We were recently offered the opportunity for an interview with Sean Vanderasson, the senior VP of WildTangent Games. Naturally, I volunteered as I felt it would be a great opportunity to get some insider opinions from someone with so much experience within the industry on all manner of subjects – such as, the “console war”, microtransactions, and why hardcore gamers should care about a service that is so geared towards casual gamers. Sean came back to us with some honest and interesting answers. I’d like to thank Sean for getting back to us and everyone involved in setting up this interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself and WildTangent.
Sure. I’ve been in the games industry for 18 years, having worked at companies like Wizards of the Coast, and have been with WildTangent since June 2004 as Senior Vice President of the WildTangent Games Service business.
WildTangent has evolved dramatically over the years and today has three business lines which are all focused on mobile expansion: WildTangent Games is a multi-platform, curated game service which is available online or through our Android app on a range of smartphones, tablets and Windows devices from Sony, Asus, and Acer or mobile carriers, including AT&T and EE; WildTangent Media sells premium advertising in our games service network as well as outside our network through our value exchange advertising platform called BrandBoost; and WildTangent Studios, which is our publishing group that develops mobile games for iOS, Android, and Windows.
When I joined WildTangent, it had just started the push in the industry to sell casual games to consumers online. We saw several different business models offered by various companies, but they all suffered from significant limitations for the user in the form of either content selection or worse, the dreaded 30 minute trial.
We created a solution for gamers to continue to play without requiring the full purchase of a game, which is better for consumers, developers and partners. The fact is, people can’t afford to purchase every game they like. So, we developed and patented the ability to rent games through the use of digital currency, called WildCoins. With WildCoins, not only can you rent game play for pennies, but every amount spent on rental also applies toward ownership of the game, making it a great choice for playing games, or ownership of a game if you decide.
From renting via digital currency, we quickly progressed to enabling advertisers to pay for a rental on behalf of a user. Our rationale was simple – for a game player that can’t afford to rent a game or simply doesn’t want to spend WildCoins at that moment, an advertiser can be the hero and pay the fee instead. All the advertiser would require is fair compensation in the form of the player viewing or engaging with an ad, and some recognition that they are providing the value to the user. We created the term “value exchange,” and our consumers and advertisers have loved it.
What is your opinion on the Xbox One vs. PS4 “console war”?
I’m interested in what the console makers are doing, but I think they have become concerned with the proliferation of mobile devices and the accessibility they provide to gaming. Most people can’t afford to pay £50 per game, which has traditionally defined the hardcore. At WildTangent, we cater to a much broader audience. We focus on mobile devices – the devices that allow gamers to play on the device that is most convenient. Mobile games are being played in the living room by a broader set people and you’re seeing more and more devices connected to the television that allow casual gameplay. Console makers are concerned with this because they’re not in control any more.
Why should hardcore/console gamers care about your service?
There’s a common misperception that console gamers only play games on consoles. We know they play on multiple devices depending on where they are and what’s accessible to them. Console makers are trying to maintain the perception that’s it’s all about the living room, but we know better. Hardcore gamers are expanding into mobile and we will continue to offer games for every interest and audience through WildTangent Games.
WildTangent uses a premium currency called WildCoins. These coins allow users to essentially rent a game for up to twenty-four hours. Why did you choose this system instead of just requiring consumers to purchse a game directly?
WildTangent Games has always offered the choice for people to buy games or rent games. We’ve offered both because we’ve heard from consumers that they just want play the game some, but don’t want to own and play it repeatedly. If there’s additional value to the user, there should be a way to allow gamers access to the game. That benefits the game developer and the player. Most consumers can’t afford to buy every game they love or they may not want to pay the full retail price.
There is a stigma among console and hardcore gamers in particular that micro-transactions are a bad thing. Why do you think this is and what is WildTangent doing to combat this stigmatism?
Consumers take issue with micro-transactions when they are first asked to pay £50 for a game and after asked to pay for additional content. In the past, gamers might have received those updates for free. If there’s a perception of double-dipping on console titles, then yes, that could cause a backlash. With WildTangent, we don’t have to fight that issue because we don’t sell £50 games. We provide full access to games without requiring upfront purchase, and we believe that’s the better way to go. This also allows us to reach a much broader audience.
You advertise ad-supported free play. I’m sure many consumers who are wary of micro-transactions may opt for this when choosing to play your games, however there is always a concern that despite being ad-supported, parts of a game or certain aspects of gameplay may still be locked behind a pay wall. Can you tell us a bit more about this model and why it might be of benefit to gamers?
I think there is a perception that ads are bad for gamers, but there is a big difference between premium advertising and interruptive ads. Premium advertising provides rewards for viewing the ads and doesn’t interrupt gameplay. We’ve taken this approach with our BrandBoost advertising platform and focus on placing ads around the game, not in the game. We provide advertising in exchange for in-game items. It’s not an offer wall to promote the download of another game but a value exchange – consumers get something in exchange that they would otherwise have to pay for.
Other services place ads in game, like banner ads or they force you to watch a game in the middle of gameplay without reward, and that detracts from the game. It is challenging for developers to make money, and it’s a balance between what consumers want and what the developer can do. It’s a competitive and fast-evolving space and there is no single, perfect model. We’ll continue to focus on premium advertising, because we know it’s better for everyone.
Another online video games retailer like yourselves is Steam. How does WildTangent compare to Steam and why should consumers choose your service over theirs?
First, we’re focused on different audiences – Steam focuses on hardcore gamers and WildTangent focuses on casual gamers. WildTangent is pre-installed on smartphones, tablets and Windows devices, and we need games that are suitable for a wide range of players. The way we present our content is tailored for a casual audience, and our purchase or rental business model is unique in the industry. Steam is a great distribution option for hardcore gamers and has a number of new devices hitting the market soon. In fact we launched a title called FATE back in 2005 and recently put that title on Steam because it caters to that demographic.
In recent times we’ve seen WildTangent venture into the mobile sector. Why did you choose this direction?
If you look at the dramatic growth of smartphones and tablets, and our strengths as a business over the last 15 years, the move was a natural evolution of our business. Our core technology and business model provide flexibility for us to move to a rapidly growing space like mobile. Windows devices still perform well for us, but mobile is the future and we’ll continue to explore how to expand our service offerings.
The WildTangent Games App is pre-installed on most major PCs shipped worldwide including HP, Toshiba and Acer. Do you feel your location in Redmond Washington – the location of Microsoft’s HQ – was a big factor in this or is it something you would have pursued regardless?
Our founder came from Microsoft and located WildTangent in Redmond. We’ve developed strong relationships and results with hardware manufacturers throughout the years in our games business. That track record has opened doors in our transition to mobile. We have several US mobile carriers nearby including AT&T, but we’ll continue to explore opportunities in new regions with new partners worldwide.
Your service offers over  games for people to play. What do you feel you offer to developers that other services don’t that would convince them to choose your platform?
Across our platforms, we offer more than 3000 games and our service continues to expand in mobile. We offer developers a variety of ways to tap into audiences that they wouldn’t otherwise gain access to. We provide unique ways for developers to monetize their content through our advertising platform, BrandBoost. Because our service is curated, their games receive more attention and promotion value than those that are stuck in app stores along with hundreds of thousands of other titles. I believe this is one of our greatest differentiators. We offer good quality content, superior promotional opportunities, additional revenue opportunities and our audience is different than any other service. I encourage developers to compare us to any other service before launching their game only on an app store.
Your executive team is made up of many industry veterans who have worked in places such as Microsoft, Sony Online and Nintendo. What do you feel this experience brings to your company?
At our core, we’re a technology company. We always take a long-term focus, and look at industry trends in technology, not just gaming. We bring big company experience to an entrepreneurial environment. We don’t follow the fad of the day and focus on solutions that stand the test of time. Our distribution and rental technology, digital currency and our advertising platform, provides the flexibility to allow us to focus on the long term rather than jump from one fad to another. This is our key to sustaining 15 years in the gaming industry when many others have come and gone.
WildTangent was founded in 1998 and seems to still be going strong today. What has contributed to this long-term success?
Our technology has allowed us to remain relevant through various technology phases. Today we’re going strong on mobile. Our WildTangent Games app for Android was recognized in the advertising community from the Mobile Mafia Awards for the most innovative mobile solution. We’re excited by our mobile efforts and believe our diverse set of technology will help us continue to differentiate in the years ahead.
What is your favourite kind of barrel?
A red one, of course.
Thank you for your time, do you have any closing comments?
These are exciting times for gaming. Games are more accessible now than they’ve ever been through a wide range of devices. As a cross-platform company, we are well positioned for continued growth in gaming. As we continue to make strides in mobile, we look forward to showing up in new places around the world, on new devices, and continuing to bring you great games that you love to play. If you don’t already have the WildTangent Games app for Android, grab it here: http://www.wildtangent.com/GamesApp