UK-based social giant begins to break away from Facebook exclusivity in new mobile push
EA subsidiary studio Playfish is recruiting for its Montreal-based mobile team, and intends to debut titles this year.
The UK-based firm is preparing to move back into mobile, hiring a team in Montreal to develop smartphone versions of some of its popular Facebook games.
"There is something happening in the market that means we have to get our games on mobile," says Kim Daniel Arthur, who was VP of global studios at Playfish, but has now shifted to a role as General Manager Mobile at the publisher, which is now owned by Electronic Arts.
Playfish dipped its toes in mobile back in May 2009 with the iPhone release of Who Has The Biggest Brain?, but has since concentrated on games for Facebook and other web social networks.
"The first experiments we did were testing out the market," Arthur told Mobile Entertainment.
"The App Store wasn't enabled for the freemium business model back then, but over time, it and other platforms are more mature and ready for running games-as-a-service, and also freemium."
Playfish is building its new mobile team in Montreal, and hopes it will take advantage of the publisher's expertise in social gaming, while also drawing on the experience of EA Mobile for porting and distribution. "We definitely want to get mobile product out this year," say Arthur.
Playfish plans to experiment to see what kinds of mobile games work best based on its Facebook hits, rather than just porting them all over. We're going to try different levels of integration with the Facebook franchises," he says.
"There is maybe room for an experience that is fully integrated. On the other hand, the mobile device has different access patterns and behaviour, so we will also make more tailored-for-mobile experiences that still have relevance to the existing franchises.
Actually, Playfish quietly tried this in November last year, by launching a mobile web app for its My Empire game, in which players could collect taxes and manage resources from their phones, although not actually play the full game itself.
"Without any major push there was really high engagement there," says Arthur.
"There is strong interest in people who are using Facebook games to go mobile."
The rise of Facebook Connect has been an important factor in Playfish's return to the mobile market, but Arthur also says there are now more social channels to help people find content for their smartphones.
He also stresses that Playfish is not just focusing on iOS devices. "We are not just going after one platform," he says. "This has to go across all the platforms." That ambition will be helped by the fact that Playfish's freemium model will soon be supported by in-app payments on Android, Blackberry and Nokia's Ovi Store, as well as iOS.
Playfish's founding team was largely made up of execs and staff from Glu Mobile, including Arthur. He thus has an interesting mix of insider and outsider's perspective on how the mobile gaming market has changed in the last five years.
"The social world is becoming more like the mobile world - a more catalogue-like environment with the brands getting involved - and mobile is becoming more like the social world, with more social distribution and new business models," he says. "It's really exciting."