Ngmoco CEO Neil Young on the iPad, Monetization, and Challenges for New Mobile Developers

In the small world of the iPhone’s top game publishers, Ngmoco looms large. Its releases include early iPhone hits like Maze Finger and Doctor Awesome and the later, more graphically mature Eliminate and Star Defense; in all, the company has had just under a dozen successful games, far more than most can claim.

We sat down with co-founder and CEO Neil Young to get his perspective on where mobile gaming is headed in the future — whether on the iPhone or another platform. Note that this interview, like our last one with SGN’s Randy Breen, runs a bit long; just click through below to get the full read.

Inside Social Games: I feel like I have to ask: What’s your view on the iPad? And on Google’s new Nexus One?

Neil Young: I’m very bullish on the iPad. The negative commentary I read on the internet reminds me of when the iPod came out. I think real humans will be amazed with the iPad. It’s going to be a very important computing device, and potentially the death of the netbook. In a couple year’s time it’ll be huge.

We’ll have titles at the iPad’s launch and support it through the year. You can think about four classes of products that you could build for the iPad. The first is an iPhone app sold through the app store. You do nothing at all, no work. Class two is to take those products and up the resolution to make them look good on a larger device. I expect a bunch of people will do that because it’s the easiest thing to do, and they’ll try to position themselves as leaders. The third class of things will be to take products that are being shipped on the iPhone OS and make enhancements and changes to really take advantage of the screen format. It’s not just about resolution, it’s actually having more real estate for function. The last thing you can do is build native applications that can only ever be on the iPad, not on smaller devices.

For Ngmoco, we’re going to predominantly live in that third category for now. We’ll take our games and add to them for the iPad.

Android continues to make improvements. I don’t think the Nexus One has done very much to change the commercial profile of Android. It’s still very clearly far behind the iPhone OS devices. Having said that, I think the Nexus One is a piece of hardware, in terms of its form and processing power, that’s pretty impressive. It’s really the tight integration between operating system, applications and hardware that’s lacking. My sense is that there are a few more turns of the crank before Android gets into the ballpark.

ISG: All of your games so far have been in the top 25. Do you see that continuing as competition increases? And as the market grows, is it even necessary to be at the top of the charts?

NY: Certainly as the market expands, the value of a chart placement will increase, even for lower positions. The beauty of free to play games is you disconnect your revenue model from chart position. It’s important to get as many people as you can into the game, for sure, but you’re not making money only when the game is in the charts. That’s the difference from the paid side –- there, if you’re not in the top 100, you’re not making money. In the top 50, even. On a free to play game, it’s really about usage. Once you’ve got a customer, they could theoretically stay with you forever and pay you forever. You’ve changed your monetization from being in the chart to maintaining a relationship with a customer. That also means you get to think differently about the way you design, about how the games get into people’s hands, how you treat your customers.