“ngmoco” (with a lower case n) stands for “Next Generation Mobile Company,” and that smiley emoticon is officially connected to the company’s name. The unusual brand moniker is just part of the mystique of ngmoco:), which makes games only for the iPhone, iPod and iPad. For the most part, the games are free. ngmoco:) generates its revenues primarily on virtual goods and services that live within the gaming applications.
If you think this revenue model doesn’t work, there are some venture capitalists who think otherwise: They have poured $40 million into this young firm founded by four renegades who previously worked for gaming giant Electronic Arts: Neil Young, Alan Yu, Bob Stevenson, and Joe Keen. Young, who previously ran EA’s Los Angeles studio, now heads ngmoco:).
On the company’s blog, co-founder Alan Yu says while they learned a lot at EA, “The market moves so fast that we felt we needed entrepreneurial focus – and it was a risk, a risk we were willing to take… you can move faster when you are independent.”
The company was incorporated in August 2008 and released eight games in the first seven months. They included a mix of free and paid-for applications.
In less than two years, ngmoco:) has produced such blockbusters as Godfinger, Rolando, Topple, We Rule, and Word Fu. Typically, these games are free, but they use some sort of currency that gamers must pay for. In Godfinger, for example, gamers need to purchase “awe,” a currency that enables certain godly powers.
The video games are usually built around remarkable virtual reality worlds designed to immerse gamers in inescapable fantasylands. Bryan Schell, writing for Macworld on Bloomberg Businessweek, calls We Rule “a real-time simulation game that allows you to build virtual kingdoms complete with farmland, villages, moats and an inter-kingdom economy.”
What’s different about the games ngmoco:) develops, says Alan Yu, is the “very powerful analytics package” inside all of them. “Our platform talks back to us,” says Yu, “gives us a relationship with the consumer and means we can live tune the software seamlessly for the user without an update. That stuff is invisible to the user. Our system also includes in-game ads which we don’t sell – we just use to cross-promote our games – plus an achievement system, friends list, social referrals, push notifications, asynchronous multiplayer, live multiplayer and in-game currency.”
It’s one thing to play these games alone, but quite another to enhance the experience through the use of social interaction. That’s why ngmoco:) launched Plus+, which it touts as “the premium social play network” for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Plus+ allows gamers to challenge their friends to beat high scores, win points, and compare themselves to other gamers from around the world. Bryan Schell says “The social gaming component of We Rule is also pretty cool, albeit simple. Friends can be found through the Plus+ network… Extra points come from inviting other players through Facebook and Twitter.”
Plus+ is also being opened up to developers, making it possible for them to incorporate social play into their games for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The reason is simple. Co-founder Bob Stevenson tells Fast Company magazine (March 2010), “We’re building a platform, almost like Xbox Live.” The real motivation is for Plus+ to become a gaming platform with more and more free games that include more and more paid-for virtual goodies.
Alan Yu says the company is essentially a game publisher, but in the broadest sense. “We do a range of things. We have no internal development, but there are concepts we come up with internally… which we then find developers externally to move into production under our direction. Then there are games we publish and go and acquire… We also do marketing and other platform development stuff in the form of our Plus+ platform.”
Happily, Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 4 is welcome news for ngmoco:). And the recent launch of the iPad further expands the company’s potential. According to CNET’s blogger Daniel Terdiman, writing just after the introduction of the iPhone 4:
“One of the clear winners to emerge from Steve Jobs’ formal unveiling of the iPhone 4 Monday was the game development community. With major new features like a gyroscope, a better screen, a better antenna and a better camera, developers have a slew of new tools to use in making their games. Yet at the same time, the release of the iPad has also opened up what amounts to a major new platform for games.”
Given the user base for the iPhone and iPod, and the growing popularity of the iPad, one thing seems certain: ngmoco:) will continue to be a big player.