Gameloft CEO offers insight on iPhone game development

The mobile game industry got a shot in the arm last week with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). Game developers far and wide are clamoring to make games for the device — everything from classic arcade retreads to totally unique games designed from the ground up for the iPhone’s unique interface. Recently mobile game giant Gameloft’s president and CEO, Michel Guillemot, offered Macworld some insight about how the iPhone fits into his company’s plans going forward.

Macworld (MW): So what do you think of the iPhone SDK? Is it everything that Gameloft hoped for?

Michel Guillemot (MG): The SDK really opens the door to infinite opportunities for developers to create anything and everything they could possibly want, limited only by imagination. From the big developers with ample funds to the smaller home grown developers, Apple has really opened this up to allow anyone with a creative mind to contribute. That sort of open forum really encourages and inspires innovation, so I think you will see some really clever and fresh applications in the second half of the year.

As for the SDK itself, the features were everything we hoped it would be. The emulator allows you to debug quite easily, the performance tuning tools allow you to sharpen the game, the interface builder lets you create interfaces smoothly and the other features such as the touch screen, accelerometer and geolocalisation enables greater richness and creativity for the games.

MW: Gameloft is in a rare position as one of the few companies that creates games for the iPod — Apple hasn’t opened that platform as it has the iPhone. How will Gameloft’s experience developing iPod games come into play with iPhone development?

MG: We were one of the first mobile game companies on board with Apple for iPod games. To date, we have 6 games available for iPod. Five out of 6 which are all original home grown IPs. The games will be much richer than iPod games and even more so than the cell phones games on the market.

MW: How does the iPhone as a platform compare to the other mobile platforms for which Gameloft has developed?

MG: As a gaming platform, iPhone is certainly one of the top players and really blows the classic handsets out of the water. For starters, the iPhone’s outstanding capabilities such as its, 3.5 inch wide screen, touch screen feature, 3D processor , size capability (10 to 20 times larger than classic phone games) and the accelerometer, means that creating games for the device will be a completely new undertaking. The richness and quality in graphics will be very competitive to console, the touch screen feature allows for a different kind of interactivity and the accelerometer enables you to pilot the game horizontally or vertically. With these key features you will have a very different gaming experience unlike anything that exists on current phones on the market.

The iPhone sets a new benchmark for an all in one integrated mobile phone and makes gaming more accessible to non-gamers or casual gamers in a very non threatening way.

MW: What can you tell us about Gameloft’s iPhone plans specifically?

MG: We are developing 15 titles for the iPhone which should launch by the end of 2008. We’ll roll out a few titles in June/July and the remaining throughout the rest of the year. We can’t really go much more into specific titles yet, but we are fully committed to the iPhone as we believe it will really shape the market in terms of mobile games.

MW: Apple will take 30 percent of the revenue for iPhone applications sold through the App Store. Is this a fair deal?

MG: It is very much a fair deal and a smart business model on many levels. First of all the publisher can set the price point and there is no extra hidden fee involved. The business model in which the handset manufacturer takes care of hosting, merchandising, billing, delivery, etc. is new to the mobile mix and a great new way to approach this business because it allows the developer to focus on creating great games. We believe that Apple is positioned to be successful with this model because they have had ample experience running a delivery platform for music, video and iPod via iTunes.

The 70/30 revenue share is very fair and as a developer it allows you to invest that 70 percent into creating great games and marketing them accordingly. It is a clever business model because Apple gets enough money to manage their site and the developer gets enough to continue doing what it does best — creating games. This business model is well balanced for all parties involved, Apple, developer and consumer.

MW: Do you have any idea on what you’ll charge for iPhone games?

MG: We are not sure on this yet, but it will be affordable and fair.

MW: Is your plan to release original intellectual property (IP) for the iPhone, or will you be developing games based on existing IP available on other platforms?

MG: We’ll do both. We’re developing completely brand new IPs that will be specific to the iPhone and cater to all of the device’s great features. Since these original creations take time, however, we’re expanding some of our best known and top selling IPs, which have sold millions each, to the iPhone as well. These games will be unique and tailor-made for the iPhone, even if they already exist on other handsets.

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