Gree’s Big Office Fills Small Screens

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GREE San Francisco

Gree San Francisco also retains a start-up feel. Workers regularly play “Joust” and “Galaga” at classic arcade cabinets in the new dining space. Gree also brings in catered food regularly to supplement the snacks and beverages that are always on offer.

[contextly_sidebar id=”86a52d2a8c88c2843755830bb976f04c”]Walking into Gree, you’re confronted with an arsenal of Nerf guns draped within arms’ reach of various developers and heaped against walls.

But the vital question is whether Gree’s expansion is sustainable. Aoyagi insists so, saying, “Gaming continues to evolve as we discover new ways to engage users, new types of games and new game mechanics. Additionally the hardware keeps getting more sophisticated and more interesting.”

Ten years ago, developer DMA Design (now Rockstar North) redefined console games with “Grand Theft Auto III,” a technical marvel at the time. Now the same game can be played on a phone. Some mobile games, such as “Infinity Blade II” and “Real Racing,” display almost console-level graphics.

Developers are also porting games from mobile platforms to personal computers for the first time, when traditionally production flowed in the other direction. Mobile hits “Super Hexagon,” “Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP,” and “10,000,000” reached expanded audiences after PC releases.

Yet so far, despite Aoyagi’s promise, the San Francisco office is “completely focused on creating compelling content based on the needs of the Western market,” Gree hasn’t shown off something truly “new.” The precipitous fall of Zynga in 2012, when its stock value plummeted from $15 to $2.09 a share in mere months, laid bare the volatility of the mobile and social gaming industry.

Recently, veteran game designer and columnist Tadhg Kelly argued that major social and mobile game developers fear evolution. They want proven designs with proven financial results. This approach can work, at least temporarily. “Call of Duty,” criticized by industry reporters for its annual repetition, still netted $500 million in just 24 hours with 2012’s installment.

But mobile developers are increasingly shuttling users from game to game, the retention period growing ever-shorter, hoping consumers don’t tire of the same old mechanics. That business model doesn’t expand. People who already dislike those games will continue to dislike them, while developers hope the market doesn’t collapse.

The most critically acclaimed mobile games lately came from small, flexible teams and individuals: the aforementioned “Super Hexagon,” “Sword & Sworcery,” and “10,000,000,” plus the recent innovative hit “Spaceteam,” the product of one man. To stay successful long-term, Gree needs to eschew safety and release a highly innovative game that secures its position in the U.S. market. Is that even possible for a 400-plus person studio?

Photography by Bruce Damonte, courtesy of BCCI Construction

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