Interview: Maarten Noyons

Maarten Noyons is founder and CEO of the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA), the leading awards for mobile games. His company, NCC, is initiator of several innovative media projects such as Playground Maker, a development platform for games using GPS and other localization techniques. I had the pleasure of meeting Maarten during a workshop of Playground Maker at NCC’s home city of Marseille, France. The interview below was conducted via email on June 11, 2011.

Can you describe what Playground Maker is, how it works, and what is the project’s future direction?

Playground Maker is a platform for the creation of Location Based Games, a point and click web interface which allows you to build quests and subquests on a map, characters, objects and gameplay. The platform will allow the creation a large variety of game genres:

– Simple quests, such as treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, hide and seek, geocaching, city discovery tours, etc.

– Collection games, Pokemon-type of games, Gamagochi-type of games, social games

– Action games, God Games, Highlander, RPG, FPS.

Future direction:

The company is currently in its first round of financing. A first investment will allow us to finish the platform and to do a release on Apple’s App Store and Google Market.

The company’s primary objective is to revolutionize the concept of location based games and to become the premier provider of these games in the market. A market, which represents an enormous and growing opportunity as consumers are massively downloading apps and games for their smartphones (10,7 Billion downloads in 2010).

The secondary focus will be on producing games and apps for third parties, such as brands, event organisers and professional organisations in the travel, training and educational sector or in the medical sector. The use of game mechanics in mobile applications for advertising, events, tourism, corporate training is set to grow in the coming years, with the growing demand for a more immersive and context aware communication with clients and prospects. These activities will help us grow our user base, develop new features and become a lucrative source of revenue.

What is the business model behind Playground Maker?

Monetize Playground Maker, by offering premium tools to game developers, such as sophisticated characters, items, sponsored branded imagery (Disney Characters, Diesel outfits, BMW cars), templates for complete games.

Monetize the mobile games with license fees on the App Stores, advertising (including location based advertising), in-app purchase.

Development of games for brands, cities and tourist bureaus, or coproduce games with media- and games publishers.

In general, what would you say are the core challenges for small to medium companies and start-ups in the EU (European Union) focused on pervasive gaming?

The main challenge for SME’s in Europe is the fragmentation of everything, as opposed to the US market. Therefore the lack of scaling business models quickly and to compete globally.

– fragmented cultures, languages, regulations, operating systems, API’s, commercial relationships, etc..

While Playground Maker is a platform and as such a blank canvas for game designers wishing to create location-based games, do you think that the technology can have civic manifestations?

Yes, we will have a consumer interface and for a selected number of partners we will offer an open API. I think pervasive gaming, using location as an essential element, will make consumers more aware of their direct surrounding. You will play with your neighbours.

I think apps will emerge in “Smart Cities” which will allow citizens to complain about a ditch in the road by sending a picture and GSM coordinates, or report a fire, a crime. Eventually pervasive apps can involve citizens more in complex decisions in the field of Urban Development: you can just invite them to “see” the developments on the location and ask them what they think.

More broadly, would you say that location is important to the notion of being civically engaged?

It is a tool and probably more powerful than ever, but the main empowerment is in the hands of politicians and with the empowerment, the authenticity and communication skills of the politicians will come the engagement.

Do you think that location-aware gaming poses unique or new redefinitions of activism?

The combination of the power of social networks and location (or context) aware apps and games is dynamite. It could potentially help crowds to move and react faster to the movement of their aggressor.

What is your perspective on gamification? And more generally, can you speak of how this trend is developing in the EU?

Serious Games and Gamification is on the agenda of every start up studio. In Europe there are a lot of one-man bands who are trying to sell game development services to brands, government, educational institutions, the army, and agencies.

As far as mobile games are concerned I see a few interesting cases in the field of healthcare, army and brands. In all cases there is the establishment of a direct contact between the client (end user) and the game studio or creator of the game. I know of many unsuccessful attempts by Agencies who have approached game studios. The difference in culture and working method and the commercial deal make that collaboration very difficult.