Game Theory: Q&A with Lou Fasulo, SVP of Z2Live

Nov 11, 2010
Games

Location: Seattle, WA Notable apps: Trade Nations, Cookie Bonus Solitaire Platforms: iOS Specialty genres: social gaming in strategy, sim and action Company size: 14 Short description of company: Z2Live is a mobile game publisher focused exclusively on built-for mobile game experiences and with deep social integration. How did you and your firm get into the iPhone game […]

Location: Seattle, WA

Notable apps: Trade Nations, Cookie Bonus Solitaire

Platforms: iOS

Specialty genres: social gaming in strategy, sim and action

Company size: 14

Short description of company: Z2Live is a mobile game publisher focused exclusively on built-for mobile game experiences and with deep social integration.

How did you and your firm get into the iPhone game development business?

Z2Live was founded by Damon Danieli and funded by Seattle-based Madrona Ventures. Damon was formerly a lead on Microsoft’s XBox Live team, and he had a compelling vision for creating technology that would allow for an avalanche of creativity in real time multiplayer gaming.  We knew it was a really great idea when Apple announced Game Center!  While some notable companies suggested Game Center was the best possible outcome for their businesses, we determined that pivoting to a new model made sense for our team.  Thus, we started down the path of exploring pur own spin on game publishing, given our deep technical roots.

In your opinion, how has the iPhone and Apple’s iTunes App Store changed the gaming industry?

I managed the mobile gaming business at Cingular Wireless, now AT&T, from it’s earliest days in 2003 through 2005. Our business grew to $100M in those few crazy years and we had to deal with some of the same ecosystem issues that now define the Android space: no hardware standards, different levels of Java support for key device functionality, (like sound, networking and graphics) and processors that ranged from bare bones to 3D-capable. In addition, while we had an ecosystem that did not support content discovery, we had very easy billing.

By providing a single, high-quality hardware offering, and a robust suite of APIs, the iPhone has a boon to the games Industry.  By skirting the carrier ‘walled garden” approach, iTunes App Store’s relatively open developer program has created a new class of indie developers who bring fresh new ideas to the table. Original IP in mobile gaming is now commonplace, where it was incredibly rare in recent history.  However, the most significant contribution Apple has made to gaming industry is in marketing.  First, they created devices truly worth lusting after, with Apple’s famously clean and elegant aesthetics built into every aspect of the user experience.  Then, they taught an entire generation how to find, purchase, download and use digital content across games, movies and music.  Shifting consumer behavior is no small feat.  Now that Apple has empowered innovation and created a desirable and sizable audience for the iOS developer community, there’s probably “an app for that”. I think the importance of user interface design and enabling innovation throughout the ecosystem is lost on a lot of consumer electronics companies. As a result, I believe Apple will become the most important distribution channel for the games industry within the next few years.

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Describe the differences between developing games for the iPhone and the iPad.

A lot of developers approach bringing their games to the iPad like its a simple porting exercise: increase the resolution, increase the size of UI components, submit.  I think that misses the point and the price of intellectual laziness can be steep.  The most important difference between these devices is not screen size or processor power, but in how consumers use the devices.  When you decide to take an iPhone game to the iPad, you need to take the opportunity to take a step back and consider how the game features fit new use cases, in addition to the new form factor.  For example, when I’m playing games on the iPad, I’m likely sitting down and giving the device my full attention and engaging in a longer play session.  iPhone game sessions are shorter, more frequent and prone to a bit of ADHD – playing at lunch, in line at the bank, or other very short periods of time during the day.  As the iPad gains in market share, I think you’ll see more and more games designed specifically for these play patterns and then brought to iPhone second, rather than the other way around.

What factors go into how you ultimately price your games?

We’re focused on free-to-play, so our pricing strategy is centers on removing barriers for players to use our games, making in-app purchase decisions straightforward and providing clear choices for game play. I think its important to make sure that gamers feel that prices are fair and that there are no ambushes of a big price tag after creating the illusion of free-to-play.  We want as many people as possible to enjoy playing Trade Nations because that adds value for all players in the form of trading partners.  A vibrant community helps us shape the direction of future features and new content.

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Describe what your dream game for the iPhone would look like.

When we started building Trade Nations earlier this year, I was very surprised at how few of the city-builder sims live on iTunes actually created an experience that made me care.  Our team felt like there was an amazing window of opportunity opening up for innovation where iPhone games begin to become more like MMO’s. The opportunity to really engage in a community in the midst of a creative activity – in effect creating brand new venues for freedom of expression – that’s something our team is incredibly passionate about.  We’re on the way there with Trade Nations and the next few updates will really show what our team and our players think the dream game looks like.

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