We are proud to introduce our best mobile game finalist Mushroom Wars 2 made by Zillion Whales! As a winner at the GTP Indie Cup event, Zillion Whales has been given the opportunity to compete at Indie Prize Singapore at Casual Connect Asia 2017. The winter season 2017 of GTP Indie Cup has received more submissions than ever. Our jury board was excited about growing professional level of games from CIS indie developers and Mushroom Wars just proved this growth.
This year at GTP, we continue gathering best talents at our event and the summer season will be more helpful for developers not only by a variety of nominations and prizes but also with new Critic’s Choice award from CIS game press critics and journalists. We hope this story about our finalist will encourage you to take a part in the next Cup.
By Ksenia Shneyveys, Marketing Communications Manager at Zillion Whales
Mushroom Wars 2 is the newest game of a popular RTS series with a rich history.
Back in 2009, inspired by good old Galcon, the original Mushroom Wars was released. We polished this gameplay mechanics to a luster, added signature fungal setting, introduced morale notion and different types of buildings for greater depth.
Mushroom Wars 2 preserved the features that made Mushroom Wars so enjoyable and supplemented them with MOBA elements such as hero characters with unique sets of skills and co-op 2 vs 2 mode. The game is out on iOS and Apple TV. It is coming to Android, Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next year.
Creativity is a muscle and you have to keep flexing it! - Juliet TzabarClick To Tweet
Transmedia is an entertainment super-system that enables children’s favorite characters to travel across media platforms and it’s now an audience expectation in children’s entertainment. How do you approach this daunting expectation? At Casual Connect Europe, Plug-in Media’s CEO Juliet Tzabar shared how the company approaches IP for kids games across platforms. In Juliet’s talk entitled Approaching Transmedia in Children’s Entertainment, Juliet observed that “Kids love to play as THEIR preferred characters”. For more details of how Plug-in Media tackles transmedia, tune in to Juliet’s full session below. Please note that there were some technical difficulties during the session which effected sound quality.
Going cross-platform can keep a game alive and played for years to come. - Melinda MontanoClick To Tweet
Going cross platform is an opportunity to increase your potential audience. It can please your current userbase and it can grow your lifetime revenue. Such a leap needs to be considered carefully. As Melinda Montano, Business Development Manager at Kongregate explained during their presentation at Casual Connect Europe, “Before you decide to go cross-platform, understand why you’re doing it. Figure out the opportunity – do you want more revenue, users, prestige?” The complications developers often encounter when going from mobile to PC and vice-versa. These include perceived game value, freemium/premium, to the specifics of UX/UI changes. Melinda’s talk, PC and Mobile: Going Cross Platform Post-Launch provides actionable insights for your cross-platform PC and mobile plans. One simple tip Melinda offered was: “In UI, the biggest thing to remember when going from PC to mobile is that we have hands. They cover the screen.” For more, see the full lecture below.
Barak Regev, Director of Google Cloud Platform for EMEA of Google, says that the best things about working for Google are the amazing people, as well as the culture, goals and freedom of working at Google.
Barak had worked for Microsoft for seven years when Meir Brand, GM of Google IL, called, offering the opportunity to apply for a position establishing Google Enterprise in the EMEA region. This was six and a half years ago, and Barak was, of course interested. For the past four years, he has been leading the Google Cloud Platform business in EMEA, building and scaling the EMEA team responsible for sales and business development of Google’s Cloud Platform solutions. In this position, Barak must also hire the talent, expand Google’s ecosystem, evangelize Google’s solutions and, as he said, “inspire my people to think big.”
Make way for some sweet multiplayer addiction: Scribbled Arena in the house! – as told by Laxmi Khanolkar, CEO of Apar Games. She calls it a dream project for all of them at the company, The game is a unique cross-breed between adrenaline-pumping action and casual unwinding gameplay. If you’re a person who really digs upgrades like cooler ammunition and vehicles, you will definitely be spoilt for choices! Like to keep it simple and classic? Don’t worry, you will enjoy it too because it can be as easy-peasy lemon-squeezy as you’d want it.
Henning Kosmack discussed how they manage storylines in their game Suburbia during Casual Connect USA 2014. “We are very analytical, and we really track a lot of the stuff that’s happening in the game,” he said. “We try to tweak it back and forth to make sure that it is really fitting the biggest amount of audience we can get for that plot line.”
“The games are everywhere, so let the fun begin!” exclaims Henning Kosmack, the co-founder and CEO of MegaZebra. The biggest impact he sees coming to the games industry is cross-platform play. Computers, mobile devices, and television are all coming together as channels for game play. No matter what media outlet people prefer at a particular moment, the games will be there for them. And Kosmack believes this is great news for everyone in the games industry, especially for the players.
Assembling The Team
At MegaZebra, Kosmack fills many roles. As CEO, his foremost responsibility is to assemble an outstanding team of highly talented individuals. Kosmack also spends considerable time interacting with game producers. Since he loves numbers, he brings that into the creative processes in the company. And he is very involved with marketing and community work, where he has learned a great deal about user acquisition and the full life-cycle user experience.
Prior to founding MegaZebra, his career included everything from entrepreneur to VC. All along he has been detecting trends and finding the right team to execute new ideas, skills he continues to use in his latest company.
“Quality Over Quantity”
Kosmack stresses the pride he feels in his team. The MegaZebra philosophy is to emphasize quality over quantity, so the team still numbers less than fifty. Although they are small in numbers, they have crafted some of the biggest games in all the genres they have actively pursued, successfully competing with much larger companies. He says, “It feels like being the underdog playing soccer against the FC Bayern Munich, our hometown club and one of the best teams in the world, and beating them!”
One of the most significant trends Kosmack sees affecting the games industry currently is what he calls the “mass-marketization” of games. As social games emerged, they became accessible to an entirely new audience. Mobile devices further broadened this market. He believed, when founding MegaZebra in 2008, that all gaming audiences would follow this trend from narrow to broad. Although there are some genres, such as console-like gaming, which have not yet followed the trend, he expects them to be next.
The Media Battle
He claims this phenomenon produces another trend, which he calls “the battle of the media”. As games target the mass-market audience, they clash head-on with other media, particularly television. They are consumed at the same hours of the day, for similar session times, and by the same people. But TV is now losing reach and games are soaring. He says, “I think this makes sense. While TV is one-way, games are interactive, which is simply more fun.”
“I think this makes sense. While TV is one-way, games are interactive, which is simply more fun.”
Although there are other trends occurring, at MegaZebra, they believe these are the most important and are fully committed to focusing on them. They are now bringing their category-leading social games cross-platform. Because they have worked with Facebook for some years, they see the value of having mobile games synched to online, socially-connected versions, believing it offers a broader reach and significantly enhances the user experience.
Meeting The Challenge
To meet the challenge of competing with TV, they are currently working on a title that combines TV episodic-style storytelling with a simulation game. Kosmack asserts, “It will combine the narrative, excitement and drama that a television script delivers, with the interactive and social experience of a game.”
In his own gameplay, he is in the middle of migrating from Mac to iPad. He tests many games that come out on different platforms, but now his playing time is going to the new releases they have coming, Suburbia and Solitaire Chronicles. He says, “As we continue to tweak the games, I play, delete my scores, and play again, until it feels awesome.”
When not at work, Kosmack enjoys the original beer gardens in the beautiful city of Munich where he lives. He also visits the nearby lakes and the Alps, and participates in several sports, including beach volleyball, basketball and old-school squash.
At Casual Connect USA, he announced the official launch of Suburbia, MegaZebra’s take on the convergence of TV and gaming. It has already been playable in open beta, but because it is a rather unusual concept, fine-tuning it has taken some time.
'Risk defines innovation and the gaming industry thrives on innovation'. - Jeremy StrauserClick To Tweet
“I think the one thing on poker though, in my experience with researching real money poker while I was at Zynga, 95 percent of the players in real money poker are fish, 5 percent are sharks,” Jeremy Strauser told his audience during a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “95 percent of the people who ever deposit money into a real money poker site never take money out. Those people probably would be better served in a social poker atmosphere that is based on entertainment, because that’s really what they’re seeking.”
“It’s true that the market is dominated by a few players, but still, if you look at the number of the 100 grossing apps right now on the IOS, it is doing about 30K a day,” says Giordano Contestabile during Casual Connect USA. “If you can keep it going for one year, that means a 10 million dollar round rate.”
Giordano Contestabile is the vice president of product management at Tilting Point Media, a company that focuses on partnering with elite independent game developers, helping them to succeed in the market with funding, product feedback, and marketing services. Contestabile’s team handles product management, UX/UI, analytics and user acquisition, working with developers from the very early stage of the development process to post-launch operations.
When Leo’s Fortune, developed by their partner 1337/Senri, won an Apple Design Award, they were extremely proud of this achievement that was the result of two years of work. The team’s focus on making the highest quality experience led to this recognition and support from Apple.
Leo’s Fortune was launched as a premium game on iOS at a time when everyone told them the market for premium games was dead. But the game was received extremely well, was a financial success and was Editor’s Choice in 135 countries, as well as receiving the Apple award. From this experience, Contestabile learned that even though F2P is the overwhelming majority of the market, there is still space for extremely high-quality, original premium experiences.
Building The Business
Now Tilting Point Media is looking to develop as broad and diversified a portfolio as possible in terms of genre, theme, and business model. The overarching intention is for all their games to be extremely high quality and original; the market is so competitive that only great products will be able to rise above the rest.
Prior to coming to Tilting Point Media, Contestabile was the executive producer of the Bejeweled franchise for EA; handling a massively popular live game, such as Bejeweled Blitz, taught him a great deal about how much complexity is involved in developing and operating free-to-play games. He loves the opportunity F2P offers to make games available to a large audience, with games now reaching hundreds of millions of people who weren’t playing them before. Unfortunately, the past few years have seen low-quality clones and uninspired games flood the market. However, the market has evolved, and low-quality games are finding it harder and harder to succeed. He calls this a great development.
Contestabile is a long-time PC gamer, but his current favorite platform is his iPad, not only for reasons of available time and portability, but because recently a large number of very high-quality games have been released. His game preferences include Threes, Leo’s Fortune, Twodots, Toy Rush and Trials Frontier. He also owns a PS4 and an Xbox One, using them mainly for sports games and to watch movies and videos.
When he is not involved in gaming, he loves art, design, fashion, food, and wine. Fortunately, these are found in abundance where he lives in New York City.
Believing In Mobile
Contestabile sees huge potential coming in cross-platform, and he believes mobile and tablet will be central to it. So Tilting Point Media is making sure all their games will be ready for a future in which a player will play on mobile, tablet, and big screen devices. Players will expect the best user experience on all of these. He believes in the future there will be a strong trend toward experiences that are differentiated on each device, but are interconnected.
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.
InnoGames has always enjoyed prosperous, organic growth, and has been able to maintain a solid user-base of dedicated fans. But were there tough times as well? Were there struggles? Have battles been fought in order to preserve the company and its ambitions? They never intended to start a company in the first place, that’s for sure. Founder and CEO Hendrik Klindworth takes us through the history of the company that he founded together with his brother Eike and Michael Zillmer.
Just for the Fun of It
“The original idea was to create a game which was fun for the three of us and our friends. It was never supposed to be a game for millions of players. We were inspired by games like Inselkampf (a very early browser-based game), but also by Age of Empires II, which was the game we played most in those days.”
Though the ‘hobby’ project kept on growing, it wasn’t until four years later that they founded InnoGames. “In 2005, we already had 50,000 active players and we knew that the ‘premium accounts’ business model worked for us,” Hendrik says. “That gave us a good feeling about starting a business in 2006.” The brothers called their company “Klindworth Internetprojekte” and one year later, they founded InnoGames, solely to run Tribal Wars. Aside from the money they accumulated through the game, one of the main reasons for starting their own company was the feeling that is was a “now or never situation”. The early bird catches the worm, and it was with this mindset that they set out in 2006 to develop professionally, in part because they would need all the advantages they could get, not possessing huge funds. The risk involved was minimal: “Eike and I were still studying and Michael had an IT traineeship, so we were also not risking too much by founding the company,” Hendrik explains.
Having already established a steady revenue stream and accumulated years of experience, their start-up encountered almost no hurdles. Pretty much the only challenge was the formal side of things, to which end they decided “to hire an accountant quite soon”. Other than that, it was smooth sailing, with international success to boot! “Particularly the Polish version became extremely successful,” he says. Their second game, The West, also did well and after five years, they had experienced barely any setbacks. “One or two cooperative projects ended quite disappointingly, but we got over it quite quickly.”
One or two cooperative projects ended quite disappointingly, but we got over it quite quickly.
Which left plenty of room to learn from their successes, the major one being that “speed and timing matters a lot”. Tribal Wars would not have been such a success if they‘d had the idea five years later. “It is very important to do the right thing at the right time,” Hendrik says. “That is why we strongly value flexibility at our company.” Another lesson is focus. “It is better to handle one project with a lot of focus than spreading it out over three projects.”
The vivid company culture at InnoGames extends far beyond the office itself. Their core values are determined by “company goals, management, but also a lot by the employees we have,” according to Hendrik. They have a young team at InnoGames, “although our average age has reached 30 for the first time in 2012”. The vivid company culture simply reflects the vivid and lively people that work there. “The majority of us have turned our hobby into a profession,” he says. “This applies to us founders, but also to our colleagues. That obviously influences team spirit a lot, too.” It should come as no surprise then that they sum their company culture up as “fun + passion + professionalism”.
Keeping that culture going strong is a bit more tasking though, now that the company has grown to the extent of employing a couple of hundred people. “We want to maintain the start-up feeling to a certain extent, but we also see that we have to evolve,” Hendrik says. A great example there is the internal communication: “When it was just twenty of us, we used to have an all-hands meeting on Friday and everyone summed up what he or she did during the week. That way, everyone was in the loop about everything. That obviously does not work with a couple of hundred people, so we had to find new mechanics and new communication flows.”
We want to maintain the start-up feeling to a certain extent, but we also see that we have to evolve.
Attributing their success to ambition, they note a distinct difference between browser games and retailed games. “You don’t stop working on them just because you released them.” With update cycles of a few weeks for every game, they also have development teams for each of them (including Tribal Wars, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year). As such, growth is simply necessary, aside from wanting to start new projects. “Furthermore, we believe that the growth was also necessary to prepare our company for the competitive state the industry is by now in, compared to four years ago,” Hendrik says.
As far as how to measure their success within the company, the answer it quite simple: “The most important measure is the fluctuation. We are losing very few employees and in these times of ‘warring for talent’, this is extremely important from a business perspective,” Hendrik says. When it comes to distinguishing themselves from their competitors, they take pride in preferring quality over quantity. “One of the major differences is quite obvious in the portfolio: ours is way smaller than most.” They believe this leads to a more sustainable growth pattern and a high ratio of successful titles. “In a market environment of masses of games and increasing marketing costs, this is essential,” he says. And as soon as they believe a project isn’t good enough for a commercial launch, “we’d rather stop it than just launch it anyway”.
Even now, they still focus their resources on just a few games a year, a strategy that might not seem too safe. “At first glance that might appear risky, as both could fail. However, we believe that the chance of having a major success with one of these games could even be higher since we can focus more on each of them,” Hendrik explains. “That definitely paid off with Forge of Empires, which was the most successful launch of a browser game in 2013, worldwide.”
When you focus on so much on just a few games, fostering the community takes on an even higher level of importance. Finding a formula that works is key. “You have to find the right balance between localization and centralization in community management. We have a lot of local community managers and supporters who know best about local culture and regional preferences. It is very important for us to stay close to the players and to understand their demands and needs,” Hendrik says. “But on the other hand, central tools which are provided by the headquarters can speed up the support processes.“
It is very important for us to stay close to the players and to understand their demands and needs.
Entering New Markets
Their overall success has seen them exploring different continents, and even different platforms. “We believe that mobile games have huge potential. It is quite likely that the tablet will become one of the major gaming consoles.” As such, they see now it as the time to evolve from a browser-based company to a cross-platform company. “Our goal is to publish our games for smartphones, tablets, and the browser, all in the same time frame, and with the best possible quality on all devices,” Hendrik says. Making the switch to a cross-platform company is a big step and needs quite some effort, but they are sure that it’s “somehow essential for the future”. Not believing that the market for browser-based games will remain the same, moving in a new direction is “needed for future success, you just have to go with it”.
But branching out doesn’t limit itself to other platforms, as said before, new continents were explored as well. “InnoGames Korea was originally founded in order to buy Asian licenses and to publish those games in Europe,” Hendrik explains. They tried that with Bounty Hounds Online, but that didn’t really work out for them. As a result, they switched their focus there to publishing their own games in Asia. “In Korea, you legally need a local company to do that.” This also brought some insight into Korean company culture. “There is no sense in adapting all of them in Europe, but a new perspective on some topics definitely helps,” Hendrik says.
They didn’t stop there, however, and are currently entering the Brazilian market as well. One can imagine it being a far cry from the Asian markets. “The Korean gaming market in general is very big, but it is quite dominated by MMO client games and the browser games market is not that big.” The user’s willingness to pay for games and items is quite high, due to a good economic climate. That way they can do well enough, even without a gigantic number of players. “Business wise, it is the other way round in Brazil,” Hendrik says. The amount of browser gamers is huge, and they already have “more than 20 million registered players there, but the average revenue per user is quite low.” This means having to find smart ways to use marketing, but also finding feasible payment schemes. “We believe that this is most likely to be possible with a local office.”
We believe that mobile games have huge potential. It is quite likely that the tablet will become one of the major gaming consoles.
Focusing on just a few titles has paid off in terms of having a core of extremely loyal players, but what is key to creating such a player base? “Game design is very important. Tribal Wars, for example, is a classic ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ game, maybe a bit like chess even,” Hendrik says. By focusing on player-versus-player, the tactical and strategic situations keep changing. “Even after having played for a long time, you could find yourself in a new situation quite quickly. That makes it interesting to play the game for years,” he says. Another factor is the “fair premium” model. By making sure the player never feels ripped off when making a purchase, you ensure a long game life.
Right now, plans exist to launch some initial titles in the mobile market. “If we enter the mobile market successfully, this might be one of our biggest strikes in the company’s history,” Hendrik says.