Namco's Jon Kromrey Sees Longevity, Acquisitions For New iPhone Group

Tameka Kee
Monday, August 3, 2009; 12:59 PM

Pac-Man and Tekken publisher Namco confirmed with us that *Apple* vet Jonathan Kromrey would be heading up its new iPhone-centric games division, but didn't reveal many details about his new role.

So with the company formally announcing Kromrey's gig as GM of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) Games at Namco Networks, we took the opportunity to ask him about how the iPhone platform fits into the overall gaming landscape, whether the Apple Games team would be making any acquisitions, and whether we'll see a Tekken game for the iPhone any time soon:

Tameka Kee: Some execs have said that the iPhone could have a bigger impact on the gaming industry than the Wii, and Namco is at least the second major game company to launch a dedicated iPhone division within the past month. But how much of this is just hype? How viable is the iPhone as a gaming platform in the long run?

Kromrey: I see a lot of longevity in the iPhone platform for a few key reasons. First, developing games using Cocoa and Xcode [two Apple-centric programming languages] facilitates more cross-platform content creation; it's easier for Namco to take one game and port it to the iPhone, than to four or five different mobile devices. So, we're able to effectively maximize our IP and fan base across different business units. That goes for smaller developers as well.

So when will Tekken fans like me see an iPhone app?or are their specific kinds of games that lend themselves to cross-platform development?

It's not about the genre, per se, it's about being able to get the game mechanics right. If we can take Tekken and make it really fun to play on the iPhone, then we will. We do have a back catalog of Japanese games that we're working on, as well as some new IP?but no matter the game, what's most important is that the player feels this real sense of immersion, of tangibility?so that they're no longer playing a game on the device, they're in the poker room or at the fighting tournament.

How big is the Apple Games team? Are you guys on a separate P&L?and if so, do you plan on adding to the headcount (and the library) through acquisitions?

We're part of Namco Networks, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary and sister group to Namco Bandai Games America. Namco invested in an iPhone-specific team?not just me?I brought a group of people with me from Apple. But we are evaluating partnerships with other developers. Teams that combine the passion for developing great games with ideas for how to harness the iPhone platform?as well as provide gaming experiences beyond what we already have?are gold mines. We'd definitely be willing to bring them into the Namco family.

Indie developer ngmoco recently rolled out an iPhone games network, which allows third-party developers to leverage its existing base of players (and goodwill). Do you foresee your division doing something similar?

I can't say that we're specifically launching the same thing, but creating a platform for other developers that want to stay independent is something that we're very interested in doing as well.

Companies like MobilityWare say they're clearing $10,000 in monthly ad revenue from their iPhone games. Is that the kind of opportunity Namco would want to pursue?

We have no plans to launch any ad-supported games?because we think that the playing experience is best when its undiluted by interruptions. That said, the plan is to have games that are satisfying for players no matter the price point. So the person that wants an hour-long game to fill in the idle time while they're waiting for the train can pay 99-cents; the person that wants unlockable features, micro-transactions and a longer storyline can pay $4.99; and the full-on, flashy, big experience is a $9.99 opportunity.

So how will you compete with the free apps?especially ones that rocket to the top of the App Store charts?

It comes back to the quality of the gameplay. We're trying to launch games with feature sets that take full advantage of the capabilities of each Apple device. So we're adding Facebook Connect support, multi-player and VoIP support where its applicable; we're also upgrading our backlog of already-released games to support the new OS3 capabilities. The only challenge we really have is how to be able to successfully put out as many games as we have in our heads.


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