Chillingo on why App Store self-publishing isn’t always the way: “More and more devs need help”
By Neil Long
Part of Ed Rumley’s job is to have awkward conversations. As COO of ubiquitous mobile games publisher Chillingo, he and his team must politely decline the chance to publish an increasing deluge of new mobile games.
Developers come to Chillingo dreaming of releasing the next Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, but very, very few achieve that level of success. Those two bestsellers propelled Chillingo into the quietly dominant position it finds itself today. Post-iPhone, the strides made by the company were so admired by Electronic Arts that it was bought out in 2010 for a reported sum of $20 million. It is a profitable, but not particularly high-profile, EA subsidiary which, until recently, rarely spoke to the press.
But if you’re a regular downloader of iOS games, it’s highly likely that you’ve seen its logo flash up on your iPhone or iPad’s screen many times before. Chillingo publishes one or two new games on the App Store every week (fewer than it used to) and its output is clearly well-regarded by Apple, as many of Chillingo’s releases make the weekly ‘New and Noteworthy’ lists. “The number of developers coming to us on a daily basis is going up, and it’s really one of two reasons,” Rumley tells us. “Firstly it’s because I think Chillingo’s doing a great job publishing these games, but the other reason is that more and more developers need help. We are having to be more selective in what we publish.”
In publishing fewer games, Chillingo is keen to foster the idea that its logo is a kind of seal of quality. It operates a revenue share system with the developers it partners with and, surprisingly, as many as a quarter of the games it sees are actually looking to be re-published. “To me that indicates there’s a problem,” says Rumley. “There’s a difference between self-distribution and self-publishing – I could go and upload a book to Amazon right now, but that doesn’t really make me an author.”
“I always applaud people that have that success and that’s what I love about the platform, but you only need to look at the App Store,” he continues. “The bottom line is that it’s a crowded market.”
Rumley is – unsurprisingly – quick to dismiss those in the development community who extol the virtues of self-publishing, too. “The people who say that publishers are dead tend to be the ones that have had success,” he tells us. “That’s fine, but we helped Rovio with Angry Birds and we helped Zeptolab with Cut The Rope and now they’re in a very different position. It wasn’t always that way.”
What Chillingo prides itself upon is almost acting as if it were a games consultant – finding “that diamond in the rough” as Rumley puts it, and polishing it up to make it more playable and more marketable. “I’d say something like 50-60 per cent of the games that come to us have a change of name. It’s about making something stand out and appeal to the mass market.”
Around 75 to 80 per cent of the developers Chillingo deals with has one or two employees – “Often they can only speak to us after 5:30 because they have day jobs,” says Rumley. It works with larger companies, of course, but the publishing process is the same: Chillingo assigns a producer to the game, who produces a report which takes a detailed look at not only the game itself, but how to make money from it. Then there’s QA, creative services (which produces art assets like screenshots and those all-important App Store icons), PR, sales and marketing. Of course, all this means that Chillingo shares the game’s revenue – a percentage agreed with the developer on a case by case basis.
What every developer wants to know next is how to persuade Apple to gift them an Editors’ Choice or a New and Noteworthy slot. “They don’t share that,” says Rumley. “We’re very privileged to work within EA and we have some great contacts at Apple, but like any publisher, we don’t get any preferential treatment. We present our games and we hope that they are showcased on the basis of their quality.”
Increasingly, Rumley says that best new mobile games made by one or two-man studios are coming out of places like Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Australia. But even with Chillingo’s support, quality doesn’t necessarily equate to chart success. “It doesn’t matter you’re shipping a $100 million videogame or a $300 million movie – you can have failures,” he says. “That’s publishing.”
Next, there are new platforms and new app stores for Chillingo to conquer. In the last 18 months the company has transformed from a 100 per cent iOS business to one which also publishes on Android and Windows. 2012’s breakthrough Christmas for the tablet market also offers up huge opportunities.
So, given the current state of home console games, is a shift in priorities taking place at Chillingo’s parent company, EA? “At the moment [console and mobile] are very complimentary platforms,” adds Rumley. “One doesn’t replace the other in our minds.” The key phrase here, one might suggest, is ‘at the moment’.(source:edge-online)