Who Is DeNA? Ngmoco Explains the Japanese Company's U.S. Ambitions.

Ngmoco CEO and Electronic Arts veteran Neil Young does not downplay the opportunity in front of him.

He’s building a network that he thinks can be as meaningful to today’s generation as MTV was to the rock ‘n’ roll era.

The opportunity doesn’t come around very often, he admits, but he believes we are at a tipping point, where games, mobile devices and high-speed networks will lead to a new entertainment channel, saying such moments “are infrequent, but when they do come along, a lot of value will be generated.”

Young’s plans were only accelerated three months ago after the game developer sold for $400 million to a company that is far from a household name in the U.S.–Japanese-based DeNA (pronounced D-N-A).

We caught up with Young at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco to understand how Ngmoco’s mission has changed, and to learn about what the two have in store for the U.S. market.

DeNA is a publicly traded mobile social network that has a market cap of $4.5 billion and annual revenues of $1.25 billion.

The company has been on an acquisition spree over the past few months, buying U.S. mobile game-makers, like Icebreaker and Gameview Studios, along with making a handful of other U.S. investments.

In Japan, DeNA is known for its mobile-only social network called Mobage-town (pronounced Mo-bah-gay), which runs on lower-end feature phones and makes all of its money selling virtual goods within its network of games.

Now DeNA is looking to expand into the U.S., and to transition from feature phones to smartphones in Japan.

Ngmoco will become the backbone for both.

Ngmoco was spawned from the iPhone application boom, having received investments from Kleiner Perkins’ iFund and, more recently, Google Ventures. It created iPhone games like We Rule, and We Doodle and Rolando.

Then, last summer, it played down the development of games in favor of creating a gaming platform, called the Plus Network. The network allowed players to log in to the same account across multiple games and to participate in leaderboards and awards. In other words, it was a social network of sorts.

Not very coincidentally, Young’s idea for the Plus Network was modeled after DeNA’s Mobage-town in Japan. He even presented it to investors that way in slides when raising money. The Plus Network will now become the basis for Mobage in the U.S. and Japan.

The network will be open to third-party game developers who are looking for a single log-in experience, a community of users playing within a social network and a monetization platform. It will run on Android because the platform is more open than Apple’s iPhone.

Already, Ngmoco has some traction.

It has signed a deal with Samsung to become its default Game Hub on all the Android phones and tablets, and it has 40 developers participating in a beta. Within the next two months, Ngmoco expects to launch “We Rule” on Android and to launch the fully integrated Mobage service in the second quarter.

One way to think about Mobage is a Facebook-like platform on top of mobile phones that companies like FarmVille’s Zynga could leverage. Young prefers to compare it to MySpace, except that MySpace failed to catapult itself from its leadership position on music to become a entertainment destination.

One stark difference between social networks on PCs and Mobage is that users won’t necessarily be playing with friends, but rather a network of game players you may or may not know. Young argues that’s a benefit: “It’s difficult to escape if everyone is watching you.”

If it sounds ambitious, it is.

But it’s something Young is comfortable with.

When Ngmoco originally launched, its first logo read ng:moco :) with a few Japanese characters written underneath. Roughly translated, the Japanese characters said “future entertainment company.”

Young said it was in Japanese for two reasons: It looked cool, and because it was too cocky to come out in say it.

Today, he doesn’t hesitate: “Now we have the chance to do it.”

Young has a set of three priorities: Launching and executing Mobage as a brand on Android; building a small number of games to show off the platform’s potential; and finally to move the Mobage platform from mobile to tablets, and then to the TV.

In a video interview, Young describes in more depth how Ngmoco could become the next MTV, and proves that he really did use the word “cocky”:

Photo Credit: mobilopen.


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