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Success Through Regional Focus: MENA and Peak Games

December 9, 2013 — by David Nixon

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In 2009, Turkey emerged as a compelling outlier in Facebook’s global social network audience. The male-dominated, primarily Islamic audience comprised nearly 75 percent of the total population of the country. Game companies the world over looked to this surprisingly vibrant online social market with avarice. While many knew that their Turkish players were a highly-engaged, low-cost component of their global mix, most viewed Turkish players as an interesting anomaly, but continued to pursue primarily North American and Western European players as their “core” money-making audience.

Peak Games
Peak Games’ founders clearly saw an underserved market in the Turkish game audiences engaged in browser games

Most companies, but not Peak Games. The Peak Games’ founders clearly saw an underserved market opportunity in the active regional game audiences that had been deeply engaged in browser games from Gameforge and Bigpoint in the early 2000s, but now found themselves relegated to “2nd tier” status by the global social games market.

An “Emerging Markets” Success Story

Rina Onur
Rina Onur, Co-Founder and CSO

Founded in November 2010, Co-Founder & CSO Rina Onur remembers a small team with a passion for games, but somewhat disillusioned with the inherent cultural disconnect caused by playing games made for someone else, somewhere else in the world. Armed with this and a singular focus on tailor-made games for their “home” audience, Rina and her partners pursued success in Turkey by making games for Turkish players, by Turkish developers.

Onur says, “We started by porting other people’s games, in particular variations on the ‘farms’ that were popular elsewhere in the world at the time.” Peak’s approach to the products went beyond simple localization of game text and UI, and instead pursued a true ‘re-culturalization’ of the product and content to make it more relevant to the unique experience and sensibilities of a Turkish player. It worked! Peak acquired more than 2 million DAU for this game and a very strong starting point for a big regional social games business.

At this point, Peak Games management reflected on the successes and shortcomings of that project. Rina and her team quickly realized that if they truly wanted to achieve a truely “local” game experience, they would need to start from scratch and build games from the ground up by investing in a grassroots game team to build games especially for Turkish players. Understanding through daily participation that players saw gaming as a social pastime centered around regionally popular “coffee house” games like Okey, 101, Tavla, and Batak. Peak decided to tap into this cultural behavior and let players do what they already loved, but online.

Did you know that Arabic is read right to left instead of left to right?  This simple fact leads to massive UI implications most designers overlook.  Who ever heard of a "play" button that points to the LEFT?
Did you know that Arabic is read right to left instead of left to right? This simple fact leads to massive UI implications most designers overlook.

Coffee House Feeling

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Coffee culture was cultivated in this part of the world in the 14th century…200 years before Europe.

Historical fact: Coffee is culturally important to the Turks and the Middle East in general. Coffee (and the culture of coffee) was cultivated in this part of the world as far back as the 14th century…two hundred years or more before the drink was widespread in Europe.

Today, Peak Games dominates the Turkish parlor games genre generating sustainable and profitable growth across platforms with the most successful games bringing more than 50 percent revenue from mobile. With a strong focus on the parlor games genre (traditional and popular board, card and table-top games), Peak Games integrates the community feel of a coffee house into today’s screen-based social activities. The end result of this highly loyal and active community is a long and highly engaged player lifetime of many years leading to the sustained growth the company has shown since inception. “Peak Games has maintained its focus on community-based, multiplayer, synchronous games,” comments Onur.

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Peak Games dominates the Turkish parlor games genre.

Furthermore, Peak Games has begun to extend that success into the Middle East. However, their dedication to cultural knowledge, sensitivity, and awareness shows in their approach to this market as well. “The first things we did when we decided to approach Middle Eastern players was to open a new studio in Jordan and purchase another in Saudi Arabia,” Onur explains. “They only way to really understand the core motivations and requirements of a culture is to be a part of it.” Rather than simply re-purposing their existing game portfolio and targeting distribution in the Middle East, Onur and her team gave their Jordanian and Saudi teams free reign to develop services that were ‘just right’ for the audience they were meant to serve.

Thinking about Design

What kinds of things does a design team need to consider if they want to make culturally relevant games? The list is long, the thinking is deep, and the task is very difficult without inherent cultural knowledge.

What kinds of things does a design team need to consider if they want to make culturally relevant games? The list is long, the thinking is deep, and the task is very difficult without inherent cultural knowledge. For example – Arabic is written right to left rather than left to right. So what? Unless your UI designers have done a great deal of study on the concept of “reading weight” and the assumptions of UI element importance that reading weight imposes upon the player, it’s unlikely your designer is likely to fully appreciate the awkwardness an Arabic-speaking player feels while using an interface designed with the top-left to bottom-right reading weight assumptions that are instinctual for someone who reads, say, English. Try playing your favorite game reflected in a mirror, and you can get a sense of this.

"Peak’s management team continues to drive them from strength to strength, capitalising on deep cultural connections and understanding of their core Turkey/MENA markets."
“Peak’s management team continues to drive them from strength to strength, capitalising on deep cultural connections and understanding of their core Turkey/MENA markets.”

Even more difficult to grasp are the bone-deep perceptions and motivations learned over a lifetime of cultural immersion. Is anonymity especially monetizable in a culture where male/female public interactions are governed by strict social mores? How do broad class divisions impact the important of a sense of “fairness” in a multiplayer competitive game experience? What does “social” mean in a particular culture, in terms of topics, privacy, and communication features and how is this impacted by the reality and perception of freedom of speech?

In the end, Peak has proven that deep understanding of cultural sensibility is a critical competitive advantage when creating entertainment services like online games. Commenting on Peak Games growth, investment bank Digi-Capital’s Founder Tim Merel said, “Peak’s management team continues to drive them from strength to strength, capitalising on deep cultural connections and understanding of their core Turkey/MENA markets. Our experience is that synchronous multiplayer and mobile are key growth drivers for leading games companies globally. Peak’s strength in these markets positions them as one of the most valuable players in Turkey/MENA.”

About Peak Games

Peak Games is the largest and fastest-growing gaming company focused on the emerging markets of Turkey, Middle East and North Africa. Despite its regional focus, Peak Games ranks as one of the largest online and mobile gaming companies globally with 25 million monthly active users. A key to Peak Games’ success is its unrivaled expertise in creating and publishing games that are community-based, multiplayer, and synchronous. The company’s diverse portfolio includes game titles on Facebook and mobile platforms. Peak Games’ local talent hold deep expertise across gaming and high-tech industries. The company’s investors include Earlybird Venture Capital, Hummingbird Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst.

Engage with Peak Games here:

Website: http://www.peakgames.net
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/peakgames
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/peakgames

For more information, please contact:

Nicole DeMeo +1(415) 533-2599 nicole@nicoledemeo.com 

EventsIndustryNewsVideo Coverage

Wrapping Up Casual Connect Kyiv 2013

November 14, 2013 — by David Nixon

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The first global conference program to recognize and serve the game development community in Eastern Europe, Casual Connect works every year to bring great speakers, the most current topics, valuable industry learnings, and meaningful connections with the most qualified, successful game development community in Eastern Europe and beyond. The show included speakers from a number of multinational organizations such as Facebook, Game Insight, Big Fish Games, G5 Games, and Unity, as well as key domestic success stories like Odnoklassniki and Creative Mobile Games. More than 60 speakers from all over the world presented information-packed sessions about free-to-play games design and operations, social casino games, technological evolutions, development methodologies, new platforms, postmortems…and the list goes on.

Sessions
More than 60 speakers from all over the world presented information-packed sessions.

In addition to the sessions, attendees at Casual Connect had the opportunity to build relationships with other businesses and create strong community ties, something that Casual Connect strives to accomplish with each conference. Networking opportunities were everywhere, including at the fun and unique sponsored parties. The Indie Prize Showcase also gave new developers a chance to talk to publishers and other developers about what they’ve been doing.

Indie Prize
The Indie Prize Showcase also gave new developers a chance to talk to publishers and other developers about what they’ve been doing.

The Most Prominent Woman in Games Award from Casual Games Association was also awarded in Kyiv to Julia Palatovska, Business Development Director at G5 Entertainment.

Julia Palatovksa
Julia Palatovska, The Most Prominent Woman in Games Award Winner

With Casual Connect Kyiv now a fond memory, Casual Connect turns their attention towards their return to the location of the FIRST-ever show, and hopes to see you in AMSTERDAM in February 2014!

If you were unable to attend the show, the presentations were recorded on video and made available for free on Gamesauce and the conference website.

Casual Connect Videos on Gamesauce:

Barak Rabinowitz: Analytics and Social Casino
Artur Sakalis: Opportunities in Eastern Europe
Oleg Pridiuk: Dare to Own the Task
Kresimir Spes Pursues Perfection
Roman Povolotski: Stabilizing Success
Oren Kaniel: Measure Twice, then Measure Again
Katia Vara: Leveraging Global Experience
Nemanja Posrkaca on Making Games Accessible for Everyone
Kadri Ugand: The Value of Accelerators
Roei Livneh Sets the Bar High
David An: Kimchi and Publishing at ProSiebenSat1
John Gargiulo: Looking at the Potential
Sara Lempiainen: Reaching and Supporting the Developer Community
Ville Heijari: The Importance of Focus and Collaboration
Maarten de Koning: Navigating the Minefield of Rapid Change
Patrick Wheeler: Bringing Mobile Gaming to China
Valentin Merzlikin: Putting On Your Game
Michail Katkoff on Staying Out Front
Dan Prigg: Moving Forward
Ivan Lavoryk: Facing the Latest Challenge

More videos can be found on the conference website.

Other Coverage of Casual Connect Kyiv:

“Mario is Out, Mobile is In” – App2Top
The Long Lasting Aftertaste of Casual Connect Kyiv – Renatus
Shorts Cuts: Why Fishing Cactus wants its next game to turn gamers into coders – Pocketgamer.biz
Big Fish Opening the PC Market to Android Devs – App2Top
BlueStacks partners with Big Fish on mobile game integration – CNET
WildTangent Expands to ASUS Tablets and PCs – App2Top
5 promising indie games from Casual Connect in Kiev – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kiev 2013: Interview with DeNA – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version
Community spirit: Why every dev needs to foster a relationship with their players – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: App Annie will soon open an office in Moscow – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version
‘Mario is out’: Why BlueStacks believes microconsoles will fill gaming’s console shaped hole – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: interview with WildTangent – App2Top (Russian)
Short Cuts: How small studios can benefit from the power of recognised IP – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: Interview with Big Fish – App2Top (Russian)
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013 – glafi.com
Jessica Tams: People Don’t Sneer at Casual Games Anymore – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version

BusinessEditorial

10 Tips for a Successful Transition from Product to Service

September 26, 2013 — by David Nixon

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David Nixon, Co-Founder & CEO, Gemini Hive, Inc.

The Leap from Product to Service

The past seven years of my 20+ year career in game development has been about learning all I can about building successful online game services. During the last three years as an independent consultant, I have worked with clients around the world to help experienced game development and publishing teams transition from a “product development” mindset to a “service operations” one.

Usually, the executives in charge passionately want to pivot to and take advantage of a free-to-play business model. The teams themselves are mostly experienced, established product development teams. Typically, they had some disappointing results trying to make this transition on their own, and had reached a point where everyone was at a loss as to what to do next. So they came to me.

Product development experience does not generally prepare a team for success in delivering and operating a game service.

An Observation from this Diverse Experience:

Product development experience does not generally prepare a team for success in delivering and operating a game service.

This is especially true of teams operating in the PC casual download or early in mobile premium game markets, where post-launch involvement was rarely expected or even desired. Successfully developing and operating a game service business is as different from a game product development business as being a great nature photographer is different from filming a blockbuster action movie, or as writing a compelling historic fiction novel is different from writing a serialized cable television drama.

Think About That. Deeply. For a Good, Long While.

Once that really sinks in, dramatically re-tooling your own skill-set and your team’s entire operational process to compete in this exciting marketplace becomes more straightforward. Not easy, but at least the confusion you may feel while trying to fit the “square peg” of a product-centric development team into the “round hole” of service-centric game operations falls away and allows you to concentrate on good solutions.

The Promised 10 Tips:

While there are certainly a thousand other details, below are 10 big things you should consider as you embark on this journey:

  1. Two years will pass before you “feel” successful – When you launch your game, you have only reached the bottom of the mountain. You will not, and should not, feel successful yet. It will take time to get players into your game, learn to make it “sticky” enough, figure out how to deliver multiple parallel workflows, work out scalability issues, establish solid channel relationships, find partnerships to increase growth, tune social interactions, identify key segments, develop a process for reliably capitalizing on profitable sources for user acquisition, develop data analysis skills, tune cross-promotional tools, and generally feel like you have a daily routine that delivers the upward curve of sustained audience and revenue growth that defines “success” for a game service.
  2. GamesPlay games, every day – Create a FB account. Play the top 50 games there, and on iOS and Android, too. Find 10 lesser-known free-to-play games and play the snot out of them too. Play game services every day, and make sure everyone on your team does the same thing. Why? Because this market changes fast. Best practices and expected user experiences are constantly evolving as the result of rapid iteration, experimentation, changing platform policies, and just player evolution. By staying abreast of what is hot right now, you can make sure your services stay at least competitive, and give you a foundation to innovate and delight your (and your competitor’s) players. As soon as you (or your team) stop playing games every day, your game starts to fall behind the curve.  
  3. Learn all about “agile” development – There are so many misconceptions about Agile. If you have not researched it yourself, you probably misunderstand the process and its purpose. “Agile” development is not a technological technique. It’s a toolkit for gathering data, generating and tracking ideas, establishing goals, making decisions, managing priorities, creating accountability, habitualizing communication, predicting outcomes, and improving entire organization’s capabilities and overall engagement. Agile is a natural fit for the kind of multi-layered, iterative development necessary for positive game service evolution. It may not be impossible to effectively manage the complicated service evolution of a live game service without effectively implementing Agile methodologies – but I have never encountered a successful game service provider who didn’t. Check out the Scrumm Field Guide. It is a good starting point, especially for Producers and Project Managers with little practical experience with Agile methodologies.
  4. Learn all about direct marketing – A trusted colleague once told me – “If you are in the ‘Social Games’ business, you are in the ‘Direct Marketing’ business.” I did not want to look uninformed – so I nodded and agreed wholeheartedly. Then I immediately went and googled “Direct Marketing.” Direct Marketing typically refers to direct mail marketing, but I kept digging because I figured I was missing something. After making my way through the first several chapters of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, it dawned on me that the ideal for “Direct Marketing” is about speaking to each individual customer with the right offer, and the right product, the right way, at the right time. For further reading, Strategic Database Marketing is a good reference for learning to use consumer demographic and behavioral data as a tool for accomplishing this. Your game service and the people and tools surrounding it are mechanisms for presenting offers about a variety of products in a variety of ways. Learning to do this effectively for each of your customers is a critical skillset. Remember – the difference between spam and a valuable offer is context and utility.
  5. warehouseDesign and build a data warehouse, and learn SQL – Designing a data warehouse forces a thought process around what data should be collected, how to get that data, and how you can organize it in a scalable, extensible way. Even moderately successful games can generate a great deal of data, and no matter how future-looking you are, you will not be able to predict everything you might want to know. After all, the data that is critical at the start of your service lifecycle will be different than data that will be critical later in the lifecycle. SQL skills will give you the tools you need to get your hands dirty and dig in the data. Feel free get some really good technical help assist you in doing this right, but beware of “packaged” services like Kontagent, Game Analytics, Swrve, HoneytracksFlurry, and others. These are fantastic tools – but until you’ve thought through and answered the questions you need to in order to design, dig, and analyze your own data, you are unlikely to understand where these tools fit productively (and profitably) within the context of your service development and product management processes. 
  6. Launch on the “closed” networks first – Facebook is an “open” platform. Anyone can launch there. You are (mostly) on your own to pursue an effective UA strategy, and use social integration points and other tools in effective ways. There are tons of documentation, best practices, and consultants to help you succeed on an open platform – but – these are all skills that take time and effort to develop. “Closed” networks, like Big Fish Games or Odnoklassniki, have a vested interest in the success of your game: they curate their own catalog, and they manage many of these “outside the game” functions for you. You can reach a real, qualified player-base and focus optimizing features, in-game messaging, and your update pipeline. You can generate actionable data and significant revenue while you build the skill-set your organization needs to compete effectively in the larger but more effort-intensive “open” networks.
  7. TeamDevelop and maintain a true customer-first mentality in yourself and your team – Forget what you think you know about gamers and gameplay. Unlearn any preconception about player preferences you have absorbed over the years. Eschew rules of thumb, best practices, or generalizations others have told you about what free-to-play gamers like or don’t like. Clear your mind. Once you launch, what matters is what your players are telling you about the game. What they say, what they do, and the behavior they exhibit while playing is far more accurate an indication of what they want than any book or lecture from an expert. Cultivate a deep desire to make the best possible experience for each player and an honest curiosity for what would surprise and delight them. When this mindset becomes reflexive, removed of ego and preconceptions, you will use community communication and data analysis to optimize your service for the benefit of your players.
  8. Make data-informed, agile, rapid-iteration service evolution a religion – When you bring your game live (we used to say “launch” it), you begin the process of building a successful service business around that game. To capitalize on that business, speed matters more than efficiency. Every moment you are not updating your service is a missed opportunity to either grow or learn. Optimize your software development and deployment processes around rapid iterations, daily service updates, and widespread service data availability to inform both the direction and effectiveness of your development efforts. Many teams turn to Agile methodologies for a process framework designed for this environment, and it works well. But beware: Agile only works if it’s implemented end-to-end. Do it all the way, or don’t do it at all.
  9. Focus on retention first, then virality, then monetization – This concept was presented a number of times at Casual Connect by Jens Begemann from Wooga, and then later by one of his Product Leads, Stephanie Kaiser. It seems self-evident, but I’m often confronted with Product Leads that want to do this in a different order. Don’t do it. Build in the foundation for monetization (a stable, scalable, value-driven economy) from the start, but concentrate on retention and engagement first. If players do not like your game and stop playing, then virality and monetization are moot. If players like your game and play it, they will want mechanisms to engage their friends. Virality and social promotion decrease your effective cost of acquisition and optimize the cost side of your ROI equation. When your game has high player retention and good social promotion mechanisms, only then look to optimize monetization. Focusing attention on monetization too early is ineffective and can severely damage the fragile ecosystem of a new free-to-play game.
  10. HireMake two key hires – You will need 1) a great Product Manager who loves “live ops” and 2) a great Community Director who really enjoys building, managing, and marketing to online communities. Since most of the success of your game service depends upon the ability to make the right decisions AFTER release, your “live” Product Manager will have a tremendous amount of influence on ongoing service performance. Not surprisingly, proven free-to-play Product Managers are the rarest resource in the game industry right now. A Community Director is sometimes referred to as “Community Manager”. This is not customer service, though CS sometimes reports to a good Community Director. Your Community Director is primarily responsible for maximizing player engagement within the community of players, even when they are not actively playing the game. The Community Directory is responsible for all outbound “positive” messaging to your players such as: page posts, forums, chat moderation, community event planning and execution, email promotions for engagement or resurrection, and many other positive activities that improve community engagement and awareness. The Product Manager is the brain behind the game service. The Community Manager is its eyes, ears, and mouth and should be directly involved in the evolution of the game and, particularly, the design, messaging, and content at all the places where the game itself drives value into the community or extracts value from it.

As I said above, there are a thousand details to get right when running a global, or even regional game service. The tips above are intended for guidance, and also as an illustration of the depth of commitment required to make this transition successfully. To counterbalance the hard work, investment, and commitment are the tremendous rewards for successfully operating game services, not just in financial terms, but also in the satisfaction of a direct and meaningful connection to your players. Good luck!!

News

Big Viking Games, Kickstarter, Community, and the next level of UGC

September 12, 2013 — by David Nixon

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KS LogoSince its inception in 2009, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter has seen successful funding of hundreds of game-related projects. From modest one-man projects requiring only a few hundred dollars to over $8,000,000 raised by the microconsole innovator, OUYA, little doubt remains that crowdfunding, and Kickstarter in particular, is a non-trivial force in the creation of new video game content.

 

Big Viking Games Taps Kickstarter

London, Ontario-based Big Viking Games hopes to soon join the growing ranks of game companies that have found creative independence, funding, and community support on Kickstarter with their new project, Tiny Kingdoms – kicking off today, September 12, 2013.  Founded in 2011 by Albert Lai and Greg Thomson, each individually successful social games industry innovators responsible for products like YoVille and Kontagent, Big Viking Games is “A passionate group of artists, designers, and engineers that love making great games as a part of a great team.” Big Viking pursues success through cross platform mobile and social game experiences based on HTML5.  For more information about HTML5, make sure to check out Chris Shankland’s talk on The Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development from Casual Connect USA in San Francisco.

Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms.

So in the crowded world of crowdfunding, what makes Tiny Kingdoms stand out? First – a clear focus on User Generated Content as value of the community experience that comes with any good Kickstarter program. The campaign promises future backers that, “Through this Kickstarter campaign, you will not just be helping to fund this project, you will be helping us create it! We want to reinvent the game design process, and change what it means to be a funder. You will receive game updates, dev diaries and partake in polls which will determine the nature of future game assets.”

Albert Lai
Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking Games

The message is further re-enforced by the company’s press messaging which states,”…what really makes this game different from any other is the way players will be able to influence the development of the game, with unprecedented access to the game creation process. When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking. They will be given the opportunity to offer ideas and feedback on characters, environments, items, features and tactical gameplay modes. Big Viking sees the backers becoming part of a tight knit development team, as they experience rare insight into the development process. To facilitate this process, Big Viking will host live chats, provide designer diary updates and conduct polls throughout development. This feedback will begin when the game reaches beta and will continue through and after launch as the game evolves.”

Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking, sees this as a unique opportunity for players to leave their mark on the game and build the game they really want to play, saying, “We want our fans to go beyond just pledging their dollars to also lend their ideas and creativity. The ultimate goal will be to re-imagine the way players interact with game developers, through both Kickstarter and collaborative online platforms.”

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Greg Thomson, CPO

Second – a very modest initial funding goal of $50,000 coupled with the wide variety and professional polish of the assets developed to kick off the Kickstarter campaign suggests that while Big Viking Games could potentially bring this game to market on their own, they genuinely see value in letting consumers behind the curtain to become a part of the creative process.  While a few thousand extra CAD isn’t anything a successful games industry indie is likely to turn away, it’s clear to anyone familiar with the genre Tiny Kingdoms occupies that both Albert and Greg conceive of a game that is far, far bigger than $50k will buy. In a super-savvy move, the founders of Big Viking appear to tap the passion of the games crowdfunding community to guide their offering AND build their foundational community at the same time. The low funding threshold also virtually guarantees funding success while compelling stretch goals like free new characters, Co-Op and PvP Multiplayer functionality give ample ammunition for convincing their backers to pony up to the next level for those popular features.

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“When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking.”

Third – virality is built in from the very beginning. Tapping into the natural social component of today’s games, the RPG genre, and the crowdfunding community, Big Viking has built in social benefits even before the game is available by rewarding backers with bonus “buddy” rewards to share with friends. Clearly, the folks at Big Viking understand that gamers, especially midcore online and mobile gamers, want to share the love with their gamer friends, and in doing so, promote the Kickstarter campaign to the exact market most likely to find value in it.  With this core understanding of the power of virality and the gamer’s social networks, Greg, Al, and their team can surely expect to build strong social features into the game as well, completing and perpetuating social positive-feedback loops that enhance Tiny Kingdoms’ growth.

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More about Tiny Kingdoms

Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms. In this game, players take on the role of adventurers on a quest to prove their worthiness to become the next ruler of the kingdom. To do this they must defeat deadly creatures through hundreds of strategic battles as they conquer the most insurmountable odds. They will have to choose a tactical team, craft items and weapons and find the loot that will strengthen their warriors. The powerful enemies in this gameplay can only be defeated through tactical strategy, item and weapon crafting and obtaining the amazing loot. The game is built using HTML5, which allows player to seamlessly play across different platforms, such as Facebook and their mobile devices.

To learn more or to contribute to the campaign, visit Kickstarter.  To learn more about Big Viking games, visit their website.

Video Coverage

Tom Sperry: Asian Gamers Love Cross-Platform Multiplayer | Casual Connect Video

July 1, 2013 — by David Nixon

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“With servers already available in the US, Europe, Korea, Singapore, our launch in Japan brings Exit Games one step closer to our goal of global low-latency Photon Cloud game servers to players all around the world.”

Exit Games, the technology company that builds Photon – a realtime, cross-platform multiplayer engine – has a passion for making the development of multiplayer, real-time, cross-platform games available to developers around the world. Photon powers some of the most contemporary high-profile online cross-platform realtime multiplayer games like Codemaster’s F1 Online – the GameCmune’s Überstrike and the hilarious Offensive Combat by U4IA. Tom Sperry, as Head of Business Development for Exit Games Inc., shares the passion for making great multiplayer game experiences available on any platform the players want to play.

Exit Games

Photon Cloud Servers now Available in Japan

At Casual Connect Asia, Tom announced that Exit Games that Photon Cloud was now live and hosted in Japan. With this new launch, Photon Cloud’s “forever free” platform for multiplayer online gameplay brings low-latency access to Northern Asia. Tom explains, “With servers already available in the US, Europe, Korea, Singapore, our launch in Japan brings Exit Games one step closer to our goal of global low-latency Photon Cloud game servers to players all around the world.”

Asia: A Key Multiplayer Games Market

Tom believes Asia to be a key global games opportunity in 2013 – “In Asia, multiplayer gaming is enormous, giving game developers and publishers equally large opportunities.” According to Tom, “Exit Games Photon multiplayer engine is the perfect solution, allowing them to make realtime cross-platform games. The launch of Photon Cloud is the single event that has changed my view of my company.” Using Photon Cloud, any developer or publisher of any size can now create multiplayer games for any device or platform without having to host any infrastructure. It has been successful far beyond their original forecasts.  “Multiplayer gaming is ingrained deeply into the gaming culture here in Asia,” he believes, “In combination, Photon Server and Photon Cloud coverage in Asia will vastly increasing a multiplayer game developer’s ability to serve this audience.”

“Asia has always been a key multiplayer games market for PC and console games.” Tom reminds us, “With the amazing growth of the smart phone and tablet market and high-speed cellular data infrastructures, there is an opportunity to let players compete and play in high-quality multiplayer game experiences even on the go. All a developer needs is the technology backbone, the server infrastructure, and the creative drive to make it happen.”

Great People Make Great Games

Tom’s experience with Exit Games inspires him to offer this advice to those who are striving to make a better product. “Understand your target customer and target market. Be super focused and build something different.” He also emphasizes the need to hire great people who believe in you and your vision. “Everyone has triumphs and mistakes in hiring. Be sure you reward your great people, and do not be afraid to ‘trim the fat’ if necessary. It sounds harsh, I realize, but in our hyper-competitive industry, your company needs the best of the best.”

Video Coverage

Jim Perkins and Corum: Building Successful Game Companies, All Over the World | Casual Connect Video

June 11, 2013 — by David Nixon

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There is a great depth of experience, talent, and unique design skills in Asia in online and mobile games. The rest of the world can learn from these developers.

In his entrepreneurial career, Jim Perkins – now Regional Director and Digital Media Specialist with Corum Mergers and Acquisitions, published some of the game industry’s biggest AAA hits like Unreal, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein, Doom, Hunting Unlimited and Driver. He founded FormGen and ARUSH, building them from start-up to multimillion dollar enterprises. He also launched the Radar Group, which monetizes entertainment franchises across all media. “Throughout my career, the greatest challenge has been remaining patient. Timing and talent are key to success,” says Jim, “Always work with the best people in the industry, and stay determined and focused on your goals.”

Jim Perkins
Jim Perkins

“At Corum,” Jim’s explains, “my focus is on educating and assisting prospective sellers to maximize the value of their companies. That means working with his partners all the way until the deal is finished and the money is in the bank.” Perkins gained the necessary experience to do this well by selling his own game company utilizing Corum’s unique resources to work for the optimal result. Jim maintains, “The single event that changed my view of Corum was when Bruce Milne, the founder of Corum, helped me sell my first game company. The process was straightforward and professional; different from any other banker or advisor I had talked to. And it didn’t take me away from running and growing my business while selling the company.” Jim gains great satisfaction from using his experience to help other hard-working game industry entrepreneurs avoid mistakes and get the most from their effort.

“Asia is crucial to the future of the games market,” Perkins claims,  “There is a great depth of experience, talent, and unique design skills in Asia in online and mobile games. The rest of the world can learn from these developers.” He continues, “Broad online and mobile appeal for such finely crafted game designs is something that should be carefully considered by other world regions. The infrastructure to support these games in Asia is a marvel as well.”

Perkins encourages developers to remember that the keys to creating great games are passion and innovation. “The greatest moments in my career have come from seeing the massive success of the game developers I have worked with throughout my career, culminating with the sale of my first game software company.”

At Casual Connect Asia, Jim announced a new program, Corum China Connection, that will allow both sellers and buyers to work through Corum’s staff and their advisory group, the World Technology Council.

“The goal of Corum China Connection is to help overcome the hurdles that slow deal development between Chinese and Western technology companies,” Jim says, “The first Corum China Connection newsletter, in Chinese, will be available soon, including a special report on gaming, and it will be followed by several events both online and in China.” Perkins invited interested parties to email info@corumgroup.com to request a copy of the newsletter.

Video Coverage

Paul Kim: Careful and Lucky | Casual Connect Video

May 30, 2013 — by David Nixon

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Anything can be done with careful planning, flexibility and a dash of luck. Paul Kim is CEO of Xfire, a company dedicated to enhancing the gaming experience by allowing players to interact with each other and with groups of friends directly in-game on multiple chat services, including Yahoo!, AIM and Google Chat. Their goal is to provide gamers with the ultimate social experience.

Paul tells us the next step for Xfire is pivoting the business from the global gaming community to competitive gaming through its fully automated platform, Battleground. May 2013 will see Instant Action on Battleground in Open Beta.

Paul considers becoming the CEO of Xfire as one of the highlights of his career. As CEO, he has been re-positioning the company to make it relevant to today’s gaming generation. This has included leveraging the assets for a viable future and re-establishing the brand on a global scale. He has done this by facing the problems with a nimble team and making maximum use of resources, creating enough progression to attract partners and investors with common goals and initiatives.

Xfire Santa Monica Office
Xfire Santa Monica Office

Making GoPets Fly

Paul’s career in the game industry has included leading business development for Gazillion Entertainment and for Affinity Media and the ZAM Network. He was also essential to the creation and operation of the GoPets studio in Seoul, Korea. In this, his first venture, he found great satisfaction and excitement as he identified and executed the global Messenger license for GoPets. He also found the greatest challenges of his career with GoPets, in keeping it afloat from month to month as they were trying to fund raise and release a product at the same time. This challenge included licensing GoPets territory by territory to keep the company open and ready for both fund raising discussions and release of the product. But he insists, “Anything can be done with careful planning, flexibility and a dash of luck.”

Asia’s Not New to the Video Game Business

Successful gaming started in Asia. “Asia is critical to the games industry.” according to Paul, “After all, successful gaming started here.” Overall, Asia is the largest exporter of PC online games and has the largest regions of PC online gamers. It is also at the forefront of new business models, including free-to-play, virtual currencies and hybrid models. Paul goes so far as to say, “As a region, Asia has consistently defined and re-defined the PC/Online game business for the past decade; there is no reason to expect that to change.”

Paul sees continuing challenges in the games industry as a whole in keeping up with new technologies and platforms, finding ways to keep and monetize users, and extending the life cycle. He stresses, “In our business, we meet these challenges by emphasizing creativity and being willing to change and modify what we are doing. It is also essential to find the right niche and leverage our assets and capabilities to dominate that niche.”

Video Coverage

Arthur Chow: Free to Play Publishing Pioneer | Casual Connect Video

May 30, 2013 — by David Nixon

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Arthur Chow has been excited about the internet content business since he became involved with Yahoo thirteen years ago. If he was not in the games industry, he would certainly be involved in some type of internet- or mobile-related services, but he says, “I find the games industry tremendously exciting, with all the constant changes and developments.”

Internet Media, Finance, and Games

Chow’s work for Yahoo led him to an understanding of the internet media and consumer behavior. With Turner Broadcasting, he had the chance to work on a regional basis. His first job in banking gave him the business acumen to set up his own business. He credits these experiences to his success when he started 6waves, “All of these experiences gave me the expertise I needed to succeed in managing the operations of 6waves, and shaping strategy for the company.”

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Leading the Way in Social Games and Publishing

Arthur Chow
Arthur Chow

Arthur is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of 6waves, a leading global company in the social gaming sector. As Arthur saw the rapid growth of Facebook, he realized there would be a market for localized apps in a variety of countries. “I felt I could serve the needs of users by creating these localized apps,” Chow recalls, “As I saw the trend of Facebook users playing games, I felt 6waves had an opportunity in that arena as well.”

“I also realized we could introduce even more games to 6waves users by cooperating with other developers and that led to the development of 6waves games publishing business on Facebook,” said Chow, “While there were certainly challenges in adapting a publishing model to a game-service business, the result was worth it.” Though partnerships with developers all over the world, 6waves achieved reduction in both resources and costs necessary to develop a game and diversified the company’s operational risks.
We must never become complacent about what we have achieved
The need to adapt to the fast changing environment and conditions is a constant challenge. At 6waves, Arthur and his teams deal with this by staying alert and nimble. Arthur reminds us “We must never become complacent about what we have achieved.  We are still going well in the industry, hence, we stay.”

A Defining Moment

In 2012, Arthur was the winner of the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur China award in the category of Emerging Entrepreneur. “This was definitely a defining moments for me and 6waves,” remembers Chow, “I was so proud of our team’s accomplishments.”

5th Anniversary

Asia is the place Arthur believes is ideal to be involved in the games industry
Asia is the place Arthur believes is ideal to be involved in the games industry. It has the world`s largest population, with China the largest single market in terms of gamers. Japan and Korea have the highest ARPU in the world. New platforms, such as Kakao and LINE, are emerging. In Arthur’s words, “The opportunities are enormous!”

News

Steve Meretzky Proclaims to GDC: “Nobody Knows Anything”

April 9, 2013 — by David Nixon

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Steve Meretzky and Dave Rohrl at Casual Connect Seattle 2012

The combined industry knowledge residing in the heads of veterans like Steve Meretzky, Dave Rohrl, and Juan Gril is impressive, but at GDC’s Free-to-Play Summit, Steve put a big question mark over the value of it all with the repeated message: “Nobody knows anything!”

Meretzky used the quote from Screenwriter William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade to summarize why conventional wisdom is frequently proven wrong, and conclusions derived from past experience are not necessarily predictive. He pointed towards industry pundits’ flip-flopping on the viability of Hidden Object Games (“HOG”s) in Free-to-Play as proof and asked the audience, “Were the experts right before they were wrong, or wrong before they were right?”

Criminal Case on Facebook is an example
Criminal Case on Facebook is an example of the viability of Hidden Object Games in Free-to-Play

Joined onstage by Dave Rohrl, his partner in crime for the popular and evergreen “Social Games Year in Review” presentation, Steve and Dave mixed up the program in a few other ways as well. Instead of focusing tightly on the Social Games market (e.g. – Facebook), which Dave compared to Donald Trump: “Older, established, and there’s definitely some money there, but every so often behaves…well…odd.”, the duo expanded their subject matter to include Free-to-Play game services generally, with a focus on Facebook, iOS, and Android. Further, explained Rohrl, “Like the Thompson Twins and the Ben Folds Five…our group now has THREE members.”  For the first time, the established duo invited another speaker to join the fun; Online game industry veteran Juan Gril, Founder & CEO of Joju Games.

Juan Gril
Juan Gril

Even fully warned that “nobody knows anything,” it’s hard to discount the trends and observations presented by three long-time game industry veterans, supported by hard data from the Casual Games Sector Reports on Social, Mobile, Fremium, and Casino games (presented by the Casual Games Association and Superdata).  Some key observations included the relatively low success rate for Free-to-Play “sequels” (Meretzky), the power of collection and crafting game mechanics contributing to the success of the online CCG (Gril), and an interesting analysis of the relative stagnation of the Facebook top developers list vs. the iOS and Android lists, with a warning to devs that the mobile game market is congealing, so it’s time to get in or out (Rohrl). Rohrl also pointed out that success in Free-to-Play is neither easy nor fast, and often is as much about perseverance as any other factor, citing multiple early failures by both King.com and Supercell before they finally achieved substantial success.

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As always, Steve and Dave, and now Juan, presented a well-reasoned, well-supported, and insightful look into the evolution of Free-to-Play games in 2013.  Steve may believe that “Nobody Knows Anything”, but checking out their past “Year in Review” presentations from Casual Connect you’ll see that for guys who don’t know anything – they get it right more often than not.

Steve and Dave presented their 2012 Social Games Year in Review at Casual Connect Seattle 2012:

EditorialIndustry

Old Guard Beware: OUYA preparing to eat what remains of your lunch

March 7, 2013 — by David Nixon

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Who would have predicted eight months ago that, on the tail of the big PS4 announcement, an independent Android-based upstart would be stealing the show? OUYA looks to radically change how consumers access and play games in the living room. With $8.5 million already raised, a super-excited audience, and a sleek, compact form, they are poised to give the big platforms a big bellyache.

From the perspective of console manufacturers, it must seem the largest threat to their primordial dominance of the Console Age are the tiniest of devices spreading faster than the “Harlem Shake”. Research from PlayScience being published by the Casual Games Association later this month (sign up to get your free copy) indicates children are fast adopting parent’s handheld devices as their preferred play device, and now the OUYA (and it’s competitor, GameStick – see a charming lecture from PlayJam CEO Jasper Smith) potentially takes another bite from the overall console games market. Even the mainstream press is picking up on the potential demise of “Big Console” despite millions spent each year on PR to suggest otherwise.

Even before launch, we’ve seen developers loving the OUYA platform. At the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect Europe this year, we happened upon a glowing OUYA box complete with a fun game named STALAGFLIGHT developed at the Nordic Game Jam.

STAGAFLIGHT on the Ouya

Ready, set, go!

You better get going if you want to take advantage of a considerable head start in the mini-console market.

The long 9 month wait is over with Julie Uhrman’s announcement that games uploaded to OUYA, starting today, will be available on OUYA when consoles start to ship out on March 28th.

OUYA will select from the top games, uploaded before March 28th, to feature in a series of short documentaries about the game, the developer, and the story about making the game. These videos will be part of OUYA launch marketing campaigns starting in June. Since free promotion and distribution is pretty hard to come by these days, you better get going if you want to take advantage of a considerable head start in the mini-console market.

OUYA was created in 2012 by Julie Uhrman, a video game industry veteran who saw an opportunity to open up the last closed game platform — the TV. Julie and an initial team of game developers and advisors brought the concept to life, with the help of Yves Behar and fuseproject, and took OUYA to Kickstarter in July of 2012. It became one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever, with tens of thousands of backers pledging to help bring OUYA to life. OUYA’s first consoles are planned to ship March 28th.



In case you missed it, more about the beginnings of OUYA directly from Julie this past summer at the IGDA Summit at Casual Connect:

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