And yet, it fails to have a single A-grade title to its name, making it an interesting and unique company amongst the major publishers.
In this piece we try and break down what makes Gameloft great, and why others might object to it. We're also very keen to have your take on the company, so please do join in the conversation in the comments below.
1) Gameloft is cheap
When Call of Duty (and any other major new release) sells for $Aus110, Modern Combat: Domination, selling for less than 1/5th of that price, offers a very attractive alternative. Not everyone has an income that can support all the big releases through the calendar year (especially the FPS genre), so if the Gameloft equivalent can scratch the itch instead, especially when you're not a huge fan of the genre in question, then the game has served its purpose.
And then, after the itch has been scratched, there's no real compulsion to play for multiple, multiple hours. Gameloft games are nothing if not disposable, so it's rare that there's a Gameloft game that feels like you're being overcharged for.
2) Gameloft games are technically competent
Despite being cheap, Gameloft games feature a surprisingly level of technical competence. Visuals tend to be well-drawn, framerates tend to stay up, and the publisher does a good job of implementing console-specific gimmicks to make the game feel at home on the console. Dungeon Hunter Alliance supports the PlayStation Move, for instance. Every Gameloft game sold on the Nintendo DSiWare had some kind of camera feature. Occasionally these features are awkward in execution, but if you have the peripherals, at least you get to use them with these guys.
And importantly, those games that feature a online play mode usually work very smoothly - all very impressive features for games with such a cheap buy-in. Often you'd expect budget games to be riddled with bugs or have corners cut in presentation, but not with Gameloft.
|It really is the only option right now for dungeon hack fans on PSN|
3) Gameloft is often first
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is the first true-blood real dungeon hack RPG on the PlayStation Network. NOVA and StarFront are the first Halo and Starcraft style game on iOS devices, respectively. This is an advantage that should not be underestimated. Fans of these genres often have no alternatives when Gameloft releases a game on a service, and so lap it up in droves. When there's no alternative, it's easier to forgive errors.
So for instance, the closest alternative to Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is Sacred 2, which is a good game with a huge amount of content. But it's also not a true dungeon hack - you spend too much time outside and doing more RPG-style questing for that. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is much more straight forward and for some, the better for it. Which brings us to pro #4...
4) Gameloft games are really easy to play
Precisely because Gameloft refuses to shoot for originality, its games are comfortably familiar. And, because they are budget games, they're often more straightforward and simple. The publisher's heritage in mobile phone games is evident because its releases remain easy to pick up and play for 30 minute blocks if you're just looking to waste some downtime.
So even if these are not games you'll be playing in marathons, they are games that you'll find yourself coming back to every once in a while, because they are so easy to pick up and play.
|We could probably do without Gameloft trying to claim it's the 'best' at anything, though. That's a stretch|
1) Gameloft games are soulless
It's not just that Gameloft games are copies of existing good ideas - genuine innovation is rare enough in the games industry that this alone should be forgivable. What isn't so forgivable is, for all the technical competency, Gameloft games lack heart. Music and visuals are generic and sanitised to the point where it's about as interesting as walking down a hospital corridor. Level design tends to be uninteresting, and characters are stereotypical and undercooked (the later especially hurts games like Eternal Legacy, a Final Fantasy knock-off that required interesting characters).
This isn't going to be a problem for many people, but for those who look for a bit more than raw entertainment value, Gameloft games do little to further the argument that games can be like art. It's like comparing a happy snap of a beach with an Ansel Adams landscape. One is just fun, the other has meaning. Gameloft games do not have meaning.
|Games are art. Gameloft games are not (Ansel Adams photo above)|
2) Gameloft games are forgettable
While it's possible to have fun playing through these games, ultimately you'll forget they ever existed 10 years from now. There's not a single game in the Gameloft library that can be considered a "classic," and so the actual loyalty to the publisher is low. I don't see anywhere near as many high-level players on Modern Combat: Domination than I do on Call of Duty, for instance. It's anecdotal, but it suggests that many people don't actually play these games to completion, which in turn means the games have a lesser value than they would appear on the surface - playing Final Fantasy XIII for 60 hours for $Aus110 is better value than playing Eternal Legacy for 4 hours for $Aus10.
3) Gameloft prices are anti-competitive
This is a problem more on the iOS devices than anything else, but Gameloft's pricing makes it difficult for the genuine article to gain traction. After all, why would you buy Call of Duty for $Aus25 on the iPad, when you could grab Modern Domination for $10?
The alternative would be for the publishers to drop budgets to keep prices down, and then themselves compete with Gameloft on a price point. But that leads to a drop in quality. Of course, Gameloft is not the only company that is leading the "cheap is good" charge on the App Store, but it is part of the problem that will continue to erode the viability of producing a big budget, epic game.
|Modern Combat: Domination is pretty much my ultimate guilty pleasure. I know it's a weak game, but I keep starting it up|
So, in conclusion, Gameloft games are not for everyone. This can be said about every publisher, of course, but with Gameloft, the division seems to be more dramatic. Love it or hate it, though, the company is here to stay, and will continue to produce vanilla, "guilty pleasure" games as long as it's around.