GameHouse has been around for 25 years making casual online and downloadable games. It drew some attention recently when Apple CEO Tim Cook visited its headquarters in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, where GameHouse CEO Simonetta Lulli Gómez showed him games designed for women.
It was part of Cook’s tour to show that iPhones are great mobile gaming platforms, and his promos for the iPhone 15 as a gaming device. He praised the company for its inclusive games driven by inspiring stories and strong characters.
GameHouse was founded by Ben Exworthy and Garr Godfrey in 1998 with the mission of making downloadable games for the PC, starting with Collapse! It grew to more than $10 million in revenue and was acquired by RealNetworks for $14.6 million in 2004. GamesHouse merged with Europe’s Zylom in 2006 and remains a division of RealNetworks. The company has 75 people and more than 3,000 games, including the popular Delicious franchise. Much of its slate is made for non-traditional gamers, including women. RealNetworks itself went private at the end of 2022.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
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GamesBeat: Nice to talk.
Simonetta Lulli Gómez: I don’t know if you remember, but I was at the Spin Master when you were interviewing Nick Beliaeff, my boss, and you know that part, so I’m pretty familiar. I’m following you a while, so very nice meeting you.
GamesBeat: Thank you too, and nice to meet you. How long have you been there now at GameHouse?
Lulli Gómez: It’s been two years right now that I’m enjoying GameHouse as the CEO.
GamesBeat: The company is 25 years old now?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah.
GamesBeat: I wonder if you could take me through some history and any kinds of twists and turns that have happened to get to this point.
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, I think GameHouse started 25 years ago. It merged or there was a transaction where it merged with another company here in Netherlands that is called Zylom. Still we have the Zylom website for our business and a GameHouse website. I can explain a little bit about it. The business started probably, as you probably know, as a web gaming. I think naturally we thought probably realizing they started focusing on the female audience. Then in 2006, the first phone IP was created and that Delicious and Delicious has been around all these years since 2006 and with 19 games in what we call the Delicious Universe. This universe that Delicious was created with Emily in the middle.
GamesBeat: You can keep on continuing talking about some of that history.
Lulli Gómez: Then during that time, it was mainly publishing. They started – once they created their own IPs, they started to do a lot of premium games. Their first immersion in mobile was premium, at the time was what it was. Then in 2019 is when they started their first free to play. It was based on Delicious, Delicious World, it’s called, and that was the first free to play. It’s a time management game. It’s been around since then. Then there was another one that was Delicious Bed and Breakfast. It’s a match date, and that launch is slightly after this first one.
Another change that happened around that time, really in 2017 or so, GameHouse launched probably one of the first subscription mobile game businesses because it was very early on the date in 2017/18 and that is as well a part of our business. So right now, we have a mobile subscription business that has over 60 games. It’s focused always on this casual female player in general. Then of course we have the web population that is still GameHouse for Zylom that is as well on subscription.
One of the key characteristics that I think now the subscription is becoming bigger and as well for example we just announced yesterday that we are launching Delicious Miracle of Life in Apple Arcade. I think the subscription is becoming more prominent in the gaming industry. I think it’s very different to design for a subscriber than for a free to play and I think that has been interesting path that some people have been doing or are still doing to take a game, adapt it and in reality, the behavior of subscribers is totally different. It’s like parallel things. Free to play creates friction to pay and subscription creates the opposite that is enjoyment. You already pay, so have fun. So it’s a totally different – I think subscription is closer to console in a way. You pay and you enjoy while free to play has a different model and different design. We are very well-positioned now to become a good player in subscription and that’s why yesterday we were really happy when we announced our first game with Apple Arcade.
GamesBeat: I know Tim Cook came to visit. How did that come about?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, Tim Cook was coming to Netherlands. We have offices in Netherlands, in Andover, in Barcelona and in Alicante in Spain. I’m currently based in Barcelona. He was visiting and he chose a gaming studio to visit; that was us. We were really excited because obviously, I was excited to meet Tim Cook. The visit as well very interesting for us in the sense that I would show him how we – the history a little bit of GameHouse. We show him as well how do we decide for the female first. He was very interested on that because that is something different that we do. We built the female players by nature and by player behavior is different, how they play. how do they focus, what do they want from the games. We show him all our research about that, how do we play, do we decide with the personas, who are our personas. We show him some of our new games and how we are integrating some technology from Apple into the new ones. It was very exciting, and I think he was excited as well because 48% of the players in iPhone are female. Definitely, it’s an important audience for Apple.
GamesBeat: I’m sure it’s not that easy to find the game company doing mobile games, targeting women, that also has a female CEO. It’s probably not as many as you would think.
Lulli Gómez: Not very easy at all. I think it’s kind of rare. I think that’s why I took this job as well. I think when they offer it to me, the job of a CEO is a hard role in itself. It has good things and a lot of challenges and other things. I thought it was a huge opportunity for me to be able to finally decide for my own audience. That’s rare. For me to be able to design and to understand what the audience wants firsthand and being able to – it’s a different feeling. That’s one of the reasons I accepted as well to join GameHouse because I think it’s going to be very rare that I’m in this opportunity.
GamesBeat: What was more of your own history with making games? Did you spend a lot of time making games?
Lulli Gómez: I’m an economist, but I started a lot on digital and marketing in the early, early years. I think Google was not even in Europe at the time, so you can imagine. I started first in London, and then I started with Harbor Hotel at the beginning. I think that that was the learning field of many successful gaming companies now, from Small Giant, from Supercell, many of the Helsinki hub, even Nextgames, you name it. The whole Helsinki hub, I would say that many of us came from that. We learned video rules; we learned free-to-play that at the time was totally new, economies, design. It was not something that you could learn studying; you could only learn by doing. It was a very exciting time, I was ten years at Harbor Hotel in different roles, from staff to SVP. In ten years I did a lot of things, from advertising, marketing, community.
After that I was a CEO of Boost World, that was another virtual world, but this time instead of teenagers, it was for pre-teens, a little bit younger. That was in Montreal, in Canada, and before Canada and GameHouse I was in Spin Master, this toy digital/animation company that owned Paw Patrol. We acquired Toca Boca during my time. I did a lot of connected toys and connected games for IPs. I was the head of the digital studio at the end of my time.
GamesBeat: How did Spin Master do in the big picture for games and toys?
Lulli Gómez: I think the acquisition of Toca Boca was definitely a very smart move, if you ask me, not because I was involved, but I think if you look at the information, the stock and investors, you will see it. I think that worked very well. I think in general, it is always interesting how to make connected things, not only connected toys. In the case of the digital toys, it’s even more challenging than maybe other things because there is always this — I don’t know how to explain. That the parent doesn’t want the kid to spend time digitally, right? In reality they spend a lot of time digitally, so there is always this thing going on, but yeah, overall I think that Spin Master is doing well and their digital toy strategy is definitely spot-on in my opinion.
GamesBeat: There are not many in the position to do a lot of that. I think Mattel is starting to look interesting again now that they have Barbie’s success.
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, I was thinking today at Hasbro’s numbers they announced, and I think thanks to Monopoly Go, I don’t know, it was one of – I think that these companies that diversify their risk into digital games, I think they are doing probably better than the others that didn’t.
GamesBeat: So how did you want to differentiate GameHouse, as far as different kinds of possible emphases to help it stand out?
Lulli Gómez: I think one of the things, or two things, to differentiate is, one is the way that we incorporate our audience, and we have female players at the core of our design and how it is done, I think, is different than others. I’m saying it’s different than others because we have people from many companies that haven’t done it that way, so I think the process is unique. Thinking first on that design of what they want I think is different.
The other part that I think is a differentiation is definitely the subscription. I think the subscription knowledge, the subscription base that we have, both on mobile and PC but stronger on mobile, I think it’s something that not many people have and I think that this could be a new model that is very successful for many people. We believe as well that specifically in female players that are always very guilty. They feel guilty of spending. The subscription is a model that fits them well, or fits us well. I think entertainment is getting more and more used to subscription, as we know, Netflix, you name it, Spotify, I mean any of the entertainment, so I think there is an opportunity where we are a little bit ahead than maybe others.
GamesBeat: I guess one thing I did want to check was how much you’ve raised as far as money goes to date, and then any update on the number of employees as well. You can answer as we maybe switch.
Lulli Gómez: Right now, during this year, our parent company is RealNetworks, and RealNetworks, until end of last year, December, it was a public company. This year is a transition where it become a private company and Rob Glazer is the 100% owner of RealNetworks, and so GameHouse. This year has been a transition year. We are positioning us back into that position here. However, in terms of investment or so, it’s never said I don’t want more investment. I think that would be really stupid, but I think where we are really open is for partnerships, and to be stronger together with someone. What I mean by that is, I think partnerships are always good if you find a win-win, and in my experience, in my past, it has always worked well if you find that win-win, so it could be — it doesn’t need to be necessarily investment but I’m always thinking of ways to – how we can increase our audience reach? How can we get better in UA or in advertisement? It doesn’t necessarily need to be money. I think it’s more about how can we strengthen our positioning together with someone. I think we are always open to discussion on this current economic system where it is so difficult to be a media company. I think it’s difficult to be a media company right now.
GamesBeat: How many people you have?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, currently we’re around 75.
GamesBeat: As far as things that are coming out or coming up, what do you see, I guess, in the near future for GameHouse products?
Lulli Gómez: We are working in a product that currently is in early testing, let’s put it this way. It’s not available openly. I think it approaches casual gaming, as I said, from the female perspective at a core by design. It gives familiarity that our audience wants, but it gives innovation that I think is needed to succeed right now. I think that doing a copy is not going to make it any longer. I mean, at least that’s our opinion. I think that you need to innovate in a way that others don’t. We believe that we have found a gap specifically on the female casual gaming. We think we are approaching differently and we are offering a different type of game that we believe – I mean, and some of our early data shows that we’re in the right track. I’m really excited about that product. On the other hand, we are going to focus a lot of effort as well on the mobile subscription. As I said, we already have 60 games. We are going to focus on double down on that because we feel it’s very unique to us, we understand very well and we have a competitive advantage. That’s not the moment that we want to do that.
GamesBeat: Let’s see. As far as the game for Apple Arcade, I guess, can you talk about that a bit more and was it different for you guys in some way?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, so this game is called Delicious Miracle of Life. It’s what Apple Arcade calls great games. It’s not, one, original. It’s a great game. It’s a game that is already on the app store that we adapted to Apple Arcade. The game has been very successful, is on the Delicious saga. One of the reasons as well we thought it would fit well is that it’s very family oriented. All our games in general are – I wouldn’t say are family directed, but they’re clean in a way. This game, I think it could fit very well the female audiences. If you check Apple Arcade, this is one of the first games that is a little bit in that audience more than others. Usually, their catalog is not so clearly into female audience game. As well, we think that it’s a game that other audiences will enjoy, younger audiences will enjoy. I think it’s a game that is very, very nice and interesting to play. It’s probably one of the first-time management games in Apple Arcade. I think that for us is a strong positioning as well, because we have, I believe over – I have the numbers, but I believe thousands of time management games between all the 25 years. It is a core competence that we know very well.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about the state of game discovery in mobile?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, I think that it’s – you mean on mobile in general, right?
GamesBeat: Yeah, I guess the subscription in some ways is a shield against that, I guess, but you still need to try to draw attention to these games and it’s hard to do. I wonder what works, I guess.
Lulli Gómez: I think in the subscription side where it works in our experience is really the value proposition. If you find that you try doing the free trial and that you enjoy it and the products that you like keep coming or you have enough content that you enjoy, it keeps people engaged. Even in the case of PC, we have, I think over 3000 games right now. People have plenty of games to enjoy. I think that the value proposition definitely for web or mobile is very interesting. I think that’s why people pay and stay. I think it’s more difficult to convert, but if you look at the LTV, is very high. At the end, this subscription business, and it could be ours or it could be any others, I think that’s where it comes. The LTV is high. You can perform some optimization and then it comes out. In our case, GameHouse is very, very organic as well. Due to the P-value and everything else, we receive a lot of organics, which I think is awesome and great. I think how do you convert those users into subscribers and give them the value that they’re willing to pay and continuously offering content that they want. I don’t think it’s any different than what Netflix is doing with their movies or content. At the end, you stay because you continue using it.
GamesBeat: Are you folks concentrated in Eindhoven or where is a lot of the workforce for the company elsewhere?
Lulli Gómez: I think approximately, I would say 30% is in Netherlands in Eindhoven. We are not in Amsterdam, we are in Eindhoven. Around the other 70, we are based in Barcelona, Alicante or remote. I mean, as you know, now, it’s difficult to say we have people everywhere from Helsinki to Brazil. I think it’s a bit of, but the hubs are Barcelona, Alicante. Alicante is more focused on the subscription side. Barcelona is more focused on free-to-play and the studio. Then Netherlands, Eindhoven is more on the support side, like marketing and things like that.
GamesBeat: As far as your outlook for platforms, which platforms you want to support in the future, do you see it changing much?
Lulli Gómez: This is a very interesting question because I’m a great believer in cloud gaming coming soon. For us, that would be a very interesting way to provide subscribers with the same type of subscription, not only for mobile but on web or wherever they want to play. We believe that soon enough that would be possible. We have already been playing with certain things that work relatively well. We think that’s going to be possible sometimes. Hopefully, the money side will be possible to make it worth it. I foresee more into that than console. I think that our type of games and our focus is not right now on that. I’ve seen how some people – I have launched myself on console. I know how difficult from many angles it is as well to really make it properly. What I can say is that because some of our games or many of our games are very storied, is narrative strong and we have these strong IPs, one of my always visions was that I think that the universe of Delicious could come to other platforms, it could be console or others, in different manners. Maybe not necessarily one game serves all. It could be, but I think it could be even an animation. It could be many things because the IP itself is very strong. It has been played by over 100 million people. These are well known characters and stories that can fit very well console, but I don’t think we have needed the capacity. Even I would need to do a lot of research to understand if our audience would be there. I think maybe on Switch, but I’m not sure in which other platforms. Having said that, I want to say that our web games, our PC games on subscription are in Steam and other platforms like that. Our games are in different places and platforms. In console per se, I’m not sure if that will come anytime soon.
GamesBeat: I guess that’s all on my side. Are there any other things you’d like to talk about?
Lulli Gómez: No, I think we talked about the story, we talked about the subscription and Apple Arcade and all the positioning.
GamesBeat: Do you have a summary view of your outlook for games and for GameHouse?
Lulli Gómez: Yeah, I really envision us providing a safe place for female players to enjoy casual gaming without feeling guilty. Our slogan is everyone needs me time, game time. We feel that that’s really what it is that we know, but certain by our research, the female players feel guilty when they play and they do it maybe before they go to bed or it’s not the same behavior. I hope that we can change the mentality of those players and the people that gaming is not bad, and that you can relax and you can do good things with your mind while playing. That me time can be used in game time without feeling bad. That’s one of our visions with our games. We can do that and encourage a little bit of me time, game time.
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