Attack of the Fanboy

Take-Two vs. John Riccitiello on mobile

by William Schwartz


The mobile game industry is huge. In fact, some people project that it will bring in more revenue than handheld game sales. However, it has also been one that some people have complained of being artificially limiting to the point where it’s just a thinly-veiled Skinner’s Box. Others have complained that there hasn’t been much innovation, with games just treading on old ideas and hoping one sticks for a brief period. Yet John Riccitiello, ex-CEO of Electronic Arts, and Take-Two have very different ideas on how to improve the mobile landscape.


John Riccitiello

According to John Riccitiello, the most common thing he heard when working with mobile game developers was: “We’re going to bring console-quality to mobile. That will differentiate us from everyone else.” According to Riccitiello, “I think that’s a mistake. Investing in better graphics without figuring out what differentiating gameplay you’re going to have — without thinking of how gameplay rewards players — is a road to ruin. Prettier games cost more to make. Better games satisfy consumers.” Riccitiello cited strategy games in the 90’s as an example, saying that while production costs doubled or tripled, “revenue remained the same because they weren’t innovating.” He contrasted that to adventure game, which benefited extremely from moving from 2-D to 3-D, as that provided new game play opportunities that were simply not possible. Riccitiello added, “If you’re looking at more powerful CPUs and GPUs, think more about how that creates the opportunity to build an experience you’ve not seen before — a different kind of gameplay. What gameplay wasn’t possible before that can be fundamentally optimized?” Riccitiello’s final point was that mobile game companies, with a few exceptions, are generally one-hit wonders or flashes in the pan. Very rarely do you see said companies have more than one app in the Top 50 at any given time, and very rarely do you see any app in the top 50 for more than a month.

Incremental innovation isn’t going to cut it anymore on mobile

That, combined with most mobile developers’ inability to create a follow-up that matched their original hit, has led to stagnation, according to Riccitiello. “You can either hope to be lucky twice, or you can figure out an answer that I think is vitally important for the health of the mobile business. Developers need to build brands. Games that don’t build a brand will not be around in a decade. WillClash of Clans be with us in 25 years? Madden turns 25 this year. Will Candy Crush be around next year and still be doing a few million a day? Incremental innovation isn’t going to cut it anymore on mobile. The next hits are going to come from fundamental innovation.”



This stands in stark constrast to Take-Two, which plans to release “console-quality games and console-level pricing” on tablets soon. According to Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, “The tablets still aren’t powerful enough to run our console titles in their full experiences in the way [developers] want. But we think that’s just a moment in time. I have every reason to believe that a tablet will be a great game platform, and we’ll be right there. I do think we’re a couple of years away.” When asked how he planned to price these “console-quality games”, Zelnick said, “There really is no reason why — if you deliver a great experience on tablet — we should be price-limited.” However, he also acknowledged that Take-Two would listen to customer input if they “push[ed] back on the individual bite size price of a price because it’s on a tablet, [console-level pricing] wouldn’t make very much sense.” If that were to happen, “We could work within those parameters as well by altering and tailoring our product offering,” Zelnick replied. However, Zelnick is confident gamers on tablets will be willing to pay for a full-fledged experience, citing the impressive sales of XCOM: Enemy Unknown on iOS despite it having a $19.99 price-tag. This has Zelnick confident that “”gamers are willing to pay a premium price for a premium experience.”


So what are your views on mobile? Is Take-Two right? Is John Riccitiello right? Or are both of them right?

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