We've been covering the existence of ngmoco since the very beginning in mid-2008, back before they dropped the extra colon from their logo even. A month later, we were on top of their initial round of funding, and with the launch of nglabs and other amazing future promises, quite a few people (myself included) thought ngmoco was going to become the unquestionable king of iOS game development.

It's been a long four years since then, and while we once knew ngmoco for releasing absolutely classic must-have games like Rolando [99¢], Rolando 2 [99¢], and Star Defense [99¢], they switched gears to championing the free to play game market in a major way in late 2009. We were blown away when it was announced that Eliminate [Free] was going to be free, and We Rule [Free] was equally popular around here as ngmoco made a splash on the App Store with one of the first available free to play Farmville-like building games.

Since that original free to play explosion in 2009, Ngmoco hasn't done very much to interest our community. They've seemingly stopped both publishing and releasing games, with the last major release that made much of a splash around here being Godfinger [Free], another free to play building game which hit the App Store in late 2010. Even more confusing is what in the world ngmoco has been doing with Freeverse, the beloved former Mac developer, since they were acquired.

With Freeverse onboard, ngmoco's proverbial financial katamari was large enough to lure Asian gaming giant DeNA into acquiring ngmoco for $400m, and since then it seems they've fallen even further off the map. Not even people familiar with the situation have been able to explain to me what ngmoco has been up to in the last two years aside from pushing hard into the Android world with questionable success utilizing their cross-platform game engine Mobage (which is pronounced MOH-bah-GAY, if you were curious).

Throughout all of this, it seems that ngmoco has been hiring all sorts of people, and still are, if their positions page is any indication. Sadly, TechCrunch is reporting layoffs at the former iOS gaming giant:

Ngmoco recently had a round of layoffs — maybe somewhere above 30 people, according to one source. The number isn’t huge, but among the departed are senior leaders including a director of platform tech and the chief marketing officer, this person tells me. One game has apparently been shut down, while another has been pared down, with some engineers remaining to see it to launch.

Ngmoco CEO Neil Young was quick to respond, making it sound as if they layoffs are a result of Ngmoco and DeNA merging, eliminating any duplicate positions leftover from the restructuring process:

“Armed with the insights we’ve gained from both the Western and Japanese markets and after completing the integration of a series of key acquisitions, we’ve organized our global operations to best support and deliver on our mission to build the leading Global Social Mobile Game Platform company.”

To add another interesting wrinkle to the potential fate of Ngmoco, Inside Mobile Apps is reporting that Ngmoco has missed their first earnout date, putting a large portion of that $400m acquisition amount in jeopardy if ngmoco (assuming this report is true) has been unable to meet the agreed upon performance milestones.

It's hard to say what this all means for the future of ngmoco, but as a fan of all of ngmoco's pre-freemium titles, it really saddens me to look on what the company used to be (and the promise they represented to iOS games) and what they are today. The weird thing about all this to me is that ngmoco championed the free to play model, then sort of just disappeared to build mobage while other developers went on to become overnight millionaires utilizing it.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see what, if anything, they do next.

  • Anonymous

    I have fond memories of eliminate, the periodic limited weapon releases, it was genuinely fun, and both rolandos are still installed.

    Pity that whatever it is they're doing it is seemingly all backend stuff.

    And I can't believe that Freeverse didn't have anything in the pipeline for release when they were acquired. Unless they really didn't, and the acquisition was a big grift! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/CaponeTalks CaponeTalks

    Well, I really enjoyed Rolando, Rolando 2 (Hand Circus FTW) and Touch Pets Dogs. I once hoped ngmoco would be one of the most creative and successful iOS publishers for the years to come, but unfortunately I was wrong...

  • Danilo Yasuno

    This story is very "strange".

  • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

    I remember Ngmoco talking about how Rolando 2 really underperformed. Ultimately I think it's just a miscalculation of growth potential and audience retention. Honestly, the iOS market is so vast and huge I don't think that most companies understand or respect the audience enough yet. Even if your dealing with a huge "casual" audience they develop skills like anyone else and already likely have a developed taste in story, art, and music, all important components of a game.

    • Anonymous

      I don't think developers do themselves any favors when they release a sequel six months after the first game. Even if you have a lot of great ideas for improving your game, people crave variety. You're better off keeping those ideas on a shelf for a couple years until people have an appetite for fresh Rolando.

    • Anonymous

      I agree John, just look at Angry Birds. Clearly iOS users are more than happy to drop coin on a game they like. I can't explain why Rolando 2 didn't perform as well as they had expected it to. Maybe they just didn't give it enough time or maybe it just wasn't that good. I know I loved it and was willing to grab the next version that came out.

      I even liked We Rule for a bit. However, they just kept adding more and more content, not allowing us users to keep up without paying real dollars for that content. That's when I stopped.

      I still play Rolando and Rolando 2 (I haven't finished either yet) :)

      • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

        I think most iOS games don't have complexity or nuance that people want. Plus, Rolando, kind of like our game, is more or less tied to a portable device to accomadate it's novel control scheme. I think publishers have to invest more in either doing ideas that are new but consistent with a brand or creating games with a big enough universe to get people invested in that aspect. Both of those options require a decent ammount of money and therefore end up generating low-risk copycat games like sim-town-farmville or a console copy.

  • Anonymous

     psssst.... word on the block is people had nothing to do.... games had been finished and just put on hold or not released....

  • Adams Immersive

    That’s too bad. Especially about Freeverse! I hope they emerge again! I’ve really liked a lot of Freeverse games on Mac and iOS alike! (Hordes of Orcs is what got me to finally try tower defense, which is now my addiction.)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GACJWUNRWLHZTRDNIVFDZYGL74 Reason Able

    They also stopped doing updates and adding content to a lot of their games. And the We Rule content has gone downhill. They never give mojo for downloading apps anymore. I hope this company can turn things around because they make such great games. They seem to be crashing and burning since they were bought a while ago.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CGU5FWGAVZ3LYWRMMED6ORBFPI Bobba Jo

       That (stopping free mojo for downloads) wasn't their fault. That part was due to new Apple rules. :(

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I lost interest in them since they moved to the free-to-play model.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CGU5FWGAVZ3LYWRMMED6ORBFPI Bobba Jo

    I liked the original free-to-play model of We Rule. Didn't mind spending the occasional buck on it. But they got greedy and made their dumb gift cart permanent. I quit cold turkey and haven't looked back at anything they do.

    • http://twitter.com/nmz502 nmz502

      Same.

  • http://lwry.me/ Cosmo163

    Make Rolando 3 and the customers will buy it.

  • http://twitter.com/DrewReaLee Andrew Lee

    ngmoco used to be my favorite iOS app developer (them and Tapulous). They're a great story as they are really an indie company. However, I don't play any of their games anymore since they run the freemium play model. They are gameloft in the sense that they push games, update it once or twice, then leave it be. Eliminate was a really good game that I played constantly, but its very buggy on iOS 4 and 5. This is because ngmoco has stopped updating (last updated in 2009) and focus on newer games. Since their games are server based, I stopped playing We Rule as well because they can easily shut down their servers wiping user data if they don't make enough money.

  • http://www.gamersramble.com/ Retronaut42

    Godfinger definitely had me hooked for a while there, but I haven't really played anything of Ngmoco's in recent times. I'd be really interested to see another release from them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1463220059 Jason Ginsberg

    Ngmoco deserves to fail.    When they 1st started out you would be hard pressed to find an iOS device without Rolando on it and once they launched Plus+ I began buying any game they put out to earn points but also because of the level of quality they had. Eliminate was a fun game and god finger had its charm for a while but now that they have abandoned rolando 3 and distanced themselves from what made them successful they aren't ng:moco:) anymore.  They have abandoned their customers, I understand that at the time 9.99 for rolando 3 would have been a pirating nightmare but now we have many high quality games that cost just as much. They need to take their money and use it to update old games, and develop rolando 3, star defense 2 and work with apple to transfer plus+ to game center.  

    While we are on the subject, when is BigFish going to bring back Plunder!   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z2CM7RXJUPIKBA3OQMMK7AJYDQ Junior R

    Good to see these crooks going down in flames. Took our money and ran...