I wake up after a night of binge coding to a dawn awash in the song of the muezzin. I am on the 27th floor of a glass tower in the midst of a modernist mountain range that is Bangsar South. Below me is all of Kuala Lumpur incredible in the fading night.
Three weeks ago, I received a message asking if I was interested in applying to GameFounders. I said, “Of course.” To my mind, GameFounders is the modern equivalent of the Sculpture Garden of the Medicis. Sculpture not involving marble, chisel and hammer, but interactivity, pixels and code. GameFounders calls digital talent from all over the world to come to Kuala Lumpur to build the future; accelerating the process by providing investment, a first-rate workspace and a three-month mentorship by masters of the various disciplines that comprise game development.
Over the Holidays, I faced a series of interviews. The first was with Christina Begerska, GameFounders Program Manager, sharp as an adamantium blade and kept fresh – no doubt – by the tears of failed applicants. Next was Reinaldo Normand, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor and author. And finally, Kadri Ugand herself, Co-Founder and CEO of GameFounders.
I was sleepwalking throughout the long wait for The Decision. Then I was told, matter-of-factly, that we were in. It took a lot of staring into space before it finally sunk in – our studio, Moocho Brain Interactive, would be in GameFounders Spring 2017!
This cycle is made of nine teams selected from a growing pool of more than a thousand applicants. Three teams are from South America, two are from Europe and four from Asia. Meet the teams of GameFounders Spring 2017:
At Casual Connect Asia 2016, held at Resorts World Sentosa’s Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, the cream of Filipino indie game development was showcased among the best in the world. Here’s a look at five of the games and their creators.
1. LITHIUM CITY
Lithium City is the Excellence in Audio winner of the recent International Game Festival China – coming from a field of 350 games in the Asia-Pacific region. In the game, you play as a synthetic heroine shooting your way out of a world taken over by computers. The game design evokes tension and excitement. The art is convincing as a portrayal of a dystopia with its austere aesthetic reminiscent of 80s Neon. The music ties it all with its dark yet upbeat synth style. Lithium City is developed by Nico Tuason and its music is composed by John Camara. Casual Connect Asia’s Indie Prize honored them with a nomination for Best Game in Development.
How do you solve the problem of capturing the attention of today’s video-stimulated consumers with your ads? One of the best ways is to use rewarded video ads, the most rapidly growing category in mobile advertising. But mastering this art requires perfecting the balance of ads in your app to increase engagement, maintain retention, monetize the app appropriately and preserve your user fan base.
Tal Shoham discussed this delicate art in depth during the session, “Mastering the Art of Rewarded Video” at Casual Connect Asia. Tal is VP of International Business Development, Developer Solutions at ironSource and is responsible for cultivating lasting relationships with publishers and developers across the globe. Tal came to this career after more than ten years as product manager in the defense industry.
“Everyone loves video: advertisers, publishers, users,” according to Tal. To learn more about this important monetization trend, watch the video of the complete session below.
As a critic on the Game Slam panel at Casual Connect Asia 2014, Tom Sperry had the chance to review Meanwhile, In a Parallel Universe by Zombies Indie House. While there were some points of the game he disagreed with, but he felt overall that Diptoman Mukherjee did a good job.
Mountain climber and marathoner Tom Sperry is also the head of business development at Exit Games. In the last year, he ran three marathons, at Maui, Chicago, and Portland. Recently, he climbed Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, and he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice.
Sperry’s work responsibilities include running the US and Asia offices of Exit Games. He was recruited by the founders and VCs to help drive growth in those areas. The fact that he earned his International MBA in Asia has been a definite advantage. He states that the highlight of his career was working with the team in Europe and bringing Exit Games global.
The innovation of the games industry and the way it pushes technology are the fun factors that drive Sperry’s passion for his work.
Moving Past Facebook
The greatest challenge he sees in the industry today is moving beyond Facebook, although he definitely sees the value of mobile; in fact, this is his own favorite platform to play on because it is easy, fast, and always on. But he emphasizes that it is essential to make games that are truly multiplayer and cross-platform.
He states that because Exit Games is a technology provider, they do not directly face this problem. However, with such mechanisms as Photon Cloud, that allow the development of cross-platform scalable realtime multiplayer games, they certainly seem dedicated to providing solutions. In fact, he states that they continue to believe multiplayer and cross-platform experiences will continue to be the most important trend of the games industry for the next several years.
At Casual Connect Asia, Sperry announced great new one-time pricing of Photon for indies and New Photon pricing with their CCU Forever Plan. He also announced two new products, Photon Turn Based for turn-based games and Photon Chat.
“We were born on the web, we were born native to this space,” Daryl Webb said in regards to the Softlayer team. “In fact, we were doing cloud computing before it got called cloud computing.”
Daryl Webb, the general manager, Asia Pacific of SoftLayer Technologies, enjoys the simple life. In his free time, he can be found at a neighborhood coffee shop in Joo Chiat, sipping Tiger and puffing on an occasional cigar, watching the day go by. He is also involved with the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, working to grow kiwi business in Asia and Singapore businesses in New Zealand.
He also squeezes in time for gaming, preferring to use iOS because he always has his phone with him. When he needs to turn his brain off, he plays Tiny Death Star, saying, “The self-referential humor is great.” He admits the games he has enjoyed show his age; the last game he played with great passion was Age of Empires III on PC. In fact, he played on one of the original Pong consoles in New Zealand and still remembers poking 20c coins by the bagful into the original Space Invaders. He wrote games on TRS-80s, BBC Electrons and Micros, and the Commodore 64 in the 1970s and 80s.
As the general manager, APAC of SoftLayer Technologies, Webb oversees the business activities, from operations to sales. Much of his time is spent showcasing their Singapore DC to customers and attending events, including Casual Connect, to share the SoftLayer story.
SoftLayer was founded in 2005 in Dallas by a group of hosting industry veterans; since then, it has become a leading global IaaS provider. The gaming space is a key market that SoftLayer has served from the beginning, building the best infrastructure available to gaming companies and gamers. They entered the Singapore market directly in late 2011 and in July 2013, they were acquired by IBM. In January 2014, IBM announced a $1.2 billion investment in the expansion of SoftLayer, which will allow them to double their data center footprint this year.
Gaining Access To New Markets
Webb says, “Being acquired by IBM is a game changer for SoftLayer, giving us access to new markets, and driving massive global expansion into new geographies. We knew we had a great company, a great platform. IBM confirmed that.”
The achievements of the people Webb works with and has worked with are what give him the greatest satisfaction in his work. He insists, “The first role of a manager is to help their people be the best they can be; to help them develop, grow, and shine. I have worked with some amazing and gifted people in my career, and what they have gone on to do is what makes me proud.”
The Cloud: More To Come
Webb believes the next few years will bring continued growth of cloud platforms at the core of gaming infrastructure and deeper exploitation of cloud capabilities, with global connectivity and footprint, speed of provisioning, and user analytics becoming native capabilities. He also sees the requirements of games driving the evolution of cloud capabilities. He asserts, “Gaming is one of the toughest tests of cloud infrastructure. At SoftLayer, we believe if you can meet the needs of gamers, you can meet the needs of any business. As the needs of game developers change, so will cloud platforms.”
“Looking at the US market overall, obviously it’s the biggest gaming market in the world for mobile games,” said Robby Yung during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “I think if you separate it out by platform, a lot of people think of the US as really an iOS-driven market, but in fact the US is number 1 for downloads on both iOS and Android.”
Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands, says this adventure grew out of a long friendship he has had with Yat Siu and David Kim, the founders of Animoca. All three have much in common as serial entrepreneurs. As CEO, Yung oversees the day-to-day operations of Animoca Brands, spending much of his time on licensing, M&A, and corporate development, all of which he has previously done at other media and technology companies he started.
The most satisfying aspect of his work is closing rounds of funding, whether private or public. He claims, “From the first time in 1999 or the twelfth time in 2014, it just never gets old.” And how has he become so successful doing this? “Practice, practice, practice!”
A tipping point in his career came in March 2013 with the adoption of Candy Crush in Hong Kong. He describes the phenomenon, “Literally a quarter of the population was playing it, and you couldn’t sit in a restaurant or ride on public transport without seeing someone feverishly crushing those virtual candies. The user demographic seemed indefinable, it was just ‘everyone’. It’s moments like that when you are staggered by the power of mobile distribution.” He states that the massive success of apps like Candy Crush validated for him Animoca’s strategy: focus on casual mobile titles for all audiences, including women, children and adults.
Believing in F2P
Yung is a proponent of F2P, believing it is the logical transactional format in the app world. He points out that allowing consumers to try the product is far more compelling than advertisements, game trailers, and reviews, and says, “I love the fact that F2P allows everyone to enjoy our titles, whether or not they choose to play.” He does dislike the automatic negative comments that F2P seems to generate in the app industry. While some F2P implementations can be obnoxious and greedy, he insists that overall it has hugely expanded the market for countless developers and publishers. Because of that, he considers F2P a positive force in the games industry.
For his own gaming, Yung prefers to use his smartphone. Currently, he is playing Doraemon Repair Shop Seasons, one of Animoca’s brand-based time management games. He says, “It’s driving me nuts—it gets quite hard—but I will not admit defeat.”
He does not own a console; he would rather be gaming on his smartphone or tablets. However, he does take the opportunity to play console titles from time to time at work or at friend’s homes.
When at home, Yung spends his time in the physical world, with his family, and finds his young daughter takes up most of his time. He also likes to run, including the occasional marathon, something he claims is necessary to offset his other hobby of eating.
In the next few years, Yung believes we will see the “next five billion” get onto smartphones and smartphone gaming, saying, “Seeing how this audience and these gamers will shape the future of the games industry will be interesting indeed.” He emphasizes that Animoca have always seen themselves as a gaming company for everyone; they were one of the first Android game developers, and they were one of the first to establish a strong foothold in developing markets. And he maintains, “We will keep trying our best to stay on top of trends as they arise.”
“Sometimes it’s a miracle, sometimes you don’t really know it, but in a way you can plan it or you can also structure it,” Tung Nguyen-Khac said in regards to getting your game up in the app stores at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “But it is one of the hardest things to do, to get into the app store, to get into the top grossing charts, but also to get into the top installs charts.”
Tung Nguyen-Khac, CEO of ProSiebenSat.1 Games, feels the major achievement of his career was when the company acquired Aeria Games. ProSiebenSat.1 was the first company to close a large M&A deal in Europe. This was an especially satisfying experience for him because he had the idea, initiated the talks, and, together with their M&A team, he negotiated and executed the transaction. He says, “We made the impossible happen! Only a few in the industry would have expected this from ProSiebenSat.1.”
Love For The Industry
Nguyen-Khac became involved in the games industry after meeting Heiko Hubertz, founder of BigPoint. When he came on board, BigPoint was a rather small company, but he immediately began expanding, growing it from just a handful of people to a few hundred employees; it became a big player for online browser games in Europe. And he has never regretted the decision.
He emphasizes that he loves the industry: it is never boring, and, as in a big family, you can exchange views and opinions, even with competitors. He particularly appreciates the way gaming connects people, whether old or young, or from the East or West. This is especially important to him because of his Asian background.
Taking The Helm
Nguyen-Khac assumed leadership of the management board of ProSiebenSat.1 Games in December 2012. He tells us, “The story which led to this position includes a good mixture of startup experience, media, and finance know-how, and naturally, a good portion of luck. It helped a lot that I’ve learned the intricacies of a big corporation in the past, so I was well prepared when joining.” As CEO, he is responsible for strategy, M&A, and all online games publishing departments. It is not surprising that he thinks of himself as someone who can make things happen.
When not involved with work, Nguyen-Khac pursues several interests. He is an avid reader, especially of biographies, and he loves traveling. But doing activities with his family is the best quality time he can think of.
Most of Nguyen-Khac’s gaming is connected to his work. Currently, he is playing the internal beta of Goal One, the football manager they have coming out this May. He also has fun playing and testing mobile quiz games and mobile eLearning apps—he is always looking for the best ones for his children. An iPhone is the device he uses for his gaming, although he believes both Android and iOS have their distinct advantages from a business perspective.
He must be a very dedicated gamer, since he describes playing while sitting in a ski lift last December. He was losing when the lift made a swift movement and his phone fell about 30 meters down deep into the snow. Of course, he never found it again, although he says, “The person who found it may be a happy mobile game player!”
For the next few years in the games industry, Nguyen-Khac sees free-to-play continuing to be the dominant business model and mobile becoming the number one platform, with eLearning more and more relevant, especially in Western markets. He also believes we will see more and more highly involved communities forming around specific gaming concepts, uniting different kinds of gamers, from casual to core gamers of all ages.
At Casual Connect Asia, Nguyen-Khac announced that with the acquisition of Aeria Games, ProSiebenSat.1 Games formed Europe’s number three publisher, SevenGames. He also discussed Goal One, their new football manager which will be at the launched internationally at the end of May.
“So stories are dead right?” Simon Newstead asked during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “I think what this talk is about is that no, story games aren’t dead, in fact there are some very successful ones which are making quite a lot of money now, but the rules have changed. The challenges and what worked five, ten years ago is not working in the mobile, free-to-play generation.”
Simon Newstead, CEO and lead game designer at Frenzoo, claims the most important moment of his career was when he decided to leave a steady job with a great company for the perils of entrepreneurship. He says, “Life was too short not to do something creative and take hold of my own destiny. It was some years ago now, but I am glad I did it.”
From Virtual Worlds to Games
Newstead first started Frenzoo many years ago to create virtual worlds. Later, he pivoted the company to begin creating 3D mobile games. Prior to starting Frenzoo, he worked for the Asia region of Juniper Networks running the Advanced Technology Group. While there, he learned how to assess a market and how to work with a team of engineers and understand their point of view, abilities which he still finds useful at Frenzoo.
When Frenzoo launched their first game, Style Me Girl, its enormous popularity forever altered Newstead’s outlook on his company. He now had the confidence to go on and invest in more games for that audience and to try to build up a portfolio. His confidence was well-placed, as the company has gone on to create the very successful Me Girl series.
These days, Newstead’s personal gaming consists of playing the games Frenzoo has in development, as well as many others in parallel. One of these he particularly enjoys is Little Empire. He also has nostalgia for some of the old remakes and ports to mobile, including such games as Kotor and Baldur’s Gate. Usually, he can be found playing on his Nexus tablet.
He especially appreciates free-to-play because it allows him to sample so many games. He also enjoys seeing so many free-to-play games arise out of nowhere to become blockbuster hits. However, he detests seeing excessive in-app purchases within a paid high end title.
He has very little time to play on console currently, but he does enjoy some Grand Theft Auto on his Xbox 360. And he plans to get both Xbox One and PS4 soon.
Virtual Reality Boom?
Newstead believes the most important emerging trend in the games industry is virtual reality. He says, “We’d love to do something for that platform. We’ll be playing around with it more this year. It seems like a great fit, since we’re 3D avatar focused.”
“We spend a lot of time in front of a screen, whether it is a TV screen, or even a mobile screen,” said Robin Ng in regards to Southeast Asia during his presentation at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “We are actually higher than the global average.”
Robin Ng is the head of international business at Asiasoft, a leading game operator and publisher in Southeast Asia. He tells us he got started in the games industry because gaming is his hobby and, as part of the industry, he would get to play games for free.
Evolving With Technology
Ng began his career in the early 2000s with SMS games for mobile phones, just as mobile phones were beginning to expand their global reach. From there, his career progressed along with the evolution of mobile gaming, and he still loves his work, saying, “There is much more to look forward to.”
Ng leads the business development team for Asiasoft, taking charge of games acquisition and licensing for them to publish in Southeast Asia. He also is responsible for strategic partnership development.
He says, “The ongoing excitement in the games industry keeps me on my toes; there are always new things that come about, not only in gaming, also in the surrounding services.” He notes that games are no longer pure games; they incorporate a number of non-gaming elements which make the games come alive. And these draw him in.
For Ng, the greatest enjoyment in his work comes from meeting all the creative and talented people and following the exciting developments they bring to the industry. And, of course, the fun of playing free games!
He emphasizes that his work has brought him many moments of great satisfaction. Because he is in business development, each deal that is signed or closed is one of these moments. For every deal, understanding the needs of the customer or partner is crucial to finding the right solution. He admits, “I don’t win all the time, but I try my best.”
Currently, Ng prefers to play 2048, a simple puzzle game that doesn’t require him to think too much, but passes the time. But the nature of his work has him play testing games constantly. He has no strong preference for either Android or iOS, but uses iOS more because he prefers to play on his iPad.
His dedication to gaming is shown by the fact that he was playing in the forest during military training. He claims he was just trying to pass the time while waiting for the “enemies” to appear.
But he owns neither Xbox One or PS4, believing if he had one he would get no sleep, but would spend nights playing non-stop. He says, “Once I start, I find it hard to stop before the game is completed.”
For the next three to five years, Ng expects mobile to continue to grow because there is still so much room for expansion.
More Mobile Growth
For the next three to five years, Ng expects mobile to continue to grow because there is still so much room for expansion. New trends he believes will emerge are wearable technologies and TV setup boxes that incorporate games and entertainment. Although these technologies are still in the infant stage, he will be exploring potential ways to bring them to Asiasoft’s users.
“We all know for games, we need new content to keep our players entertained, but the key thing here is not just to push out content, but to figure out the right cadence of content releases,” Weiwei Geng said during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “If you do it too soon, too fast, your players will actually get burned out, but if you actually do it too slow and too late, your players get bored and they might quit playing the game.”
Weiwei Geng, the executive producer at Kabam, believes the games industry is the perfect spot for art, science, engineering, interaction design, and music to come together as a true multidisciplinary industry. He joined the industry just as social games were taking off on Facebook. He started off in a friend’s company, helping them to set up their North American operation. What he enjoys most about being a part of the video games industry is that he gets to work with talented people all the time and that the platforms he works on allow him to interact directly with their players.
Making A Hit
At Kabam, Geng is leading The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and Kingdoms of Camelot franchises. He joined Kabam in 2012 just as they were beginning their mobile effort. His previous experience in understanding the free-to-play business, including design, live-ops, marketing, and customer service was a tremendous benefit; he says, “I couldn’t have done my current job without it.”
The successful launch of The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth for mobile and ramping it up to quickly shoot up the top grossing chart is what Geng considers the proudest moment of his career. He believes, “A true dedication of the team and the seamless teamwork led to this moment.”
Geng’s spare time activities include sports, music, and spending time with his family. And don’t forget gaming! Currently, he is playing Boom Beach, which he calls elegant, simple, and engaging: a step up from Clash of Clans. He prefers playing on iOS because of the indie community Apple is trying to foster on the platform.
His intense focus on mobile games had him playing on a high speed train going 350 kilometers per hour. He says, “Due to the high speed of the train, my cell phone had to keep switching to new station towers for reception. It was quite an experience!”
Geng sees globalization as the next important trend in mobile free-to-play. He notes that Asia is known for being advanced in the free-to-play business. He claims, “With the growing market in the West and global hit titles such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, a merge in understanding free-to-play will happen on the global level. Companies and talent will try to leverage the learnings from all markets, and those that can take advantage of these key learnings will become valuable.”