I was able to stop by Gameloft's San Francisco offices while at the conference, and chatted with them about some of their recent releases as well as some of the backlash they've received over them. First was the issue of how they put advertisements into Hero of Sparta II [$4.99], and after an overwhelming amount of negative feedback they decided to take them out. I think it's good when a company goes out on a limb to try something, and then can admit they were wrong about it and make things right in the end.
Next we discussed the reception to Dungeon Hunter 3 [Free], which was pretty mixed. The game itself was actually pretty good, but so drastically different from the previous two entries that I think it alienated the established fan base of the series. Had they positioned it as a spinoff rather than a direct sequel, I think the outcome would have been a lot more favorable. Plus, it's a freemium title, which is the type of thing that will always draw criticism from some folks.
Finally, we talked about their recent release Urban Crime [Free], which was essentially a repackaging of an older Gangstar title into a freemium model. The game has not gone over well with either critics or players, and we didn't have too many good things to say about it in our review either. The combination of outdated visuals, a rehashed game world that many people had already played to death, and tough freemium restrictions was just a recipe for disaster with Urban Crime.
(Left to right: Hero of Sparta II, Dungeon Hunter 3, and Urban Crime)
So what do these three games all have in common? Well, they're all examples of Gameloft trying to find out the best way to sell their brands in a turbulent market like the App Store. Honestly, I think putting ads in Hero of Sparta II and making an old game into a freemium game with Urban Crime were just their way of experimenting to see what works, and although neither of those really went over so well with gamers the negative feedback was actually invaluable to Gameloft moving forward. And as for Dungeon Hunter 3, I think they made a good game but just didn't position it right, which is another lesson learned the hard way.
What I did take away from our meeting is that Gameloft is not going completely freemium with their games from here on out, as some people have been quick to conclude. Part of these experiments is finding the best way to go about selling their future titles, and with nearly all of their development cycles lasting from 10-14 months, it can be hard to keep up with a market that moves as quickly as the App Store. But they assured me that they do have a mixture of the types of premium games that they've built their iOS reputation on still coming down the line, as well as titles that take advantage of the freemium model, which seems to be the prevalent model in the App Store as of late.
To wrap up our meeting, they let me get some hands-on time with their upcoming Unreal Engine title, which is still extremely early in development and doesn't even have a title just yet. I'm sworn to secrecy on most of the nitty gritty details for now, but let me say that I was really impressed with how good the game is shaping up to be, and of course it looks absolutely gorgeous with the Unreal tech under the hood. About all I can say is that it's a fully 3D real-time action game that will have a full storyline to play through. It will be a paid game, but will have some in-app purchase items. Finally, we should be seeing the game in the second quarter of this year, which should be by this summer.
I'm really hoping to be able to share more on the upcoming Unreal game as it gets closer to release, and after meeting with the representatives of Gameloft in person, it's easy to see that they're a passionate bunch who care a lot about putting out products that their customers will enjoy. Their recent missteps really seem like a part of a larger learning experience in a marketplace where traditional rules are pretty much thrown out the window. I'll look forward to seeing how Gameloft adapts and grows on the App Store this year, and if they're able to unlock the key to a happy medium between being profitable and keeping their huge stable of fans happy.