God is a Geek Meets Team Chillingo
On a freezing (yet very combustible) day in central London, God is a Geek had the chance to meet Chris Byatte, Joe Wee, Carmen Pearson and Dan Tausney – the team behind App store mega-producers Chillingo. With the students rioting in the streets and scaring our poor royal family, we took to the much warmer, safer confines of the Regent Street Apple Store to talk Crystal, EA and the future of OmNom.
Read on for the full interview.
GodiasGeek: Thanks very much for meeting with us.
Carmen Pearson: Of course.
GodiasGeek: First up, can you go through with me exactly what Chillingo does? There is a common misconception that Chillingo is an iPhone developer but I don’t think that is the case.
Chris Byatte: We don’t develop games, per se, but we have a social gaming platform, called Crystal which we develop. We have an internal team who does that. We publish on behalf of third parties and other developers and these could be based anywhere in the world. So what we do is we polish their games, we market their games, we have a PR team here who do lots of PR, and try and push games to number one [in the chart]. That’s our remit. We’ve been doing that for two years, we have had numerous hits: Zen Bound, iDracula, Stick Fu. Two recent ones are Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. Again, we are always looking for more content, trying to take that to number one.
Joe Wee: Our expertise is in identifying and cultivating ideas. From independent developers that span the globe, really. And, basically, publishing these innovative games on the iOS platform and mobile platforms in general.
GodiasGeek: That was one of my big questions; Apple have said that anyone can have an app, anyone can make an app, anyone can put an App on the iTunes store. In that sense, what is the difference in being a publisher on the iTunes store as opposed to being like Activision; primarily a box retailer? What do you guys offer to developers?
Chris Byatte: We have our brand recognition and we have our reputation for premium quality games on the App Store, as Chillingo. Of course, with EA’s backing, there is even more kudos, so to speak, from two very high quality brands. We have the production and polishing process, as I’ve mentioned before, refining games and making them better. We often find that it’s the final mile of polishing that’s the most painful but it turns a good game into an excellent game. We polish all of our games, we’re perfectionists. We have Crystal, which has millions of eyeballs and if we put a game into Crystal we can have huge instant awareness to millions of people. So we bring a lot to the table and also everything EA brings as well.
GodiasGeek: How have things changed for you since you became involved with EA? Has your perception in the industry changed, is anything different?
Joe Wee: The short answer to that is that we remain an independent entity, basically. The actual position is actually a great fit for us. Chillingo brings with us our expertise at identifying and cultivating all these ideas, great games, and marry that with EA’s publishing reach and power, globally, and that’s actually a very formidable force to allow us to continue to support third party developers to bring out great games.
GodiasGeek: Have you found that more developers have come to you since the partnership with EA? Has it changed the way developers approach you? In the 90’s it was very much “big bad EA”, wasn’t it? That has obviously changed in the last few years, but has it impacted how people approach you at all, for better or worse?
Joe Wee: Our chart topping titles have become very synonymous with the Apple App store, so from that point of view, we’ve always had a gravitational pull amongst indie developers and definitely in terms of this acquisition I think we are actually benefiting from all of of EA’s skills and reach in this business. In short, I think it has increased.
Chris Byatte: It is actually more than ever. The number of inquires, the interest in the company, people want to be associated with success.
Joe Wee: Yeah, the great thing about is acquisition is that, you know, we continue to be independent we continue to run our own product management, sales, PR, marketing department to allow for 100% focus on all the projects that we have.
GodiasGeek: It certainly is interesting. There certainly is a perception, particularly online, that there is a particular nobility in independence. Were you worried at all, when the partnership with EA was discussed, over how you would be perceived?
Chris Byatte: It’s a very good point. We are really protective over the Chillingo name and the reputation that we have. We have personal relationships, we know these developers as friends. We have a huge number of developers that we are very protective about and we don’t want it spoiling. EA are perfectly happy that we continue, as is, with our own direction.
GodiasGeek: On the subject of the developers, do you have anything in the pipeline? Any new developers who’ve come in with anything that you’re really pleased with. Obviously, Cut the Rope, over 3 million sales now…
Joe Wee: That was announced three weeks ago.
Chris Byatte: Yes, easily above that number now.
GodiasGeek:Yeah, not to kiss arse, but I was playing it on the way in today. So what else is coming up?
Joe Wee: We have an outstanding holiday line-up that Dan and Carmen will share with you in a bit, including Cut the Rope: Holiday Gift Edition, that will be totally free, twenty-five levels, a new physics momentum feature, you’ll love it.
GodiasGeek:Excellent. Is it an add in to the existing Cut the Rope or a separate App?
Joe Wee: It’s a separate App which is totally free. And we have…did you meet Bear Grylls? Did you see him?
GodiasGeek: I saw him in passing, but he was too quick for me!
Joe Wee: We are publishing “Bear Grylls: the Bear Essentials”, a lifestyle application which integrates Crystal. You know, you basically, you learn to tie knots, you to survive in the wild, basically everything you need to know…
GodiasGeek: Cub Scouting for your iPhone?
Joe Wee: Absolutely!
Chris Byatte: You got it!
Joe Wee: We also have hardcore titles like “The Witcher” which is an MMO that I can play with a PC as well. Sky Combat, a top down shooter. We also have quite a few more titles that we are not ready to announce but that we are very very excited about.
GodiasGeek: You have mentioned Crystal a few times. A big part of Crystal is the achievements. How has Game Center affected Crystal and your games and your strategies?
Chris Byatte: It’s actually just complimented Crystal. There are actually features inside Crystal that aren’t inside Game Center. Our games are plugged into Game Center as well as Crystal…
Joe Wee: We have supported it from day one.
Chris Byatte: And worked closely with Apple.
Joe Wee: And essentially it is what our users want. We very diligently listen to our users and we listen to our developers and it’s a partnership, a team effort, to put features into games the that users want and want to use. That’s effectively what we do.
GodiasGeek: It must have been a challenge, as so many features do overlap?
Chris Byatte: Actually, sometime in January, I can’t really tell you right now, but there are a whole swathe of extra features coming in Crystal V2, that’s what we are calling it, but I can’t tell you what it is just yet.
GodiasGeek: Brilliant. What is new from Zeptolab (the developer of Cut the Rope) and Rovio (developer of Angry birds)?
Chris Byatte: Well, we have got Angry Birds coming out on the Sony Minis platform, which is exciting. It’s a fantastic port so look out for that. We have other projects but, again, we can’t announce those just yet.
GodiasGeek: Any further plans to put software out on the Xbox LIVE Aracde or other platforms?
Chris Byatte: We have our eyes in the future on the horizon and, if we think a game is a good fit, we will move it that way.
Joe Wee: It’s a great benefit of this marriage with EA right now, because EA is world leading in the packaged goods space. We can basically leverage EA’s these skills and relationships for our own titles as well so it will only benefit the games that we publish and the third party developers that we work with.
GodiasGeek: It all makes sense.
Joe Wee: It’s about expanding reach.
GodiasGeek: OK, last question. The only iPhone game my girlfriend has ever played is Cut the Rope because she loves the character of OmNom. Are there any plans to bring out an OmNom soft toy? What about a Pez dispenser? Once you have a character synonymous with a platform it feels like an opportunity to back that up with some merchandise.
Chris Byatte: All I can say is watch this space. They are some interesting ideas.
Dan Tausney: I’m not sure how OmNom would feel about giving out candy!
Chris Byatte: It is a great character.
GodiasGeek: Once you have a character like that it is so valuable. Tomb Raider, for example, still exists because of Lara Croft. It is interesting to find out what your plans are for that character?
Chris Byatte: We will let you know as soon as soon as there is anything to announce.
GodiasGeek: As I say, the girlfriend would be getting a cuddly OmNom for Christmas if they were available.
GodiasGeek: Thanks for your time guys.
Keep an eye on God is a Geek later in the week as we give you some impressions and trailers of Chillingo’s upcoming titles.