When MegaZebra started in 2008, they were pioneers. Along with making games, the company also had to create the market in Europe from the ground up. To top it off, the company’s founders came from Internet and mobile backgrounds as opposed to a more traditional gaming background. This ended up proving fortunate for the company as it helped them tackle problems in a unique way as the gaming industry evolved.
As the company worked to find its legs, they decided Facebook — then just one social network competing among many others in Europe — was the best platform to release their games on. Being a start-up meant needing to focus, so Facebook was deemed the one network to focus on.
Then Facebook “completely took over the world.” And MegaZebra adapted. Now, in 2014, some things have changed and some things have stayed the same.
Facebook is still a “key success factor” for the company, according to MegaZebra CEO Henning Kosmack. “Using Facebook connect, as well as having a Facebook canvas version of the same game provides a number of benefits, from user acquisition to user experience.”
They’re also still focused on free-to-play (F2P) games, considering it the best way to reach the mass market audience they’re targeting — people who currently consume TV content and other media formats.
As for what’s different, the company has since brought in some gaming veterans to the company, such as Gaute Godager, from Funcom, and Jürgen Goeldner, from Square Enix, who serve on the company’s board.
They also have two franchises, “Trails” and “Suburbia,” with a multitude of games under each — and a third in development. “Trails” is comprised of Mahjong Trails, Solitaire Castle, and the company’s first cross-platform game Solitaire Chronicles. “Suburbia” aims to bring together TV and game content. Kosmack notes that MegaZebra is “crafting an episodic storyline on top of proven game genres” with Suburbia “which can be driven by our own, or third-party, intellectual property.”
Continuing the Pioneering Tradition
Throughout MegaZebra’s growth, the company continues to hold onto its pioneering spirit, using it to propel them forward — a necessary quality for competing in the fastest growing media sector. “To keep ahead of the pack, constant innovation is key,” Kosmack says. “We don’t have the biggest pockets or teams, so we have to outsmart our competitors.”
The company does this in ways big and small. They try to look ahead and see where things may be headed in the long run, but they also reflect on their current work and past efforts. “We have small teams with a high amount of ownership and we are big on sharing of knowledge in and among the teams,” Kosmack explains. “For everything we do, we evaluate how we could do it better — and last, but not least, we foster innovative thinking in the organization. We try new things, and then measure them. If they work, we do more of that. If not, then we write down our learning, so that we don’t need to try the same thing in six months.”
MegaZebra also fosters a sense of innovation by nurturing the minds of those looking to break into the games industry, whether they be college students, teens mulling where to focus their future, or current professionals in other fields.
Kosmack notes that MegaZebra is made up of experienced experts and young professionals — and that personal growth is one of the pillars the company uses to build their team. It doesn’t matter if somebody is just out of school, comes from a different industry, or has done games for 20 years — everyone is welcome and MegaZebra is happy to help them figure out whether the gaming industry is right for them.
“Many people want to join a games company because they love to play games,” Kosmack says. “We offer internships to test the waters, so to say, what working in games really means. Sometimes, they realize that they’d better just be players, but in most cases, they quickly find their ‘thing.’ In those internships, it is important that they get a full overview of all tasks and processes, to make their choice.” He also notes that for university students who have already made up their mind to go into gaming, but have no work experience yet, MegaZebra offers slightly longer internships in their field of study. “If we see a mutual fit, we take them on board full-time as soon as they are ready.”
Location is Everything
On top of innovation and talent, there is another big factor in MegaZebra’s success: Location. As Kosmack tells it, “We like to say that Berlin is the capital, but Munich has the capital.”
He notes that Munich, where MegaZebra was founded and is mostly based, has many advantages for a gaming company. With two universities and a bustling tech sector, it’s not hard to find exceptional talent — and a high quality of life also draws people to the area. Getting work permits and visas is also easier in Munich due to low unemployment.
Munich is also in the heart of Europe and ideally located to take advantage of the continent’s gaming boom. “Over the last couple of years, Europe has leapfrogged other geographies when it comes to games,” Kosmack says. While he acknowledges that Europe’s rise has been led by larger companies, he notes that it has created an “excellent breeding group for smaller studios.”
For its part, MegaZebra gives back to the community as well. Employees donate blood and have collected materials for local refugee camps. And during the world-renowned Oktoberfest, which began in Munich, the company embraces the local traditions by putting on the traditional clothes and participating in the local festivities. Globally, the company also donates to worldwide causes.
The innovation, talent, and impeccable location have all paid off for MegaZebra in big ways. Not only has the company expanded and spawned two franchises, but their first game, Mahjong Trails, has only increased its active user base over time, whereas most games see their user base wane over the years — an impressive feat.
“If you look at games that were popular four years ago, hardly any of them are still live, and if, then with much lower user numbers,” Kosmack says, noting that the company has gone a bit against conventional wisdom in their approach to Mahjong Trails and their other titles.
“Very early on we saw the so-called ‘shark-fin’ charts — games that were launched with much marketing money, quickly pumped up, and then they dropped almost as fast. Then those developers were forced to rapidly produce another game to follow-up.” Kosmack notes that this is not a healthy way to run a gaming studio and speculates that it’s why many studios, even those with hit games, have disappeared over time.
“For us,” he says, “we continue to invest in the games, we optimize the metrics, we bring out more content, and we nurture the user base. This is how our games turn into modern-day classics like Mahjong Trails. It is probably the most played Mahjong game in history.”
More recently the company has also started turning others’ games into potential modern-day classics as well. In 2011 the company began publishing content from other studios, seeing a need for it in the market. Kosmack notes that the barriers to entry in the gaming industry constantly go up and MegaZebra wanted to give new developers a chance to get seen and help them create the best games possible. “Having been around as long as we have, we have learned a lot about virality, monetization and user experience — things we want to share to collectively bring this industry forward.”
Kosmack notes that not just any developer can get their content published through MegaZebra though, explaining that, first and foremost, the company looks for developers who share the company’s focus on quality and great gameplay. ”We have an awesome user base,” he says, “so when we recommend them to try a new game, we want to make sure it is top-notch.”
MegaZebra also looks for studios and games that have a target audience similar to their own: Ages 25 and up in female-tilted, top-tier countries playing on mobile and/or Facebook canvas. “If games fit those criteria, we are happy to publish them,” Kosmack says.
The Third Franchise and TV Tech
So what is next for MegaZebra? The company is working on releasing a number of new cross-platform titles from the Trails franchise to the market. In the
Suburbia franchise, they’re continuing to build out the storyline, the tools and the focus on strong IP. Then there is the third franchise which is in the works — though Kosmack is mum on details.
They’re also actively working to shape the TV-game convergence and keeping a close eye on various trends to see how they might be impacted — such as where the cross-platform trend will move to next after canvas and mobile: VR headsets, mini consoles or things like Chromecast and Apple TV.
“We want to deliver games that people can enjoy for years to come. This is the idea behind our franchise approach to game development and ongoing improvements of live games,” Kosmack says. “And we are passionate about innovating the space. Merging TV and games is just one of the things we feel bullish about and we want to be the first to crack that code.”