Gameloft: The Guillermot Family’s Game Changer

The recent implementation of a software development studio in New Orleans by Gameloft, a French mobile game publisher, constitutes a major success for the State of Louisiana. This grownup-startup headquartered in Paris is a leader in the mobile game market.

The company posted 2011 revenues of over 164 million Euros (approx. $215 million), includes 4,500 employees (more than 90% are developers), boasts a presence on every continent, and distributes games in 100 countries. Gameloft is a publicly traded company, which is listed on the Paris Stock Exchange.

The success story of Gameloft can be summed up in three words: “Guillermot,” ”five,” and “Ubisoft.”

It all begins in a town located in Brittany, a northwest region of France, called Carentoir. In this small town, Mr. and Mrs. Guillermot owned a wholesale agricultural products distribution business and raised five boys: Claude, Michel, Yves, Gerard, and Christian (born between 1956 and 1966). The five brothers were actively involved in the family business via summer jobs.

The rest of the year was dedicated to graduating from High School with concentrations in science. After High School, they each pursued their education by going to business schools. While there in the 1970s and 1980s, video gaming was reaching mainstream popularity. The Guillermot brothers insightfully anticipated that the video gaming industry would be the future of entertainment.

In 1984, the brothers took over their parents’ mail-order business in Carentoir and transformed it for the distribution of hardware and accessories for the growing computer market in France. The company, named “Guillermot Informatique” expanded to the point that they decided to separate its two lines of activities: hardware and software. In 1986, they set up a second company dedicated to the distribution of computer software, named “Ubi Soft Entertainment SA.”

The name “Ubi Soft” is a reference to “ubiquitous.” or omnipresence. Ubisoft quickly became a very successful producer, publisher, and distributor of video games. Today, Ubisoft is the leading independent game publisher in France, second in Europe, third in the US, and third worldwide (behind Activision and Electronic Arts). Ubisoft posted 2010 revenues of 972 million Euros (approx. $1,3 billion) and the boasts more than 6,000 employees.

Seeing the rise of the mobile market in the late 1990s, Michel Guillermot, the second oldest of the five brothers, saw an opportunity to provide games to a larger audience in a model analogous to the home computer. He launched Gameloft in 1999 with 50 employees and six studios, which went on to become a publicly traded company in 2000.

However, four years later and after investing 40 million Euros, Gameloft posted no revenue between 2000 and 2003. Why? The company was ahead of the mobile game market, which was slow to take off. This disadvantage turned into a major advantage when the market finally caught traction in 2003 with the introduction of Java technology.

Gameloft encountered quick success with video games such as Prince of Persia, Block Breaker Deluxe, and Chessmaster. The company grew from 100 employees in 2003 to 2,400 in 2006. This early mover advantage constituted a huge factor in the leading role played by Gameloft when the iPhone entered the market in 2007. The French mobile game publisher was ready to establish its position with the emerging iPhone, but also the smartphone market in general.

What is the next step for Gameloft? Freemium games, as seen on the market recently are games that are given away but offer in-app purchases for additional levels, weapons, or other bonuses or premiums. The goal is to attract new players who previously would not have considered playing these types of games. According to Mr. Gonzague de Vallois, Vice-President in charge of publishing, additional investments in marketing and regular updating of the games offered via Freemium will be necessary, but current numbers are promising.

Gameloft, Ubisoft and the other companies launched by the brothers (Guillermot Corporation, Ludiwap, Guillermot Ventures, Longtail Studios, and Advanced Mobile Applications) are proof that the five Guillermot brothers, raised by entrepreneurial parents in a tiny town in Brittany, fit the profile of “serial entrepreneurs.”

The arrival of Gameloft in Louisiana will certainly impact the development of the digital media industry on the Silicon Bayou, and maybe inspire Louisianians entrepreneurs to create their own game changer.

Gameloft chose incentives, culture of New Orleans for studio from GNO, Inc. on Vimeo.