人物专访：Big Fish Games董事长谈公司运营状况
Big Fish Games是世界上最专注于休闲游戏领域的公司之一，目前营收超过了1亿美元，利润一直在稳步增长。这家公司位于西雅图，其董事长杰里米·刘易斯（Jeremy Lewis）见证了社交游戏及Zynga等新晋游戏公司在整个游戏领域崛起的过程。
但他表示并不担心这些新兴社交游戏公司的大量涌现会让Big Fish Games沦为沧海一粟，Big Fish Games至今仍是休闲游戏网站中一个响亮的名字，自从2002年以来，其游戏下载量已超过10亿次，目前正进军智能手机及平板电脑平台。游戏邦获悉，该公司在2008年秋的金融危机之前融资了8300万美元，很有可能与其竞争对手Zynga一样，利用这笔钱掀起一轮收购潮。
不过Big Fish Games并不是通过收购获得发展（它实际上只进行了一桩小额收购交易），它并没有动用这笔资金，对于一家希望向前发展的公司来说，这种耐性实为罕见。虽然社交游戏的淘金热正铺天席卷而来，但刘易斯却耐心地以两位数的增长率，让公司业务自然发展。游戏邦了解道，该公司目前共有500名左右的员工，有100多名开发者在开发该公司自有品牌的游戏。
在2011至2012年，我们计划将向新方向拓展Big Fish Games的业务，手机领域是休闲游戏的理想选择，我们已经在这一平台立足。另外，我们还会特别关注平板电脑游戏市场。
这一行一直都在变化对不？其中的潮来潮去也很正常。所以我们选择了静观其变的态度，我们是一家专注于PC和Mac平台的休闲游戏公司，现在正试水手机游戏领域，并向这一行投资，扩大业务规模。我们还会继续涉足并投资新兴领域，社交游戏就是其中之一，我们会从中汲取相关经验。但作为一家开发商和发行商，我们同时也重视Big Fish Games的项目运营和收益增长。
有没有考虑推出新类型的游戏？Her Interactive公司开发的新游戏《Nancy Drew》一半是游戏，一半是电子书，它算是一种新型的游戏吗？
我认为游戏可以衍生出许多分枝。但对用户来说，故事背景具有连贯性的游戏总是有价值的。你开发了一款像书本一样具有述事性的游戏，又接着推出下一款游戏，后来就形成了一个系列的游戏。消费者购买的书本和情节连贯的游戏之间存在许多共性，而这种类型的游戏正好是Big Fish Games产品的特征。
没错。我们是苹果iPad的首航发行合作伙伴，为这个平台开发了《亚马逊探险:隐秘的征程》（Hidden Expedition: Amazon），它是这个系列的第三款游戏。
比如，我们的日本门户网站发展极为迅速，用户付费转化率相当可观，与我们进行合作的独立开发者数量也在不断增长。这两者是Big Fish Games的市场份额健康并快速增长的最佳证明。这种良好局面保证了我们的有效投资，从而又为我们引来了大量才华横溢的开发者。这些开发者与我们进行独家合作的意愿不断上升，他们很关注我们的在线市场份额。我们推出的一半以上游戏，都是开发者在Big Fish Games独家发行的游戏。我们专注于自然发展模式，因为这是我们一贯的传统，也是目前行之有效的方法。我们也在不断尝试并投资新领域。经常会有人找上门来，开玩笑地讨论有关企业合并和收购的话题，当然我们也不排斥这种选择。
我认为用户发展趋势会对我们很有利。有不少知名开发者加入了Big Fish Games的阵营，这一趋势仍将持续下去。目前美国约有3亿人口，其中有8400万人的年龄在46至64岁之间，这是休闲游戏的理想用户群体。我们发现，最先接纳新型移动设备的用户一般都更年轻，更富有。在我们的目标市场上，女性用户比例超过70%，她们会购买这些平板电脑设备，让游戏传播更加迅速有效。她们在外出途中，会将平板电脑交给孩子，让他们玩安装在平板电脑上的休闲游戏。所以我们的游戏用户不会出现代沟，也就是说，那些玩硬核游戏的孩子，会受到父母的影响，开始接触休闲游戏，他们也将会玩《麻将》、《高尔夫纸牌》、《神秘视线》和《谜画之塔》等游戏。我们看到了这种趋势，所以才向新领域投入资源。
Trip Hawkins（游戏邦注：他是Digital Chocolate的创始人）曾在最近的GDC大会上谈到了手机游戏发展的不利趋势。他表示iPhone手机应用已经超过了35万款，产生了20亿美元的营收，但平摊到每款应用上的收益就只有5000美元左右。如果从这组数据来看，iPhone平台可不是个乐观的市场。
Q&A: Big Fish Games chief sees more growth in mobile than social
Big Fish Games is one of the stalwarts of casual games, with more than $100 million in revenues and steadily growing profits. Jeremy Lewis, chief executive of the Seattle-based company, has watched a lot of disruption in the game business with the growth of social games on Facebook and the rise of companies such as Zynga.
But he isn’t worried that the new social game startups will send Big Fish to the bottom of the sea. Big Fish is still pretty big in casual game web sites — with well over 1 billion downloads of its games since 2002 — and it is making a big move into smartphone and tablet games. In the fall of 2008, Big Fish Games raised $83 million, just before the financial crisis hit. It seemed like Big Fish would start an acquisition spree, much like rival Zynga.
But none of Big Fish’s growth has come from acquisitions (it actually on made one small acquisition). In fact, it hasn’t touched that cash, in what may be an example of rare patience on the part of a leader who wants his company to grow. While the social gaming Gold Rush has gone on around him, Lewis has patiently expanded his business at double-digit rates in an organic way. And he has 500 employees, including more than 100 that develop the company’s own games.
We caught up with Lewis at the Game Developers Conference. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.
VB: What’s your outlook now?
JL: During 2011 and 2012, we plan to scale the franchise of Big Fish Games in new directions. Mobile is a very natural extension to the casual game market where we already are. In particular, we are going to be active in the tablet market.
VB: What is your reaction to all of the industry events that are shaping the game industry now? We’ve seen Disney acquire social game maker Playdom and mobile game maker Tapulous. Then it turned the management team inside out, putting the social game people in charge of the overall game division. That’s a very big event in the industry. In the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of change like that.
JL: There has always been change, right? And there have always been trends and currents and waves that have come and have gone, and some have stayed and some have not. So we tend to take a longer-term view, and we tend to be a company that is very focused as the category leader in casual games on the PC and the Mac platforms. We are now testing and investing and scaling up the business in mobile. We will continue to test and invest in areas as they surface. Social is one of those areas, and we will take what we learn from that. But we will continue to focus on ensuring that as a developer and as a publisher, both businesses in which Big Fish Games is already at scale in, we will focus on revenue growth. We will continue to invest in both those areas in a way that ensures we are continuing to build goodness for developers and goodness for consumers. That’s really a focus that’s been a hallmark of our company since its founding.
VB: Does it seem like there is more opportunity now in mobile and social purely on Facebook?
JL: I can speak more specifically about mobile because we are active there. We have a little presence in social. There is a proliferation of platforms and the introduction of new distribution channels. When that happens, the overall market usually expands and so does the overall audience. Both emerging and developed markets benefit as that audience expands. It is the category leaders in each of these segments — casual, mobile, social networking — that will earn the lion’s share of the revenues in each market where they participate. That’s our belief, and that is what we are experiencing today. So we are glad that the industry is growing and our franchise will benefit from that.
VB: Zynga has come to dominate social games on Facebook. It is an upstart that is leading a new market and it has stayed in the lead. Is that unusual?
JL: I think that is consistent with how these markets actually are formed. In the early stages of a market and then over the course of time, it seems to me that those markets more often change in ways that allow new entrants to establish themselves. So Zynga’s leadership is not a surprise to me.
VB: The speed with which it has grown has caught a lot of people by surprise. They got to large-scale growth in a very short time.
JL: They’ve got the benefit of the internet’s growth and Facebook’s growth.
VB: Are the conditions for speedy growth ripe in mobile?
JL: Yeah. I think that’s right. The iPad is a very good example of that. It has created the conditions to capitalize on games for mobile devices that are very similar to what we are already doing on the web. Without a device like this, the opportunity wouldn’t be there.
VB: So your shift into mobile is not a rethinking, but an extension?
JL: It’s a natural change. That’s the best way I can explain it. We make highly replayable games. We make them in our own studio and we are working with other independent game development partners. We build games that are linear in storytelling and are very deep and immersive experiences.
VB: What would you consider to be a new category? I wrote about Her Interactive’s new Nancy Drew game, which is part game and part eBook. Is that a new category?
JL: I think there are a variety of derivative structures of games. One thing that hasn’t changed from the consumer’s perspective is that linear story-based games are consumable. You make one book-like game and then you move on to the next one. Then you have a series of episodes. There are lots of parallels between consumer consumption of books and linear games that are episodic in nature. This kind of episodic game is a hallmark of our company.
VB: So if you buy one of these games and you get all the way through it, you are likely to buy the next five?
JL: Indeed. We were a launch partner with Apple on the iPad. We created Hidden Expedition: Amazon (pictured right), for that platform. That was the third Hidden Expedition game in that series.
VB: So you have said you are very focused. When the industry changed and everybody started acting very quickly to change their businesses, what did you think? How did you look at it when some of these new things came into the industry and everybody started acting very quickly to change their businesses and strategies. People call it the Gold Rush.
JL: Sure, sure.
VB: Go buy your picks and shovels, right?
JL: Right. We are an analytical company. We test and invest very actively. We haven’t spent our money.
VB: You raised a lot of money. That gave you a lot of advantages.
JL: In 2008, yeah.
VB: And yet you have not gone out and bought a big social game company or a bunch of little ones. Why are you on a different path?
JL: That is a good question because 100 percent of our growth has been organic, which is unique in the game industry when you look back over the course of time. 100 percent of our growth has been organic since inception, and we continue to experience hyper growth. So we certainly benefited from that focus. And this goes back to categories. The PC and the Mac platforms are very big categories and continue to be very substantial market opportunities. Last year, we made investments in expanding our direct-to-consumer footprint there. We expanded to five new languages and 12 new currency payment options so we could reach 300 million more users. The growth has been terrific.
Our Japanese portal, for example, continues to grow very rapidly with very attractive conversion rates (consumers moving from a trial to a purchase) and the pool of independent developers that we work with to address those markets has been growing. Those two things were our best indication that we have a healthy and fast-growing market. It sustains our investment and attracts the attention of an ever-growing population of very talented and creative developers. They increasingly work with us on an exclusive basis. They look at our presence online. More than 50 percent of the content we release is exclusive to Big Fish Games. We focus on growing organically because that is where the growth has been and where it is now. It’s as simple as that. We are constantly testing and investing. We are very regularly approached by folks to entertain dialogues around merger and acquisition activities. It is always an option.
VB: Your revenues are in excess of $100 million.
JL: Well in excess.
VB: Has the financial industry in some way sort of not paid attention to that? Has it not noticed that revenue is there?
JL: I don’t know.
VB: Zynga is reportedly valued at $10 billion. That’s all everybody seems to talk about. That may feel a little weird.
JL: Well, Zynga has done a nice job of scaling a franchise in games on social networks, which is the most recent evolution and expansion of the audience for games. You will find that we and other category leaders will begin to capitalize on the market expansion that is being created by both smartphones and tablets.
VB: Do you have a reaction to the iPad 2?
JL: It’s a great device, and we will continue to work with our development partners and internal studio to bring our catalog of games to these devices in a very native way, which will delight customers. Apple will continue to delight customers. What do you think?
VB: If the graphics on it are nine times better, then it seems like your budget for graphics has to go way up?
JL: As you know, you can develop a game with intergalactic graphics capabilities that nobody buys, or you can develop a game that is very simple and yet is very addictive. The consumers will vote for what makes sense. Developers can use the high-end features of the iPad 2, but by no means are they forced to do so.
VB: It seems like the game production values are rising in this category. Is it similar to the arms race that happened on the PC and the consoles in terms of graphics?
JL: We didn’t experience that arms race, and I don’t expect to experience it here. Again, you can make highly addictive games for low budgets and you can also make large-budget games that can be very successful. I think the key is to ensure that as we scale our business, we are very careful not to have a concentration of hits. So in 2010, the highest concentration of revenue for any one brand or intellectual property was 1.6 percent. If you contrast that with other companies, you will find that that’s attractive. With our subscription game business, that gives us a consistency and visibility for our financial performance.
VB: But I guess when you get something like Angry Birds, you run with it?
JL: Sure, sure.
VB: That would be a nice problem to have, to be dependent on Angry Birds sales.
JL: But again, it’s a hit. We have hits. But we have a portfolio approach to the business. We release at least one new game every day across 10 languages. When you do that, you don’t tend to have volatility in your growth patterns. You reduce volatility and you increase visibility. The other thing I would say is that we always address the mass casual audience with those games. We have terabytes of data to tell us what delights customers on the internet. When people come to know and trust a brand on the internet, they spend more time with it. That drives our subscription business.
VB: Besides the iPad and the iPhone, what else is appealing to you as far as platforms to go?
JL: It comes back to focus, we have a very good relationship with Google, and we will be testing and investing in the Android market together with them. At the same time we are going to remain very focused and work closely with Apple to ensure that we are bringing best of breed premium casual content to iOS. I am most excited how the in-app purchase business model on the iPhone is so similar to the model we use on the web. We have been using “try before you buy” since the day we were founded.
VB: Yes, but people are more excited about doing micro-transactions (purchasing virtual items for very small amounts) rather than buying an entire game for a larger amount of money.
JL: I think there will be both models and you will see that. We have games with both models in place.
VB: Do the other platforms have to prove themselves before you would start investing in them? There is Microsoft, RIM’s PlayBook, WebOS and others.
JL: You will find that consistent with what we’ve done in the past. We will test and invest with each.
VB: Again, some people are in a rush. What is the right pace for testing and investing? DeNA bought Ngmoco for $403 million because they are in a rush. They feel like we will see billion-dollar companies emerge in the mobile game market. If you want to be one of them, you have to invest faster. That is the thinking.
JL: I would say the demographic trends are providing such favorable winds at our backs. Established developers are coming to Big Fish Games, and we think that will continue. There are roughly 300 million people in the U.S. and roughly 84 million of those are between the ages of 46 and 64. That is the sweet spot of the mass casual market. We are finding that early adopters of new devices are typically younger and more affluent. More than 70 percent of our market is female. They are buying these tablet devices and the games are becoming more viral. They go on a road trip and pass the tablet back to the kids, who play the casual games that are installed on the devices. We have an inter-generational dynamic going. That means that the kids who are playing only hardcore games are getting exposed to casual games by their parents. They will play games like Mahjong, Fairway Solitaire, Mystery Case Files (pictured above) and Drawn. When we invest, we do it in recognition of these trends.
VB: If you look at a game like Drawn (pictured right) on the PC and on mobile, what do you notice that is different about the user?
JL: We always focus on doing the highest quality games. We are creating a premium brand. It is very important for us to do games that are native for a given platform. They must be designed for the device. Not all strong branded games lend themselves to every device. So we curate our catalog and work with the best independent developers to bring new content to the market. We think very carefully about what works in a way that will delight the user. In making games for the iPad, we will do something like take advantage of its ability to be a great multiplayer device.
VB: Trip Hawkins (chief executive at Digital Chocolate) talked about the downside of mobile in a rant session. There are 350,000 apps on the iPhone, and they’ve generated $2 billion in revenues. That means the average revenue for an app is $5,000 or so. When you look at it that way, the iPhone is a horrible market.
JL: What did he recommend as a solution?
VB: He didn’t get that far.
JL: I can’t speak directly to what he said, Dean, but what I will tell you is that, ultimately quality prevails, and ultimately discovery is solved by consumers who are increasingly sophisticated across each of these platforms and ultimately determined to find what they love and vote with their wallets. That’s been our experience on the PC, and that’s been our experience on the Mac. That’s been our experience on mobile so far and in every geography where we operate. In the next 24 hours, users will download roughly two million games.
VB: So you are happy to live with the market forces on mobile?
JL: Oh yeah. Each of these innovations and new platforms and new channels are catalysts for growth.
VB: How are you doing at recruiting developers in the context of all this transformation, change or disruption going on?
JL: Well, just as consumers are smart, so too are developers. We as a company have our roots in development from the very first year of our existence. So we continue to run a studio. We have more than 100 people in our development studio now, and we have a lot of independent developers. They work with publishers who over the course of time honor their work and treat them well.
VB: A lot of the traditional console game companies are shifting from physical sales to digital platforms now. That’s a lot of new competition.
JL: I think that is the case across any industry, not just this one. But I think companies need to honest with themselves and determine whether they have the ability to make these changes, given their intrinsic skills. Can they execute on a big transition? We are very analytical and very thoughtful about how we invest our capital and how we invest our time. Because we are both a large developer and because we are a large distributor, we have a lot of creativity and lot of analytics.
We are able to leverage that creativity and the analytics so we get a daily awareness of consumer preferences. We have direct-to-consumer relationships and a high velocity of game launches. We take our insight and share it with developers so they can design the right games for the market. Before we release a game, we can determine the likely long-term revenues of that game with a low error margin.（source:venturebeat）