Join Michael Haberl, Founder and CEO of Xendex, at Casual Connect Kyiv 2017 as he described the dozens of smaller stores out there for apps and encouraged developers to think outside of the box. These small stores offer mobile games as premium products or via subscriptions. There truly is success to be found in such niches. Michael’s presentation takes a closer look at these alternative app stores and markets, the players in there, business models and how developers can access them.
Michael Haberl, Founder and CEO of Xendex, reveals that “it is pretty amazing to be part of the ‘birth moment’ of an entire industry”. When he founded Xendex in 2001 there weren’t phones capable of gaming. In 2002 mobile phones with Java appeared and game developers and publishers saw Day One of the mobile game industry.
Michael had been fascinated with games from childhood and at about age 14 began learning programming, first on a Commodore 64 and then Amiga. While he was still at school, Michael and a group of friends began programming a PC strategy game. Although he enjoyed what he was doing, after three and a half years the game was still only half finished. By this time he needed to make a living so Michael presented the half-finished game to a small publisher who had just had a breakthrough with another game. The publisher was impressed and offered him a full-time job as programmer.
A Truly Global Company
As CEO, Michael is involved in all aspects of Xendex, making every day different from the last. However, it also has meant learning more about many areas of the business, including legal, finance, operations and marketing. What he enjoys most is that the company is truly global but operates outside the overcrowded app stores, especially in emerging markets where each region and country has its own specialties. This allows Michael and Xendex as a company to learn about different cultures, people, taste in games and players in the industry.
Before founding Xendex, Michael worked as lead games programmer at a large PC publisher. This gave him an understanding of software architecture and where to look for potential flaws in games. It also honed skills in game design which helps today in identifying the good games, which he then tries to publish. They also assist developers in creating games that will appeal to global audiences.
A Clear Vision
Michael has always felt driven towards being an entrepreneur, preferring to be the one deciding what to do and how to do it. As he describes, “I have my clear vision of what I would like to achieve with my company and what life brings my way so far is a very interesting and amazing experience. As long as I can, hopefully all of my time, I would like to work in games, both on the product side but also on the business side of things.”
The biggest challenge he faced after founding Xendex was how to run a company. He admits, “I had literally no experience in anything whatsoever, but was totally motivated to learn it all.” Selling games and services was totally new and difficult without experience in making presentations and no references. But gradually, as he obtained more and more clients, this became easier.
Some of the most exciting moments Michael has experienced with Xendex include closing a deal with EA Mobile in which Xendex became their major mobile games provider since 2013 for all markets outside of Google, Apple and Amazon. Equally exciting was raising EURO 4 mio VC from investors and public funds.
Building the Team
The team members Michael looks for have both technical skills and social skills. Both can be learned but, in his opinion, social skills are more difficult to develop, so he tries to get to know prospective employees as well as possible before hiring. The most difficult people to find are managers able to take on a large area of responsibility, such as a studio manager. These need to be people who can do such a great job that Michael never needs to worry about how they are doing it.
When asked what employees think about him, Michael related an employee’s description to candidates at a job fair: “I am a quite cool guy who would just meet them for a coffee and have a longer talk together to see if there is a fit.” This seems to be similar to how Michael handles any complications within the team, by having a very open and transparent conversation with those involved.
Better Than F2P
When considering the most likely trends for the next three to five years in the game industry, there is one that stands out and which Michael would like to be directly involved with. The F2P business model will not be as dominant as it is today. Michael insists that with F2P the player never has enough money to spend to see the entire game. When people realize that these games are just too expensive they will either go back to premium products or move to what is now starting to happen around the globe, the subscription business model for games, similar to Netflix. This new model allows the user to enjoy more games content for a far lower price than a single F2P game.
Xendex does not do F2P, since they do not have the team or budget for running games as a service. Instead they are focusing on premium products in emerging markets and outside of the app stores.
What Works in Emerging Markets
The most effective form of mobile marketing for Xendex has been speaking directly to the editorial team of the game stores they work with. In their case these are telecom operators and other off-portal clubs.
Since their focus is providing games in emerging markets on a global level, they avoid the latest in platforms and phone models. In their markets they must deal with old devices, not the latest ones. They don’t worry about changing technology, their problem is the opposite. The players in their channels just don’t have the latest devices, so Xendex must handle old technology, not new.
When Michael is not working, he enjoys spending time in nature, traveling and reading on a wide variety of topics. He is also involved with investing and enjoys learning more about that. He hopes to be able to get back to sports soon after a long recovery from an injury.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.