Interview: Activision Mobile's master plan to scale the App Store

Publisher to use key IP in new smartphone push; Division exec claims: 'Smartphones will soon match Xbox 360 quality'

Activision's vice president of mobile development, Greg Canessa, will not so easily admit that the publisher has been fairly lethargic in adjusting for mobile. But he and his division now have an interesting opportunity to demonstrate that it didn't need to.

The App Store sector is notoriously volatile and entire business models can rise and fall in a matter of months. The only golden rule, at least so far, is that those who react fastest tend to be the most successful.

Activision is hardly going to be the quickest or most reactive smartphone games publisher, yet it has a brand presence that the likes of Zynga and GREE will envy. A Modern Warfare, Diablo or Guitar Hero game on Android or iOS has tremendous potential to scale the charts based on the strength of its IP alone.

But there appears to be more to it than that. By the sentiment of Canessa's responses in the latter half of the interview, you get the sense that the publisher genuinely wants to innovate on the platform and break through the noise with high quality content. Considering the publisher's dominance on PC and consoles, it's not hard to imagine it can achieve this, late to the party or not.

Greg Canessa, vice president of mobile at Activision

CVG: How significant a part of Activision's business will the mobile division be?
CANESSA: Mobile is an emerging business for the company and it's something we're taking very seriously. We are taking a thoughtful approach to it. Console and PC are still the major focus, but we feel that mobile is an important segment for our brands going forward.

Would you agree that Activision is late to the party when it comes to mobile?
I would say we're certainly not first, but we're very thoughtful and we're taking a thoughtful approach. I know there's another company that paid crazy money for mobile companies and spent a lot of time trying to mesh them together. That's not our approach. We are taking an organic approach, building things from the ground-up.

We feel we can add to this space and there's also things we can learn from it. So we're being very careful and guided with how we enter into it. We're not making grandiose promises, or revealing a slate of twenty titles, or just buying a number of mobile companies.

So although we're not first to the party, we definitely consider the space to be a strategic business opportunity for us.

Would your Leeds studio have existed if it were not for games tax breaks?
Ah well all that is decided in another part of Activision and I'm not part of that, so I can't say. What I will say is that we are in the UK to hire the best talent in the mobile space.

If you look at the UK development community, some of the world's best handheld and mobile game developers are there. That's the talent we want to hire.

Why Leeds?
Well, Leeds is an interesting market. It's one of the largest cities in the UK, it doesn't have quite the cost structure of London, it's definitely a little less expensive too. When it comes to big UK cities, there's Liverpool, there's Manchester, there's London and there's Leeds.

We think Leeds has a great degree of talented people, so it seemed like the best choice for us.

Call of Duty Black Ops Zombies (Android)

Do you think you can help build a development cluster in Leeds? There's Rockstar Leeds, there's Team 17, and now there's The Blast Furnace. Depending on how big it becomes, could your new studio foster a sort of development hub like you see in Guildford, Warwickshire, Dundee and Brighton?
That's what you see in other cities, and I think there is already one in Leeds. I hope we can contribute to that overall community, and serve as a talent attractor. We have invested in the studio and now we want to attract people to Leeds fro the other talent centres.

How do you pitch the studio to people you're trying to hire?
It really is about creating world class entertainment experiences on the mobile platform. If you take a step back and think about what Activision is really good at, it's about creating best-in-class entertainment experiences. And we do it by giving games studios the freedom to do what they want.

We live by the mantra of the independent studio model, more so than some of our competitors who say they do, but really don't.

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