Founded in 2013, Nexon M is the mobile division of Nexon — a company with a strong reputation for popular free-to-play online games on the PC like MapleStory and partnering with Cliff Bleszinski’s studio, Boss Key Productions, to publish BlueStreak. However, the successes on the PC don’t overshadow what’s being done on mobile.

Last year, Nexon M partnered with Big Huge Games to release DomiNations, a history-themed construction and strategy game for mobile devices. It is also working with Respawn Entertainment and Particle City to develop several all-original games based on the popular PC and console exclusive, Titanfall.

What’s more striking is Nexon M’s ongoing strategy of releasing games with a service cycle expected to last 10 years or longer. This is in stark contrast to how many companies are looking to put as many games on the market as possible in hopes of fast success.

[a]listdaily speaks to Nexon M’s General Manager, John Robinson, about the long expectancy for its games and a philosophy that seems run contrary to how many regard the mobile games industry.

John RobinsonWhat is the thought process behind developing mobile games with a 10 year life cycle

Nexon put out the first free-to-play games and had a tremendous amount of success. Even before the industry moved to mobile, Nexon had experience running live games with massive, multi-million, user communities for long periods of time. A number of those games just crossed their 10-year operation threshold, including MapleStory and KartRider. So, the precedent is set on the PC side.

We think less about what platform games are on, and more about how we can make great experiences for gamers. When Nexon moved into the mobile space over the last few years, our goals as a company didn’t change.

How do long-term service games fit-in when mobile devices have such a high turnover on both hardware and OS

In the same there are a lot of updates on Android and iOS, you see similar updates on the PC side. Evolving technology shouldn’t hold us back from achieving our goals. Some games, both by Nexon and others (like World of Warcraft), have made it through platform and technology transitions because the gameplay and communities are so strong. Those are what we focus on because we believe they really transcend technology and platforms.

It’s commonly thought that mobile games are popular because they provide quick experiences. Does this mentality contradict the 10 year life cycle plan

No, I think the difference is that our developers are thinking about things a little differently. A lot of developers are making games for today’s market. In today’s market, people are consuming games quickly. They’ll play them for a month or two and then move on.

The developers we work with and want to partner with have bigger goals than that. When they’re developing a game, they’re thinking about a much bigger time horizon. For example, I’ve been playing DomiNations for almost two years, and I’m still only 60 or 70 percent through the content… and that’s just the content that’s available today.

From that perspective, you can see that Big Huge Games is taking a much broader view, or a much longer view, of how long people should be playing these games for. They’re not thinking about it in terms of months. They’re thinking in terms of years.

How do you market a game with such a long life cycle

It’s actually something that really benefits us. Certainly, when we launch games, we take that as an opportunity to introduce high-quality and innovative games into the market. But at the same time, we’re not under the pressure that a lot of other publishers or developers feel to have their games rise to the Top 25 grossing overnight.

We believe that people are going to love playing our games for a long time, and they’re going to continue to grow. Again, we don’t judge our games as successes or failures after one month, or even six months. It’s more of something we’ll evaluate on a yearly basis, as we think about what the future opportunity is.

DomiNations has been out for nine months, and we’re expecting a bigger 2016 than 2015. Our hope is that 2017 will be even bigger.

Every game, no matter the platform, struggles to keep players interested. How does Nexon tackle the problem of user retention over that period of time

I think it’s two things. Number one is that you have to make unique games. If your game isn’t unique, there are going to be a lot of clones similar to it, and nothing that will keep your fans and players from moving on to something similar. I think if you provide something unique, you give more reason to stick around, play and love the game.

The second part is, the thing we prioritize above anything else is the ability to retain our players. That’s how we judge fun. If people play our game and continue coming back after six months — or even a year or two — that’s how we judge a successful game. We don’t really think a lot about early term retention or monetization of games. It’s all about long term retention and people loving our games for the course of years.

Does this mean Nexon M will release fewer games annually

Absolutely. For example, last year, we only launched one game and that was DomiNations. I would say that we’ve talked to over 300 developers, so you can see we’re being very selective, and we want to make a statement to the market and to gamers. When Nexon puts out a game, it’s going to be something that they should feel comfortable investing in, because they know it’s going to be around for a long time.

Many believe the best way to handle the coming consolidation of the mobile games industry is to acquire studios and have a high output of games. What are your thoughts on this, and how Nexon using the opposite strategy

I would not be surprised to see some consolidation over the next few years. Our strategy is certainly counter to that, in that we’re actually looking to help the small guys. We’re looking to help independent game developers. We want to help studios that aren’t owned by massive game companies have a lot of success. That’s what we’ve done with Big Huge Games, and that’s what we hope to do with a number of titles we’re launching this year.

There are always going to be great independent developers out there, and our goal is to help them make the best games possible, and help them succeed over a long period of time. We can do that because we have the resources to help them in publishing and development.

What goes into choosing the games that will be developed

I’ll give you a great example. We recently announced our partnership with Respawn Entertainment [Titanfall] and Particle City. We had a number of long conversations with Respawn, who is working as a creative adviser, and Particle City as the developer. What we found is that we shared the same philosophical values.

Respawn had built a tremendous community of passionate Titanfall gamers. When we talked to the developer, they made it very clear that they did not want to make a game that just succeeded on the Titanfall IP for a few months, but they would rather build something that people could play for years. So, it was an easy decision to want to work with them.


Nexon M intends to launch several Titanfall themed games, each with an expected service cycle of 10 years or more

That’s our goal. With every game that we work on, our goal is to make something that will last for 10 years. It’s certainly ambitious, and not all of our games will get there, but we’re absolutely OK saying that that is our goal.

If you look at the developers that we’ve worked with, like Big Huge Games, they’ve made high-quality strategy games that people love for a long time. So, we know they have the talent and ability to make games that will last that long. This year, we’re working with the studio Envision Entertainment [comprised of former EA Phenomic employees], which is working on a mobile RTS game [Path of War] coming out very soon. Historically, they’ve worked on a number of games including BattleForge and the Command & Conquer franchise. So, they know how to make great strategy games, and they know how to make MMOs [Massively-Multiplayer Online games], and now we’re trying to bring those to mobile.

The group of studios we’re working with all share the same kind of pedigree of making great games that can last a really long time. We’re really trying to do something different here, and we think that we have the talent to make that happen.

Path of War Banner

What will it take to remain competitive in mobile gaming in the coming year

I think it’s no longer just about the dollar amount you spend on a game. There are plenty of companies with huge budgets and can do a great job of marketing a game really big. But I think what will matter is how well you do in terms of marketing after your game is launched. That’s all about the experience you provide your users.

Are you providing them with regular updates, both in terms of new content, features, and ways to engage in the game both and outside of it, so that they feel like this is something that is meaningful to them Again, a big focus for us is building great communities and supporting them.