on an iPhone or on Facebook, where you’re not thinking “If this thing works out, maybe Apple or Facebook is going to start to compete with me”. So I think things are evolving. Both Facebook and Apple are aware that there needs to be lines in the sand, and it’s a much better environment than the traditional video game world, which is where I’m from. 

That being said, the hard thing is getting to customers. The hard part isn’t really kicking 30%, it’s how you get people to know about you. There are real issues here. So for example, Apple can promote you in the app store, you can buy tons of ads on Facebook, but not everyone can have access to that. But still, the situation is way better than what it is in the traditional video games industry.

Nouzareth: Or, for mobile, what it was 5 years ago, when the gatekeepers were the carriers, and it was much worse. 

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