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Making the most of a mobile explosion: Q&A with WildTangent's Sean Vanderdasson

Whether you spend your free time racking up 50+ killstreaks on Call of Duty or whether you simply prefer to while away the morning commute on Candy Crush Saga, nearly everyone nowadays can call themselves a "gamer."

Mobile gaming in particular has sky-rocketed in popularity. The successes of Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies, generated through strong branding and simple gameplay, has introduced a whole new generation of gamers to a new and compelling form of escapism.

It's an exciting shift, and one that games company WildTangent has been charting. We caught up with Sean Vanderdasson, vice president of games service at the company to chat about just how the market has evolved and how WildTangent is connecting with its customers around the world.

How has the social and online gaming landscape changed over the last few years?

The mobile industry has been going from strength to strength and we've witnessed what can only be described as a mobile explosion. The app stores have grown dramatically and gamers have never had this many options. However, this also means that there's a huge amount of clutter. With variety came app pollution – major app stores have hundreds of clone apps and apps that are just poorly made. This in turn means that finding what you're after can be quite a tedious task with hundreds of apps to go through before you can find the app and the quality you're looking for.

Developers are also facing the challenge of app discoverability. Talent isn't always enough to get a good app noticed and with so much competition it's down to luck. You have to be in the right place and at the right time and without a curated catalogue of games in place it's just a case of serendipity.

So if online gaming is being driven largely by the fast-growing mobile industry, can you have one without the other? How do they vary in terms of monetisation?

Absolutely. Online gaming existed before mobile, but with mobile a much larger audience is being given easy access to these titles, providing online games new life and more options to all game players. Online games typically offer a monthly subscription but also have in-game purchases. Most mobile games are either buy-before-download or free-to-play with in-app purchase. That said, most online games are now forgoing the monthly subscription and are free to play with in game purchases – essentially making the monetization differences disappear.

Do you think the "pay to download" model is on its way out? To be replaced by freemium games with in-app purchases?

I believe pay before download (SRP) will stay around but will remain a small percentage of the overall games business. Not every game can support or makes sense to have in-game purchases. The trouble with pay to download is that it is a blind faith purchase by the consumer that often results in disappointment. After a disappointment or two, consumers shy away from games with this requirement unless the game is so cheap that they are willing to take the gamble. This archaic model therefore punishes the game developer by artificially shrinking the audience that the game may be attractive to and consumers miss out on playing some great games.

At WildTangent, we allow players to download all games to try for free and then make the decision that is right for them. We're focused on providing access to all games to all users. The monetization aspect takes care of itself on a user by user basis. The result: happy customers, happy game developers, and a trusted, thriving business.

What does the WildTangent games app do?

The WildTangent Games App comes side-loaded to over a 100 million mobile devices and most major PCs shipped worldwide. The Games App makes your gaming experience more effortless, while giving you plenty of choice, from the very moment you log in.

What makes this app different is the curated selection of premium games and the ability to play what you want, as often as you want and without annoying limitations that you might encounter elsewhere. What this also means is that users have more choice, more choice of good content. Films work as a great analogy – there are movies you want to rent and movies you think are worth watching on the big screen. WildTangent offers those options and more. Users can essentially buy games, play them for free or rent. As gamers ourselves we want to ensure that your experience is easy, fun and flexible, at all stages.

What are the benefits of a dedicated gaming service for a player?

Apps stores are a lot like the London Underground on a Monday morning, this is especially true for Google Play. With no formal review process for launching an app or game on Google Play, the result is a legion of poor quality games, poor discoverability and ultimately a poor experience for customers. Who wants to search through hundreds of thousands of games, many of which look and play identical, only to find that the only real difference is slight naming variations? It's a mess. At WildTangent we have a rigorous quality review process before games are chosen for our service. We review games from top developers and select games based on playability, the game category and overall quality of game. Once we select a game for our service, we test it for compatibility and ensure they are easy to find.

And the developer?

A curated service offers numerous benefits for developers. For instance, games receive more promotion on WildTangent Games than those that are launched in app stores. With our service, developers know their titles are amongst other quality titles. We also offer developers additional revenue opportunities through advertising that app stores cannot. Premium games on a premium service, that's how we differ from the app stores and we've heard time and time again that our customers prefer our service.

What is WildTangent doing with EE and Sony Mobile?

WildTangent is featured on selected smartphones on all three divisions of EE's network; T-Mobile Web n' Walk, Orange World and EE's own web portal. This is the latest addition to the line-up of existing partnerships, including those with Sony Xperia devices, ASUS tablets and across the AT&T network in the United States. Our previous partnerships across the pond have proven to be very successful, so we're very excited to be able to bring high-quality casual games to the UK users.