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GDC Spotlight Interviews: Tencent Games, ARM and Unity Technologies

| January 2014

In This Issue:

  • Tencent Games - Steve Gray, executive in charge of production at Tencent Games, gives tips for developers who want to pitch apps to Chinese operators, and a sneak peek at what to expect from the upcoming Developer Day event at GDC 2014.
  • ARM - Dennis Laudick, VP, partner marketing at ARM, discusses the purchase of game lighting specialist Geomerics, how to join the ARM Connected Community, and the GDC Smartphone & Tablet Summit.
  • Unity Technologies - David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, talks about the importance of analytics tools, Unity's courting of small developers, and the company's plans to display new technology at GDC.

Tencent Games


Steve Gray
Steve Gray

Steve Gray, executive in charge of production at Tencent Games, gives tips for developers who want to pitch apps to Chinese operators, and a sneak peek at what to expect from the upcoming Developer Day event at GDC 2014.

Q: Steve, in a recent talk entitled "A Developer's Guide To Pitching Games for the Chinese Market," you explained some of the marketing design and technical requirements developers ought to be aware of when pitching apps to Chinese operators. What are some of the more important tips?

Steve Gray: I’ll give you three …

-- Flexibility and customer focus. You could also think of this as “operations focused.” You need to be ready and clearly willing to listen to the users and mold your game to their preferences.

-- Make sure you have a monetization system that is integrated into your game design. The monetization itself should contribute to the fun of the game. It needs to be part of the core risk/reward feeling of the game.

-- Absolutely no pay gates! Ever! You should be able to play and win the entire game for free. It might be really hard and time-consuming to do, but it should be possible.

Q: Just nine years after going public, Tencent has said that it is now the third-largest Internet company in the world behind Google and Amazon. That's pretty impressive. What do you believe are some of the secrets of your success?

Gray: I think it ties back to my first tip regarding success in the Chinese market. Tencent is very focused on customer satisfaction. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards in terms of responding to customer feedback and that means at all levels. It means keeping our servers running and stable, it means getting back to customers who have questions or complaints immediately, it means solving their problems, and it means our development teams are constantly trying to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Q: Tencent has announced plans to buy about 15% of Activision Blizzard which, of course, owns Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Are those the sort of games that you see fueling Tencent's growth in the near-term? Or can you discuss other plans on your drawing board?

Steve Gray: It's no secret that Activision and Tencent are collaborating on Call Of Duty Online for the Chinese market. That project has unwavering support from top management on both sides, and has the best and brightest from both companies working hard to make it as amazing and market-leading an experience as Call Of Duty has been and continues to be in the West. However, outside of that, it's really not Tencent's policy to discuss our investment strategies or details of any investments. You can check our company reports or listen in to the investor conference calls if you want the latest on company results and strategies.

Q: As a sponsor of the Developer Day at GDC, what will the takeaways be for developers who attend the two-day event? Can you give me a sneak peek?

Gray: We have several types of experiences we plan to offer to attendees of our Developer Day event, including:

  • Presentations from various Tencent leaders on our plans in and outside of China. These include more information for developers who would like to partner with Tencent to create great mobile and free-to-play products.
  • An opportunity for developers to meet with representatives of our various Chinese operating groups to better understand how they can adapt and license their products into the Chinese market.
  • Presentations from and the opportunity to meet with companies Tencent has invested in and partnered with all over the world. Some of these are companies that support the game industry with either content or technology, and some are operating companies from around the world. Exact details on who will participate aren't available yet.

At a high level, what we hope to accomplish is to raise awareness in the development community of all the things that Tencent has to offer. We also want people to understand that because our "genetics" are rooted in free-to-play and games as a service, the way we work with our developers and partners is fundamentally different than the way box product publishers have worked with their developers in the past. We think we can offer a better and more symbiotic relationship to the development community  and that community is very inclusive. It includes publishers, it includes big established game developers, and it includes indie developers  and those two friends in a garage in some city we've never heard of who are right now making the next massive breakout hit.

Q: Why is participation in GDC important to Tencent? What do you hope to gain from being there?

Gray: GDC is a key part of the game development and publishing ecosystem. We want to be a leader and a force for progress in that ecosystem. We want the members of the community to understand that.  And, of course, we want to find some great partners and products to get involved with.


Dennis Laudick
Dennis Laudick

Dennis Laudick, VP, partner marketing at ARM, discusses the purchase of game lighting specialist Geomerics, how to join the ARM Connected Community, and the GDC Smartphone & Tablet Summit.

Q: Dennis, ARM recently acquired the Finland-based startup Sensinode Oy which develops internet-of-things software. That is said to be further evidence that ARM is pressing ahead to develop for more than just mobile devices and is hoping to cover cars, appliances, and anything that needs to be connected. Talk to me about ARM's strategy for the near future.

Dennis Laudick: It's easy to look at ARM and think that what we are mostly about is ICs for mobile devices and certainly the size of the mobile market means that that's where a lot of our technology ends up. However, the truth is that ARM's success to-date is really about a large ecosystem of companies using ARM-based technology to build a very diverse array of products for a wide range of markets. Already today you can see ARM technology being used in not only gaming devices -- like phones, tablets, TVs, and GameSticks -- but also in a far wider range of devices -- like sensors, wearables, appliances, cars, and enterprise applications. A wide array of applications that continues to expand as ARM partners find new and innovative ways of using our technology. It's pretty exciting to see some of the devices our partners continue to come up with.

As the market continues to move forward, like any company, we are always on the lookout for complementary technologies which help us to provide better solutions. Many of our acquisitions are simply about that -- ensuring that we are providing solutions for today and tomorrow's markets and we are providing solutions to our partners and the right components that will continue to allow them to innovate in the market. Where those components then end up is down to the ARM ecosystem of partners, and it's simply our job to ensure that the community has everything they need and are supported as much as possible.

Q: Talking about acquisitions, ARM just acquired Geomerics which is best known for creating the lighting in such games as Battlefield 4 and Eve Online. I'm told that you intend to accelerate the company's mobile and console game development capabilities. What will that mean for developers?

Laudick: It's important to note that ARM and Geomerics have actually been working together in partnership for a couple of years now. There have already been a number of activities that were overlapping or would be in the future. As ARM gets increasingly active in the gaming space and as we look to further accelerate the roadmap around our very successful ARM Mali GPUs, we could see how the technologies would become increasingly aligned down the road. In the end, the decision to acquire Geomerics was actually fairly obvious.

Looking at Geomerics, the technology and techniques they have developed around lighting are truly advanced and quite unique. As you mentioned, they are already seeing success in numerous popular titles today with more to come. What they are really doing is bringing lighting effects to today's platforms that were not expected to be possible for another couple of generations. Not only that, but they are doing it in a way that allows developers to work intuitively and be more productive in the process. That's something we don't expect to change. Geomerics will continue to support the full array of platforms and GPUs available in the market.

From an ARM point-of-view, acquiring Geomerics provides ARM with increased access and understanding of the game developer community so that we can help ensure that we are providing the best platforms, tools, and support, now and in the future.

Q: Your new interactive online platform is billed as a hub where developers can collaborate and discuss ideas and challenges. How can developers join and why would they want to?

Laudick: It is very easy to join the ARM Connected Community which is designed to be a one-stop interactive platform for anyone working with the ARM architecture. It's a place to have your questions answered not only by other developers, but also by experts in the ARM engineering teams. You can even find your next project partner by searching among the 900-plus companies from the ARM ecosystem already presenting their products and services.

Q: GDC will once again feature a Smartphone & Tablet Summit (on March 17 and 18) that will focus on the nuts and bolts of great game design and successful business strategies specifically tailored to popular smartphones and tablets. This year ARM is a Gold Sponsor. Specifically what will you be speaking about at the two-day program?

Laudick: We see the Smartphone and Tablet Summit as a great platform for connecting with the community and ecosystem around mobile devices. Our specific plans are still being finalized but people can rest assured that we are working hard to ensure that we provide the community with the latest information and insights into ARM technologies, such as ARM Mali GPUs, ARM big.LITTLE processing, ARMv7 and ARMv8 architecture, as well as the tricks and techniques for best use and tools to support them.

Q: What can visitors to the ARM booth at GDC expect to see? Will you be unveiling any new programs or technologies?

Laudick: GDC is one of the most exciting events of the year for us. It's a great opportunity for us to engage with the community, get feedback, see what the industry is up to, and help ensure that people are getting everything they need from ARM.

This year will be no exception. We will have a strong presence at the show (booth #1616). This booth is the place to come to see some of the latest technology we have been working on both in-house and via our numerous partners. You can see prototypes of new applications not only in gaming but also game developer-oriented tools and some of the advanced activities taking place in the exciting area of GPU computing. Most importantly, this is where you can come and talk to the ARM developers, ecosystem team, and a wide range of partners. It's a great place to see what's going on, get engaged, and get your questions answered. As for specific announcements around the show, I wouldn't want to spoil the fun.

It's worth noting that, in addition to ARM, Geomerics will also be attending GDC and will also be available at the ARM booth.

Unity Technologies

David Helgason
David Helgason

David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, talks about the importance of analytics tools, Unity's courting of small developers, and the company's plans to display new technology at GDC.

Q: David, you announced just recently a partnership with GameAnalytics to bring their tools into the Unity Asset Store Online Services Strategic Partner program. Tell me about the strategy behind that partnership.

David Helgason: Our Online Services Strategic Partner program was designed to be a way to get quality services by reputable providers, such as GameAnalytics, featured to our gigantic developer community via the Asset Store. Online services such as those provided by GameAnalytics are an important part of modern game development.

Q: A recent report says that developers can expect to see a number of third-party firms offering additional analytics tools to help them be more successful with Unity-based mobile games. If that's true, what can developers hope to gain from this new trend?

Helgason: Analytics are an important part of crafting a successful game and enjoyable user experience. Whether analytics are used to help dissect where players are dropping off or getting stuck in a game or used to analyze how in-app purchases can be tweaked to be more attractive to players, tools like these are important to create successful entertainment businesses.

Q: Since you dropped all pricing for the basic levels of your services, I'm told that Unity has been actively courting smaller developers who could use your products to be more competitive. How is that strategy working out?

Helgason: Last May, we removed the cost of all of our fundamental mobile development tools. That means individual developers and startup studios can build and deploy games for iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry 10 without having to purchase a license. This is in addition to the desktop (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and Web publishing that were already free with the core Unity tools. These developers are the core of our awesome and very global developer community, and we’re as passionate about courting them as we’ve ever been. Many of the titles you see on our games list were created by indie studios. With over 2 million developers in our community -- 520, 000 of whom are using Unity actively on a monthly basis -- we’re certainly pleased that so many developers of all sizes are finding Unity to be an awesome development tool.

Q: What takeaways can developers expect to hear if they visit Unity's booth at GDC?

Helgason: While we're saving details for the show itself, we'll have some fantastic new tech on display. We'll also have members of our Asset Store, Unity Cloud, and Unity Games teams on hand, and will also have a variety of talks regarding our technology designed to help developers learn more about Unity and how it can be used best. Of course, we'll also be displaying an awesome selection of games from our community at the booth, which is something we're always excited about.

Q: Unity is a sponsor of the Developer Day at GDC. Why is that sponsorship an important part of your marketing strategy?

Helgason: The Dev Day program allows us to get deeper into our technology in front of a group of individuals invested in learning as much as possible. It's a great place for us to showcase new technology and have the chance to dig into what makes Unity such an incredibly powerful tool for today's developers.




Connecting the Global Game Development Community