Peak Games has been striving to create engaging and culturally-relevant games for players in emerging markets as well as underserved segments of developed regions. As one of the three largest social gaming companies globally, they have more than 30 million MAU. Peak Games’ Past Director of Business Development Robert Unsworth has to be ready for anything, but his time in the industry has prepared him for just that.
Gamesauce: Why did you decide to enter the video game industry?
Robert: I’ve always been a keen gamer, but I guess subconsciously I didn’t think I could mix business with pleasure! My initial entry into the industry came partly through serendipity. I was working in Paris as a Telecoms consultant for France Telecom, and I was looking to move out of the capital but to stay in France. A Bordeaux-based mobile games publisher was recruiting actively at that time, and my experience in working with FT’s subsidiary, Orange, was relevant to the company’s plans of building out their partnership with the French mobile operator. This was back in 2003, and once I was in the business, like most people, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. As my two sons often ask me, “so Daddy, you get paid for playing video games?” – sort of.
How did your past career experiences helped you during your time at Peak Games?
Right from my early career experience, I’ve always worked in an international environment; in the military, in inter-governmental work, in telecoms and especially in gaming. I really enjoy the richness of a mixed cultural environment. You can always learn something from your colleagues no matter what their experience or background, and this is accentuated when you put different cultures together, each one with their own unique approach and reasoning. Social games require scale to be a sustainable business and for that they need to transcend national boundaries. If you don’t understand, or at least empathize with the different cultural needs, then, at best, you won’t be working effectively and at worst, you’ll completely miss the opportunity.
GS: What traits do successful social games share?
Firstly, social games need to be universally accessible, both in their appeal and also in accessibility – they can’t be too complicated or too simple, they need to be instantly understandable and the gameplay needs to be intuitive. In order to be social, everyone needs to be playing. You can’t have fun if you’re the only one at the party! Secondly, they need to be relevant to the player, both in the language (i.e. presented in one’s native language) but also in the cultural and social context that the game is presented in. Players quickly tire of games that bully you into inviting friends when there is no inherent added value brought to the game play. Compare this with something like poker or pool or even bingo, where it’s naturally better, even necessary, to be playing with friends. Finally, for social games to be persistent they need to create their own communities within the game; only when people start exchanging their own views with others about the game do they become emotionally invested and will then be more likely to stay around for months rather than days or weeks for more ‘one dimensional’ games.
GS: How does Freemium or Free-To-Play benefit developers?
The Freemium model has revolutionized the games industry. Until the arrival of Facebook, in the online gaming space and smartphones in the portable space, developers had to rely on consumers investing upfront for a dedicated gaming device. Furthermore, it took many months, if not years, for these platforms to reach meaningful volumes that would make game development a viable economic prospect. Furthermore, by obligating consumers to purchase a device, there is inevitably a large portion of the population that will never invest and therefore be excluded permanently from the experience regardless of your marketing. In this ecosystem, a game can never be truly social – you’re just not able to play with all your friends. With the Freemium model on Facebook and also with free-to-play mobile apps, developers can potentially reach all consumers – the platform is already there – there is free trial, and therefore, discovery. This means everybody can play games and that they can now provide true social interaction.
Every medium in history has shown that once it becomes social, consumer spending increases by multiples because of the inherent emotional investment. Free-to-play ultimately means more revenue for developers over a longer period and therefore, less hit-and-miss tactics and more sustained revenue streams. This means that developers can really invest in what they believe in without fearing that they’re taking too big a gamble.
GS: Why is localizing a game important to its success?
While social games may appear to be simple, they are enormously complicated to design and operate successfully. This requires significant investment on the part of the developer. It therefore makes economic sense to leverage this investment in all possible markets; particularly as the distribution costs are incremental. However, for a social game to be relevant, it must be in the players’ native language.
GS: What advice can you offer developers preparing for localization?
Take things slowly at first and don’t underestimate the task that proper localization can represent – social games aren’t products; they are services so translation is not a one-shot affair. It’s also not just about simply translating the text using Google translate. For example, thought and development must go in to the conversion of any text which is graphically represented and then planning must be made to ensure the images are presented correctly on the screen and make sense to the native speaker. Good social games often involve humor, and this is difficult to respect with a direct translation. Furthermore, literal translation is only the first step: to fully leverage a local market, the game should be culturalized as well – that means including images and items that are found in their players’ everyday culture. Presenting Egyptian players with sky scrapers and in-game characters wearing ripped jeans and baseball caps isn’t tuning in to their culture.
My advice to developers is to prioritize the countries you’re going to target by first monitoring how the non-translated version is doing in each of the different territories. Translate the game first to these countries, and then take stock of your situation to see if additional translation makes sense.
If you don’t have the resources to do this, or the expertise in-house, then obviously work with a trusted and respectable publisher, such as Peak Games.
GS: What do you predict for the future of the industry?
A wealth of new opportunities. Like any nascent industry, there will be consolidation as the market shakes out, and only the quality developers are able to build out a sustainable business. We will see an increasing focus on the mobile gaming experience in the next two to three years as this represents the nirvana for a social gaming platform – it’s a communications device, it’s personal, it’s always connected and it stays with you wherever you are. Right now, the market is still too fractured and too dependent on local operating systems to be fully social (an iPhone user finds it difficult to recommend a game to an Android user and provide the latter with a quick and easy means to trial the game). When we can transcend the hardware and O/S boundaries with solutions such as HTML5, then we’ll have a really exciting market to work with.