STP Interview: Gameloft’s Michel Guillemot

Gameloft rates as one of the top publishers on the App Store along practically every metric. The Paris-based firm has dozens of iPhone titles on sale–which have produced beaucoup bucks for its bottom line–and many of its games have been hits with the critics as well, such as Terminator Salvation and Siberian Strike.

Gameloft produces games for many other casual platforms as well (including feature phones, Android, the Nintendo DSi, and Xbox Live Arcade, to name a few), but the iPhone seems to be one of its most important outlets. We sat down with Gameloft’s President and CEO, Michel Guillemot, to learn about the company’s reaction to Apple’s WWDC announcements, as well as its ongoing plans for the platform.

Why is this man smiling? Because he runs Gameloft!

The first thing we heard from Guillemot is that Gameloft is very, very pleased with Apple’s gaming initiatives so far. “They have built the best phone, created the best store, and combined this with the best business model,” he remarked. “It is no surprise to us that we are now seeing 50,000 Apps only one year later.”

But Guillemot didn’t wait around to see whether the App Store would be commercially viable before signing up, unlike some of his competitors. Steve Jobs’s 2008 keynote sold him on the concept, and Gameloft jumped right into the fray by releasing 20 titles in 2008.

That has taken major resources, and Guillemot hasn’t shied away from allocating them. “At the beginning of last year, we had zero people working on the App Store. Today, we have 500 people dedicated to making and distributing iPhone games,” he told us.

Gameloft appears ready to buy into the platform even further after Apple’s iPhone announcements at WWDC. “We think the iPhone 3GS is going to be great,” Guillemot said. “This is an even more mature device, and it shows that Apple wants to take care of its customers. The new video and camera capabilities are exciting, and the extra speed will help out with games as well.”

Guillemot believes that the new $99 price point for the iPhone 3G is a big step too, because “it will do an even better job matching consumer expectations,” and bring new customers to the App Store. But like practically everyone else at Phil Schiller’s keynote, he was disappointed that the cheaper device wasn’t accompanied by less expensive subscription plans from AT&T. “The carriers have a different agenda than Apple” because they have to recoup their massive investments in wireless network infrastructure, he said.

When we asked about the significance of iPhone OS 3.0 to Gameloft’s business, Guillemot’s eyes lit up. “If the App Store was the first revolution, we believe that 3.0 will be the second revolution,” he told us. “It’s going to enable a new level of creativity.”

Part of the excitement has to do with monetization, Guillemot explained, but 3.0 will also open up new opportunities for players to network with one another, create their own communities, and tailor their own gaming experiences. “Players will be be able to purchase and share the elements of the game that they care about,” he said. “This is the reality of 21st century gaming. The business model will have to be reinvented, because customers now expect much lower prices.”

We touched on the absurd level of competition on the App Store, which Guillemot doesn’t see as a problem. “Last year was a free-for-all, but I think in the next year, only games that bring something new and great to customers will succeed,” he said. “We are willing to devote the resources necessary to make that happen.”

And Guillemot isn’t adverse to working with talented indie developers, either. “It can make sense to help great ideas come to the market, as long as we feel that Gameloft can add some value to the experience,” he said. “And we may even start to look outside of the traditional ‘game’ category, as well–entertainment is no longer in silos like that. It’s all blended together.”

So, if Guillemot and company were excited about the App Store last year, they appear ready to take things up another notch and follow Apple’s lead. “Apple is a creative company. They want to create any device they think consumers want, and they are reopening the gaming market to a mass audience,” he concluded. “Our strategies align very well.”