Today marks the end of an era or sorts, as ngmoco co-founders Neil Young and Bob Stevenson have stepped down according to parent company DeNA and reported by MCV. Head of studios and former EA veteran Clive Downie will take on the role as new CEO while Young will remain on the DeNA board of directors.

It seems like only yesterday that developer ngmoco was ushering in a new era of smartphone gaming with releases like Rolando [$0.99] and Star Defense [$0.99 / Free]. Even their less ambitious titles like MazeFinger [Free] and Topple [Free] were incredibly fun and displayed the kind of high production values that were missing from many games in the first year or so of the App Store's existence. Heck, Dropship [Free / Free] practically invented dual-stick controls on iOS. It almost seemed like ngmoco couldn't release a bad game.

Then, almost 3 years ago to the day, Eliminate Pro was released. It was a first-person shooter with some impressive – at least at the time – online multiplayer options and great touchscreen controls. I spent hours upon hours upon hours playing Eliminate when it came out, and it was some of the most fun I'd had gaming on iOS.

Aside from being the first online FPS to really "arrive" on iOS, Eliminate broke ground in another way too. It was a freemium game, and utilized an in-game energy system that affected how quickly you could earn experience. Pretty standard stuff by today's terms, but at that time this was both a controversial and brilliant tactic by ngmoco. It proved popular and profitable too, as ngmoco quickly decided to switch gears and go all-in on freemium titles, even at the expense of canceling the in-development Rolando 3.

Starting in early 2010, ngmoco churned out one freemium title after the next, each typically very similar to each other just with different themes. Despite being scoffed at by the more "hardcore" gaming crowd, these games continued to draw huge numbers of users and bring in a lot of money for ngmoco, as well as continue to grow their online social gaming platform Plus+ which was included in each of their games.

Eventually, ngmoco's success in the mobile space and huge pool of users drew interest from Japanese social gaming giant DeNA, who eventually acquired the company for $400 million back in late 2010. Since then, ngmoco hasn't had much of a presence on iOS, though they did pull the plug on Eliminate's servers earlier this year.

Similar to when the founders of Freeverse left the company that they created earlier this year, the duo of ngmoco co-founders moving on signals the end of a time in iOS gaming that helped define the fledgling platform as a major player in gaming, and then eventually helped kick off the freemium craze that we're currently experiencing – all in the span of just a few short years.

[MCV via Polygon]

  • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

    I think they'll be ok...$400 million should keep a roof over their heads for the time being.

  • Greyskull

    They were also the first company that I can recall to nerf an app post release...specifically, when Topple, Mazefinger, and some other games they developed went Plus only.

  • o0oJAKEo0o

    Good riddance! I can't stand freemium games. They started the down fall of iOS gaming. Here's to the chance that we can regain admission into a game that we already paid for. As opposed to Neil Young and the other guy's way of slowly sucking every cent out of their customers, just to be able to compete. Thanks for nothing NgMoco!

    • bigrand1

      YEAH, BUDDY!! You got THAT right, and I agree with you wholeheartedly! Absolutely nothing to add to your post. You said it simply and eloquently!

    • http://twitter.com/warm_concrete Octopus Erectus

      Cannot agree more!

    • Martin von Randow

      Agreed again, we ALL said at the time that freemium was the end of all things; it is nice to have a little vindication.

  • o0oJAKEo0o

    Good riddance!

  • ImJPaul

    Wow. I can't even believe that ngmoco was even worth $400 million. That's ridiculous and makes me want to go into iOS development right away.

  • Jerutix

    I still mourn the loss of Rolando 3. There is still nothing else like those two games.

  • http://twitter.com/TomateDiseno Tomate Diseño

    I've been looking forward to a Star Defence follow up for some time… guess that's out the window. On a different note I can't and will never understand the repeat pattern of:

    Small company does well > Larger company buys it > Doesn't know what to do with new asset > Newly rich owners leave after contracted time is up > company collapses leaving X unemployed > Parent company loses investment.

    And not just in recent gaming news, this has happened TWICE in my personal employment history. I thought the people making these types of decisions would have some clue as to running a successful business.

    • Tranceaholic

      If I were to ever start my own video game company, I would NEVER sell out to a larger company, NO MATTER how much money they dangle in front of me - The end result usually ISN'T WORTH IT!

  • http://profiles.google.com/fleshman1992 Laszlo Tuss

    They were my favorite dev team, then they went to freemium only and crushed anything i like about them. Disgusting

    • Tranceaholic

      Ngmoco:(

  • vic_viper_001

    So long dudes, thanks for turning the app-store into a freemium IAP ridden nightmare.

  • CrispyCreamed

    I will always have a place in my heart for Eliminate Pro! I ❤ Eliminate.

  • Tranceaholic

    Doesn't seem like only yesterday to me...A lot of great games from other, MUCH BETTER companies have come out since then...

  • WoeOfAftermath

    Ngmoco started out as a fantastic developer. I had all of their paid games and loved all of them. Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs were originally developed to be paid games but, shortly before their release, Apple enabled IAPs. Ngmoco decided they wanted to be pioneers in this space and I respect them for their decision to try out a new monetization model. In fact I was happy about it at first because I was able to play and enjoy Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs without ever spending a cent. I felt the IAPs in those games were truly optional and didn't get in the way of the fun.

    Then games like We Rule came along and were clearly designed to make money. Again, I had no problem with that because developers should be rewarded for their hard work. The problem was that these new games weren't any fun! I don't blame Ngmoco for experimenting with IAPs and I don't think they caused the current state of the app store. If they hadn't done it first, plenty of others would have done the same thing.

    Personally I don't mind freemium games when the main design decisions are based on what will make the game fun. NimbleBit is a great example of a company that makes fun freemium games that can be enjoyed without ever spending a dime. I, however, chose to make purchases in several of their games to support them, and enhance my enjoyment of their games.

    In the end, it's up to us as consumers to vote with our wallets. If people are going to continue dumping money into freemium games, they'll keep getting made. But if you spend your money on premium games, those will keep getting made too. Personally I think we have a fantastic number of choices in the App Store, and most of those choices are priced ridiculously low. Don't be afraid to drop five bucks or more on a high quality game instead of waiting for the "inevitable sale." That's the only way we'll keep seeing big budget releases on the App Store.

  • WoeOfAftermath

    Ngmoco started out as a fantastic developer. I had all of their paid games and loved all of them. Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs were originally developed to be paid games but, shortly before their release, Apple enabled IAPs. Ngmoco decided they wanted to be pioneers in this space and I respect them for their decision to try out a new monetization model. In fact I was happy about it at first because I was able to play and enjoy Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs without ever spending a cent. I felt the IAPs in those games were truly optional and didn't get in the way of the fun.

    Then games like We Rule came along and were clearly designed to make money. Again, I had no problem with that because developers should be rewarded for their hard work. The problem was that these new games weren't any fun! I don't blame Ngmoco for experimenting with IAPs and I don't think they caused the current state of the app store. If they hadn't done it first, plenty of others would have done the same thing.

    Personally I don't mind freemium games when the main design decisions are based on what will make the game fun. NimbleBit is a great example of a company that makes fun freemium games that can be enjoyed without ever spending a dime. I, however, chose to make purchases in several of their games to support them, and enhance my enjoyment of their games.

    In the end, it's up to us as consumers to vote with our wallets. If people are going to continue dumping money into freemium games, they'll keep getting made. But if you spend your money on premium games, those will keep getting made too. Personally I think we have a fantastic number of choices in the App Store, and most of those choices are priced ridiculously low. Don't be afraid to drop five bucks or more on a high quality game instead of waiting for the "inevitable sale." That's the only way we'll keep seeing big budget releases on the App Store.

  • http://blakespot.com/ blakespot

    Dropship is still one of my favorite games of all time -- for any platform.