PopCap Mobile Chief Giordano Contestabile: Games as a Service Transform the Industry

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mobile games (and all other services), meaning development was fragmented between a dizzying array of platforms and devices. iPhone’s market lead meant there was one powerful platform for developers to target.

Google started out with a more hands-off approach to its relatively open Android platform, which seeded that operating system on millions of smartphones very rapidly. But Contestabile says Google is now exerting more control over the ecosystem, which he sees as a boost for game-makers.

“I think by the end of 2012 there will be 600 million-700 million Android phones. What should happen, and we hope will happen, is for us to be able to target the vast majority of users easily through a few builds, a few channels,” Contestabile says. “And be able to have a market which is, as much as possible, similar to the Apple one.”

So how much work does Microsoft have ahead of it to catch up and play a vital third-place role? “Oh boy,” Contestabile says with a chuckle. The new version of Windows Phone, he says, “is really, really good. In terms of user experience, it’s on par with iPhone.” But success also depends on key hardware partner Nokia, producing good phones and pushing them through its distribution system.

Microsoft also should seize its strength in console gaming with the Xbox platform, as games speed toward a cycle of having players continuously involved—on their TVs at home, on their mobile devices on the go, and on their computer screens at work, for instance.

“If you were able to have full interoperability for free-to-play games between mobile and Xbox live, that would be a plus,” Contestabile says. “That would bring a lot of cross-platform capabilities, which developers are looking for.”

“I think that discounting Microsoft is wrong because they’ve proved in the past that they can come from behind and do a great job,” he adds. “Xbox being a great example of that.”

The rise of games as an ongoing service that spans consoles, web services, and mobile devices also means some really big changes for the way game companies operate, including the kinds of people they hire and how stable that employment is.

Think of it this way: In the past, game development could be more like mercenary work. You’d develop a title, bring on a big staff to execute the game, and then wind down when the project was delivered, with a bunch of those people being laid off until the next go-round.

Now, producing a game is getting much closer to the task of rolling out a TV show that you want to stay on the air for a long time—once the thing’s out the door, the work is just starting.

And you’re also going to have a much more diverse range of people working on the projects, leading to a lot more cross-pollination of skills in the industry, Contestabile says.

“Right now we have, for example, PhD’s in statistics that spend their time analyzing data and making us understand what it means. We have operations people that spend their time maintaining the servers and infrastructure and designing the architecture,” Contestabile says. “So we’ve seen a lot of people from traditional game development that have to probably adapt or pick up new skill sets to transition to this new model. But overall, I think this is going to be good for the industry.”

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