With over a decade of experience in the game development industry, Eipix Entertainment is currently the most productive cross-platform developer of HOPA games in the world, developing more than 20 new titles a year, and employing more than 300 creatives. The company is also deep into the process of expanding onto other fields of the gaming industry, such as adventure games, text-based adventures and VR games. In 2016, it has set its sight on new territory – self-publishing and the free-to-play casual gaming industry.
New beginnings are tough. Eipix has worked on a variety of projects since its inception back in 2005, but for the past five years the company has almost exclusively worked on HOPA titles released by its publisher, Big Fish Games. These games put us on the map, and it is their success that allowed us to consider branching out and venturing into unknown territories.
Once we were able to consolidate our operations and create a steady pipeline for such a massive output of HOPA games, the next logical step was trying our hand in a different genre. Finally, in 2016 we chose to enter the self-publishing arena.
It may still be in the early days, but with a worldwide launch day sellout, Playstation VR might just be the Virtual Reality breakthrough that the games industry has long been hoping for. But worldwide adoption of this futuristic technology will only happen if the games live up to the expectations set by Sony and others. That’s where World War Toons comes in; it’s the first major title from Studio Roqovan, formally known as Reload Studios and staffed by Call of Duty veterans and Disney animators. It’s also one of the first console VR-compatible games to be built around a free-to-play mechanic.
When MegaZebra started in 2008, they were pioneers. Along with making games, the company also had to create the market in Europe from the ground up. To top it off, the company’s founders came from Internet and mobile backgrounds as opposed to a more traditional gaming background. This ended up proving fortunate for the company as it helped them tackle problems in a unique way as the gaming industry evolved.
Gamblit Gaming’s CMO David Chang spoke about how Gamblit connects gaming and gambling, as well as the trends in both the gaming and gambling industries that he’s witnessed over the last few years, with TechnologyAdvice host Clark Buckner. TechnologyAdvice.com provides coverage content on teaching and training games, strategic employee engagement software, and customer loyalty programs and much more. Also be sure to check out their gamification tech conference calendar.
Brian Lee shared his reason why he co-founded Team Signal at his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “After several years of working in the game industry, I decided to start making games pictured in my heart,” he said. “Now I am the artist/producer in Team Signal.”
Brian Lee is the producer and artist of Team Signal, a company he co-founded with a group of graduate school friends who love indie games. Their biggest reason for starting the company was their determination to control their own lives and make the games that truly speak to their hearts.
Waiting For A Miracle
Lee had experience working in an MMO company before becoming an entrepreneur. Soon after the project he was working on went online, it was cancelled. This experience was a life lesson for him: If he was determined to create the games he really wanted to, he would have to go after it for himself, rather than sitting and waiting for a miracle.
The most exciting moment of his career came when their game, Hyper Square, won the Casual Connect Asia Critic’s Choice Award. Hyper Square is a different game app than most of the mobile games in Asia. Usually games in Asia try to maximize value through extending the gaming hours rather than creating valuable content for players. Team Signal put a lot of effort into exploring interesting and unique mechanics of Hyper Square to achieve the goal of creating valuable content. When they were selected as the winner of the Critic’s Choice Award, Lee knew their efforts had resulted in well-deserved success. He says, “It was really the greatest encouragement.”
Trends and Impacts
Lee believes the trend that will most affect his company in the future is the F2P business model. He is not terribly familiar with this area, so they will try to start learning about it by making several small titles using the F2P model. He feels a small free game with ads would be a good start.
During the next few years, he expects the industry as a whole to be greatly impacted by the Hud display headset, such as Oculus Rift. This could bring the games industry into an entirely new era and expand the boundaries of visual reality.
Art and Gaming
When Lee is gaming, these days he is playing FTL on mobile. He is a huge fan of sci-fi stories, and FTL strongly simulates the feeling of a galaxy adventure in a simple but powerful way. He has also played Clash of Clanswith his most expensive purchase at $19.99 for a pack. When not gaming, he enjoys manga drawing and reading, especially on topics related to economics and mythology.
At Casual Connect USA 2014, Lee announced that Team Signal is currently finishing an exclusive Android version of Hyper Square. It will be a freemium game.
Arseny Lebedev went over elements a game should have to be fun during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “I initially thought that fun is a risk-reward thing, that fun is all about how much you are rewarded,” he explained. “But we’ll figure out that’s not really the case.”
After that, he went on to co-found a development studio together with Ivan Tkachenko who already spent 10 years in game industry. “We have been creating amazing stuff with the talent and energy of our team,” indicates Lebedev, proud of the growth that the studio has experience in the last years, from 2 to over 35 members. “Our team has developed the biggest games and IPS in the world, making us feel proud.”
A Cancelled Dream
But the progress of the company has not been continuously smooth. Over a year ago, they were given what seemed a dream project, a large mobile game with a large publisher. He claims the IP was his favorite of all time. However, a series of unfortunate events, including delays and corporate changes, led to cancellation of the project. He remembers, “I couldn’t sleep for weeks.”
Finally on one evening, he rationalized the situation and woke up the next morning feeling great. He feels this experience changed the way he makes decisions at Signus, simply because there are sometimes too many uncontrollable factors. He admits, “Now I’ve loosened up, and I think the team feels it.”
Relaxation Found in Games
For Lebedev, his idea of relaxing includes philosophy in seclusion, traveling the world, and of course, playing awesome games. Hungry Shark,Bubble Witch 2,and internal Signus projects are his current mobile favorites.
He is also an Xbox controller fan, following controller evolution closely since Sega Dreamcast. He is impatiently waiting for Witcher 3 because he also loves AAA games, especially those with strong story elements.
Finally, he seems excited about new platforms, especially tablets. “The iPad Mini is an incredible device! I’m still amazed something so small and light can exist!” he declares.
Neither Superior Nor Inferior
When it comes to business models for games, Arseny owns his strong opinions affirming that Free to Play (F2P) and Premium games should not be compared with the same criteria.
“F2P can provide amazing short bursts of fulfillment and joy over a game’s lifetime,” adding also “premium can give the same joy for a longer burst, but likely for a shorter total period.” “Neither design is superior nor inferior,” he concludes. Additionally, he points out the F2P empowers a title to reach a huge audience. His challenge is to create a substantial storytelling method within F2P design.
Because indies can develop a hit for almost nothing, on a profit margin basis, they can exceed the success of an AAA publisher. He expects console developers will also try to allow indies to develop content more easily. He claims, “We will see the return of the mods from the PC days.”
In July 2014, Signus Labs launched Hidden Fortune, which is its first hidden object game on iOS that allows play for real-life currency in the United States, thanks to B-Spot. By discovering and unlocking the objects, Hidden Fortune gamers can play just for fun or by wagering real money.
“My experience has been that most people who’ve come up through the video game industry in the West tend to be very new-game oriented, and I think that comes from the fact that many people in the packaged goods industry would associate job security and success with the start of a new game,” Dan Fiden said in a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Whereas in Asia, the culture is completely different. The on-going operations of a game generally mean job security and financial success.”
Dan Fiden is the chief strategy officer at FunPlus, a Beijing-based developer, operator, and publisher of social and mobile games. It now has offices in Vancouver and San Francisco and more than five million daily active users.
Fiden has always been interested in games, playing a lot of them as a child in the 32-bit console days and earlier. When he began in the games industry, there was no formal education in making games. He started with a company called Jellyvision (now Jackbox), the makers of You Don’t Know Jack. He says, “It was an incredible experience with some really fun, like-minded people. I was hooked thereafter.”
As CSO, Fiden’s main objective is to build the team through hiring the most talented people he can find and by forming partnerships with people and companies that share the same goals as FunPlus. This means he spends a lot of time traveling and meeting new people.
The focus at FunPlus is on giving consumers games that put players and fun first. They are in the business of nurturing and maintaining communities, meaning that they treat their players well. Their international ops team is dedicated to making sure the players are constantly engaged in the game.
Fiden believes the same game can work all over the world, but the game operations and the people who interact with the players in whatever language on a day-to-day basis and manage the game must be 100 percent dedicated. They need to understand their players and be able to essentially run that game. So at FunPlus, they never outsource operations behind player volunteers. Instead, they have full-time employees whose entire responsibility is managing the game.
Because FunPlus wants every player to have a great experience in their game, they emphasize treating users well. Social media helps them to communicate with players, so it is a fundamental part of their business.
When well done, online games create a community around a shared experience. And social media, and the way people are constantly connected on their mobile devices, creates opportunities for players to engage with your services anytime, anywhere. This will continue to increase, so Fiden believes any game that fails to take that into account and foster it won’t work much longer.
Knowledge of the East and West
When Fiden first worked in China 10 years ago, the industry was dominated by Tencent’s PC instant messenger client QQ. People played games primarily in internet cafes, and most of the games were very casual multiplayer games like Link Link or low fidelity MMOs. The development community was dominated by outsourcing or insourcing studios for the big western publishers. Today, the situation has completely changed. Chinese developers are concerned mainly with the Chinese market, and that market is focused on mobile. He points out that there are now 80,000 development studios in China, and they release about 100 games every day.
The differences in the games industry between West and East are very familiar to Fiden. In the West, most game companies and game developers came from the packaged tradition. Since those games generally couldn’t be changed once completed, there was a strong focus on craftsmanship and polish. But in the East, video games have been online services for much longer, so Asian companies really understand what it means to focus on player retention and satisfaction. He says, “They interact with their users like a resort operator movie company.” Great experiences and services lead to customer loyalty. At FunPlus, Fiden emphasizes, they try to combine the best qualities of both East and West: great, polished, innovative games and incredible, memorable service, whether players are in Timbuktu or Toronto.
Excitement of Innovation
Fiden believes the most significant innovation in the last few years in the games industry is the free-to-play business model. He claims, “The significance of the free-to-play model has been understated. It’s not just a pricing model. It changes the nature of how you build a game team and what you think of as a game. It radically expands what we can do with game experiences and stories.” He would like to see the dialogue become less about whether it is predatory and more about how it necessitates an ongoing commitment from game makers to support the game and the players, and how that introduces really interesting creative possibilities.
“Games will no longer be generalized; they will be relevant to each player on a global scale.”
In the near future, Fiden believes developers will have the ability to tailor the game to the player. Already, with Barn Voyage, they were able to create the game in fifteen languages, making it global from the first day on the market. There are community managers creating events in each country; these events will reflect an individual country’s culture, pop culture, and personal experiences. He foresees, “Games will no longer be generalized; they will be relevant to each player on a global scale.”
The coming games technology Fiden is most interested in personally is VR tech, such as Project Morpheus. However, in terms of impact on the industry, he selects the rapid proliferation of mobile devices with high speed internet connectivity as the most important trend. An example of what this can do is the amazing large scale battles of games like EVE. He enthusiastically speculates, “Imagine what that will look like when the real, addressable audience is nearly everyone in the world, and all of those people will be able to join in whether they are at home, on a train, or at work because it’s accessible on their mobile device.”
Bruch came to Liquid Wireless after connecting with the founder, Jason Cianchette, through mutual acquaintances in 2010. They discovered they had a good fit to work together, and, since it seemed like the mobile industry was positioned for strong growth, he decided to jump in.
Building Strong Relationships
Being part of the team that sold their company to Publishers Clearing House is a time in his career that he remembers with pride. He says “Looking back, I’m glad I took the risk to join a small startup focused on new market opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot about the mobile advertising industry over the past few years and to help build a company we are all proud of. There were times when cash flow was pretty tight, but we found ways to continually scale our business and build strong relationships with our partners.”
“Promoting” New Business
An important new direction for Liquid Wireless was when they switched from focusing exclusively on lead promotion and expanded to app promotion. They discovered that they could give users entries into the PCH sweepstakes for downloading apps and still generate very high quality installs for their partners. Originally, they ran simple display ads for their partners in an attempt to prove that their audience could provide strong quality. Then they showed that they could provide more scale for their partners by giving users an entry for downloading an app. They found repeatedly that the quality of the sweeps entry ad unit is no different from the standard display ad unit. The company as a whole is working to expand their audience so they can provide advertisers, especially their app partners, with quality inventory at scale.
Liquid Wireless now has their app install business representing over half of their mobile ad revenue. One year ago, they were generating less than 5,000 installs per month. This May, they had grown to 250,000 installs per month, and expect that number to continue increasing.
Data Is The Key
Bruch believes improved targeting through first party data is going to be critical to this industry.
Over the next three to five years, Bruch believes improved targeting through first party data is going to be critical to this industry. He is already seeing major networks trying to partner with them to get data. He emphasizes, “We’re really interested in using our data more effectively to put together stronger performing campaigns for our advertisers.” At the same time, they are trying to grow their audience at a rapid rate through improved content, games, and daily chances for their users to win. He feels that continuing to improve their content and targeting abilities will put them in an excellent position.
Puzzle Games and the Great Outdoors
When Bruch has a few spare minutes, he enjoys playing games on Android. His favorite game at the moment is Candy Crush. He has also been playing a lot of 2048 recently. He likes these games because you can pick them up for a few minutes at a time and they are really entertaining. He says, “I’m a casual gamer who loves the puzzle games, and I usually don’t play games that require large chunks of time to make progress.” And, although he used to play a lot on Xbox 360, he no longer owns any console.
“Sometimes I wish I could buy a paid version at a certain point instead of making one-off purchases that don’t unlock all the content of a game.”
Bruch especially enjoys free-to-play games because he can play the game and decide if he likes it before buying anything. When he played more console games, he became frustrated after buying a game and then discovering he didn’t like it. But free-to-play gives him the opportunity to try more games and either love them or leave them. However, one aspect of free-to-play he dislikes is that the games are so good at trying to get him to pay. He admits, “Sometimes, I wish I could buy a paid version at a certain point instead of making one-off purchases that don’t unlock all the content of a game.”
When not fully occupied with his work, you will find him hiking, biking, playing pond hockey, and going to the beaches near Portland, Maine.
At Casual Connect USA 2014, Masaru “Nogi” Ohnogi reminded participants that, although their mobile title Brave Frontier has become famous in the US, many people still don’t know much about gumi. So he took this opportunity to let everyone know who they are, what they have done and are currently doing, and what their plans for the future are. “Since 2012, we’ve built eight studios from scratch,” he said. “Just two years!”
Masaru Ohnogi is CEO of gumi Korea and senior vice president of global development at gumi inc., a leading mobile developer based in Tokyo, Japan. He is a 15-year veteran of international business and has been instrumental in the acceleration of gumi’s overseas business outside of Japan.
A Global Eye-Opener
Before joining gumi, Nogi worked for an online payment company. This was before the online contents market was established, so he was familiar with it from the beginning and had many contacts in that space. He established and ran two businesses in the US before becoming involved in managing foreign markets and clients. All of these experiences opened his eyes to global opportunities, as well as fueling his ambition.
When gumi released its first hit game, Nogi’s view of the company changed as the company’s reputation grew, with other companies suddenly interested in making business offers and the media clamoring for interviews. But his response to these changes is simple: just keep making hit games. And he is looking forward to gumi’s continued success, saying the proudest moment of his career hasn’t happened yet.
Nogi’s expectations for the future of the games industry include more sophisticated technology and more diverse kinds of entertainment as more devices and genres of expression continue to emerge. As an entertainment provider, gumi will have to become more professional in incorporating new technologies quickly in order to remain a leader in the industry.
These days, Nogi’s personal gaming is made up of many different games on his smart phone. He enjoys free-to-play games because they are so easy to start playing. However, he objects when he sometimes has to pay to proceed with the gameplay.
“To take the guesswork out of the game design and the game development process, we need, as an industry, to start relying on the data to tell us where the right balance is, what the players are experiencing, and then start to make those changes through A/B testing, through game re-balancing, through dynamic responsive games,” Mark Robinson said during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014.
Mark Robinson makes it his personal mission to evangelize how analytics can change the games industry. In 2010, he founded deltaDNA with Chris Wright. Wright was his next door neighbor, and they used to spend Sunday nights playing squash. One night, the conversation turned to games, and Wright claimed the games industry needed to do a better job with analytics. Robinson says, “’I’m an analytics guy’, and the rest is history.” But he continues to emphasize that we are only part way through the journey of using data intelligently to build player experiences. There is still a lot of work to do.
An Innovative Culture
He loves the innovative and dynamic nature of the industry, as well as how supportive of each other everyone is. “You don’t seem to get that in any other sector,” he feels. On the other hand, he dreams of being on a boat on the Turkish Mediterranean if he were not a part of the games industry.
Different Career – Same Approach
Before founding deltaDNA, previously known as GamesAnalytics, Robinson ran a direct marketing agency developing CRM strategies for big brands such as Heineken and Office Depot. He has taken this same approach and applied it to the real time world of the game. He claims that the work he is the most proud of in his career is setting deltaDNA and seeing the business develop and flourish through the work of the great team they created.
He believes the coming trend in the games industry will be seeing analytics move beyond the dashboard to really understand player behaviors and design responsive environments for all types of players.
Robinson likes and plays on all platforms, and the one he chooses depends on where he is and what he is playing. The versatility of mobile devices is shown by the fact that recently he was playing while waiting for his team mates to finish the Rob Roy Challenge in the middle of the Scottish Highlands.
Recently, he has been playing Titanfall because his son recommended it. For mobile devices, he tends to prefer Android simply because he never got on with iTunes. His console gaming is done on his Xbox 360, a gift from his brother. These days, he is under pressure to buy a PS4.
In his free time, Robinson enjoys camping and mountain climbing in Scotland, or anything in the fresh air (and rain, since it is Scotland.) He also works with youth groups, giving them outdoor experiences to help build character and resilience.
At Casual Connect USA 2014, Robinson emphasized that game personalization is really gaining momentum as F2P developers understand that maximizing engagement and revenue is not only about building great games, it also requires pro-actively managing the player experience in the game. deltaDNA launched their realtime player relationship management platform at the start of the year, and since then, they have been overwhelmed by the interest in their toolkit and approach.
He announced that they have just closed their second round of funding and will be investing in sales and marketing to continue to evangelize about how player segmentation and targeted messaging strategies really move the dial for key game performance metrics.