When customers like Disney Interactive speak, it’s a good idea to listen. Disney’s digital strategies stand on the vanguard of the explosive gaming industry – placing richly developed characters into increasingly elaborate digital platforms. In the words of Mihai Pohontu, vice president of game operations at Disney Interactive, his business is a combination of “engineering and artistry”, which immediately gives Nearshore software services players a unique opening. What exactly is that opening, and when does Pohontu prefer to work with Latin America partners?
Find out in our Q/A interview with Pohontu.
Pohontu, who reports into to Disney Interactive’s co-President is responsible for driving excellence in live operations and game services across all verticals within the group (core, mobile, social, web), as well as managing strategic initiatives in areas including platform extension, outsourcing, agile development practices and operational efficiency.
NSAM: How much do you look to third-party outsourcers in providing new ideas in your development process?
Mihai Pohontu: The experience of any external development group is illuminating and sharing of experiences, processes or systems between enterprises is difficult due to non-disclosure limits. When working with an experienced software development vendor, consulting is part of the package – and therefore you can obtain detailed knowledge on all the areas mentioned above.
NSAM: Any examples you can share?
Mihai Pohontu: Game development teams mostly work with agile methodologies, which can take various forms. Most popular of these is Scrum, but hybrids of waterfall and agile approaches are sometimes encountered. Understanding how various forms of agile development practices have worked on actual projects can be very useful and we’ve obtained this information from several of our external partners.
NSAM: What have you done with Disney, and in previous roles, to stimulate outsourcing partners to come to the table with innovative approaches?
Mihai Pohontu: We try to build success incentives in all our contracts, tied directly to performance targets that tend to become more ambitious each year for long-term engagements. I should also say that we select our partners on their ability to sustain and evolve alongside our company, even as skills and requirements change. The other approach is to choose vendors for highly specific needs in short-bursts, which may offer immediate results, but not lasting partnerships and symbiotic growth strategies.
Latin America in particular has a lot to offer to a US-based business: access to a growing market, as well as culturally-relevant content for North American audiences.
NSAM: What are your views on the value of Nearshore partners (Latin America) versus partners in offshore environments for the type of development work you do? Does region matter – if so how?
Mihai Pohontu: Games are a blend of engineering and artistry, so creativity steeped into a particular cultural milieu is an important ingredient to success. Nearshore has the unique advantage of cultural proximity and we absolutely value this. Latin America in particular has a lot to offer to a US-based business: access to a growing market, as well as culturally-relevant content for North American audiences. Otherwise, I’d say modern businesses chase value and talent anywhere around the world. When cultural affinity is not a requirement we will look past Nearshore opportunities to wherever we can find the best mix of cost and proficiency.
NSAM: Many of your gaming products appear to be more and more integrated into social media. Do you approach the issue of enticing audiences, using social media, differently from region to region?
Mihai Pohontu: Disney has extensive social gaming properties, currently developed by the Playdom studios. We found that internationalization is an essential criterion for success in the social space: culturally-specific elements, events tied into local holiday schedules, focused marketing campaigns, etc. We would like to do more of this in the near future and partnerships with competent vendors could be key to unlocking this opportunity.
NSAM: Overall, for your group, what percent of applications are built in-house vs. through third parties?
Mihai Pohontu: For our enterprise software, tools and systems we try as much as possible to use off-the-shelf products, rather than custom-coded solutions. Less than 10% of those are internally developed. For games content the majority of the content is developed internally (probably more than 75% of a game’s features), except for services in specific areas such as art, testing, marketing websites, etc. In relatively few cases we contract an external studio to develop a game using technology or play-style that suits perfectly our publishing slate.