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Interview: Ngmoco's We Rule after a year on the App Store

Ngmoco's We Rule has arguably changed the App Store since its release. Before We Rule, the App Store was generally based on a rather traditional gaming model -- developers released games for a price, and customers paid or didn't pay based on that price. But with We Rule, Ngmoco (as outlined by CEO Neil Young at last year's GDC) showed that freemium could really work on the App Store, and the ensuing shift led us away from more traditional games and further into the idea of games as a service -- games that took advantage of a large free audience to make money with microtransactions.

Now, a year after release, Ngmoco says that We Rule is doing better than ever. It's reached 13 million downloads and has seen 13 billion minutes played over the past year. On a daily basis, 15 million bottles of mojo (the game's main microtransaction currency) are being spent, and while plenty of those are earned for free in the game, there's no question that We Rule has seen plenty of success.

TUAW spoke with Caryl Shaw, an executive producer at the company, and she told us a little bit about who's spending all of those minutes in game, Ngmoco's responsibility around microtransactions, and the future of We Rule and Ngmoco's other properties.

As for who's playing We Rule, Shaw's answer is simple: everyone. While she didn't share specifics (and only said that Ngmoco has "done a couple of surveys" on their own audience), she said that both anecdotally and in-house, she's seen "a range of players, male and female, across the age groups." We Rule itself is a casual game, but it attracts some more hardcore traditional gamers, according to Shaw.

The freemium model helps there as well, Shaw says. Ngmoco "wanted to make our sign up process have a really low barrier of entry," so all it takes to get into We Rule is "a few text forms," which means anyone can jump in and play.

I asked Shaw if she felt any responsibility on the company's part towards customers who may spend too much with the microtransaction system, and she said that, "Yeah, I do feel some responsibility there. I think we've done a pretty good job of educating people in our community about it." Apple recently changed the in-app purchase procedure to require a password every time, and Shaw says that "We support that, I think that's a fine way to do things. It's better for the long term health of our game to have customers buying in-app purchases intentionally rather than unintentionally."

Ngmoco has also had a lot of freemium success with its Touch Pets series, and Shaw says that in that title, Ngmoco has even "put some direct messaging up" about how in-app purchases work and when customers are spending real money on the game.

Does Ngmoco ever pine for the old days of more traditional gaming, before the company focused on freemium? "I don't hear a lot of people saying we're looking to go backwards to where we were," says Shaw. Obviously, Ngmoco has had plenty of success with its freemium model, and while the games aren't exactly groundbreaking (We Rule has spawned We Farm and We City, with only a few slight updates to the gameplay), Shaw says the company is generally sticking with what works.

That said, Ngmoco does plan to bring the game to Android, and has been showing it off at Google recently, among other places. And the game has been updated often, not only on the App Store itself, but also just on the official servers where, says Shaw, "we can actually turn on features ... we do tuning, we do sales."

Ngmoco is also building up a game engine, called Ngcore, for developers to use for cross-platform development. That plan seems like it's a joint venture with Ngmoco's Japanese owners at DeNA, but Shaw says that from the production side, the DeNA deal has led to more knowledge sharing than anything else. "I got to go over to Japan and meet with some of the social games team there," she says, "and talk to them about We Rule and get some ideas from them."

We Rule's obviously come a long way in just a year -- it'll be interesting to see where the next 365 days takes this company, this game and this platform.



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Gaming iPhone iOS

Ngmoco's We Rule has arguably changed the App Store since its release. Before We Rule, the App Store was generally based on a rather...