Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

Q&A: Big Fish Games chief sees more growth in mobile than social

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| Dean Takahashi

Big Fish Games is one of the stalwarts of casual games, with more than $100 million in revenues and steadily growing profits. Jeremy Lewis, chief executive of the Seattle-based company, has watched a lot of disruption in the game business with the growth of social games on Facebook and the rise of companies such as Zynga.

But he isn’t worried that the new social game startups will send Big Fish to the bottom of the sea. Big Fish is still pretty big in casual game web sites — with well over 1 billion downloads of its games since 2002 — and it is making a big move into smartphone and tablet games. In the fall of 2008, Big Fish Games raised $83 million, just before the financial crisis hit. It seemed like Big Fish would start an acquisition spree, much like rival Zynga.

But none of Big Fish’s growth has come from acquisitions and the company made one small acquisition. It hasn’t touched that cash, in what may be an example of rare patience on the part of a leader who wants his company to grow. While the social gaming Gold Rush has gone on around him, Lewis has patiently expanded his business at double-digit rates in an organic way. And he has 500 employees, including more than 100 that develop the company’s own games.

We caught up with Lewis at the Game Developers Conference. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

VB: What’s your outlook now?

JL: During 2011 and 2012, we plan to scale the franchise of Big Fish Games in new directions. Mobile is a very natural extension to the casual game market where we already are. In particular, we are going to be active in the tablet market.

VB: What is your reaction to all of the industry events that are shaping the game industry now? We have seen Disney acquire social game maker Playdom and mobile game maker Tapulous. Then it turned the management team inside out, putting the social game people in charge of the overall game division. That is a very big event in the industry. In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of change like that.

JL: There has always been change, right? And there have always been trends and currents and waves that have come and have gone and some have stayed and some have not. So we tend to take a longer term view and we tend to be a company that is very focused as the category leader in casual games on the PC and the Mac platforms. We are now testing and investing and scaling up the business in mobile. We will continue to test and invest in areas as they surface. Social is one of those areas and we will take what we learn from that. But we will continue to focus on insuring that as a developer and as a publisher, both businesses in which Big Fish Games is already at scale in, we will focus on revenue growth. We will continue to invest in both those areas in a way that ensures that we are continuing to build goodness for developers and goodness for consumers and that’s really a focus that’s been a hallmark of our company since its founding.

VB: Does it seem like there is more opportunity now in mobile and social purely on Facebook?

JL: I can speak more specifically about mobile because we are active there. We have a little presence in social. There is a proliferation of platforms and the introduction of new distribution channels. When that happens, the overall market usually expands and so does the overall audience. Both emerging and developed markets benefit as that audience expands. It is the category leaders in each of these segments — casual, mobile, social networking — that will earn the lion’s share of the revenues in each market where they participate. That’s our belief and that is what we are experiencing today. So we are glad that the industry is growing and our franchise will benefit from that.

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