Netflix for movies, Spotify for music, but nothing like that for games… so Rovio, who many just know as creators of Angry Birds, have corrected it by coming up with Hatch: a free-to-play mobile game streaming service that will first come to the Android platform. Instead of downloading a game on your phone, you stream it through an app, whose backend cloud infrastructure makes it possible to play without lag. What is more, you can hand the controls to a friend, therefore turning a single-player game into a multiplayer experience. Hatch founder and CEO Juhani Honkala told Gamesauce more about Hatch-ing the new project.
Today, there is an unanswered question many mobile gaming developers are struggling to answer.
What makes a successful game?
When trying to feed the equation for a successful game, many developers and analysts simply accept the disparity between success and failure. We see, therefore it is – some games are just more popular than others and you don’t know what works until you test it.
Lilia Ortiz is a freelance writer, graphic design student, and bookworm with three years of writing and editing experience, particularly on lifestyle, design, and tech topics. She edited “Pax the Polar Bear,” a children’s book on global warming. Now she shares what she learned about the popularity of poker in this article.
Even if you’re not an avid poker fan, you probably know it’s possible to play the game online and on mobile devices. In fact, online gaming is one of the main reasons behind the popularization of poker. According to a report by GiGse, the Global International Gaming Expo, the U.S. online poker market is the largest in the world. Additionally, The Online Poker Magazine notes the increased use of smartphone devices has allowed poker players to enjoy the game anywhere, anytime.
A Brief History of Online Poker
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed, which prohibited online gambling businesses in places where the practice is deemed unlawful. Before this law was passed, the online poker market was controlled by a small number of public and private Internet poker operators in the UK, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, states the GiGse report.
After the UIGEA was enacted, private corporations, such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, took over much of the market. Then, on April 15, 2001, also known as “Black Friday,” PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were shut down. Understandably, the online poker market suffered and has yet to recover. However, there are still U.S.-based Internet poker operators that allow play online, many of which require a low deposit. At the moment, there is no federal law restricting U.S. players from playing online poker, nevertheless, laws differ by state.
The Trends in Online Poker Gaming
The online poker craze is directly correlated to the overall increase in online gaming. A 2013 online gaming survey by The NPD Group found that 72 percent of U.S. gamers prefer playing games online. It also reported an increase in the average number of hours played per week. And the number of online gaming sites, running the gamut from children’s games to action shooters, has skyrocketed along with it.
But where does poker stand amongst this online gaming surge? Money4Poker estimates there is $1.4 billion in online poker revenues along with 15 million online poker players worldwide. Out of these 15 million players, 13 percent of them have only ever played on one online card game site. Based on these numbers, it is safe to say that the convenience and availability of online poker has, without a doubt, turned poker into a game for the masses.
Mobile Gaming and Poker
CardsChat, a worldwide poker community, reports the wide access of mobile poker sites has led to a massive growth of the game around the world. Players are no longer restricted by location or device; plus, with the advent of new smartphone technology, they don’t have to sacrifice quality when playing on a smartphone or tablet, reports The Online Poker Magazine.
It should also be mentioned that mobile poker is not usually played for real money stakes. Players of mobile poker oftentimes use virtual currency due to regulatory concerns. Even so, a Juniper Research report found an increase in profits from in-app purchases for free-to-play casino-style games, including poker. This unique style of gameplay awards players with better in-game options and a higher-quality mobile gaming experience.
The Future of Online and Mobile Poker
The future of online and mobile poker in the U.S. is still uncertain. However, recent changes regarding online gambling have spurred its legalization. It is likely that California will legalize online poker in 2015, reports CardPlayer. New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware legalized online poker in 2013, so it’s only a matter of time before more states follow.
Although the entire issue is still up in the air, many industry experts believe the legalization of online poker is inevitable, since it would benefit Indian tribes, particularly in California. Before passing an online poker bill, there are four stages a state must consider, comments Poker News: finding out if online poker will benefit the state and its inhabitants, having all the major interests agree, working out compromise details, and negotiating political support.
“We asked developers, ‘How do you increase the size of your budgets?’ Mind you, these are the top 100 grossing developers, so the guys with the deep pockets, the guys with the highly monetizing apps,” Bryan Buskas explained during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “85 percent or so have said that they continue to increase the size of their campaign. For the indie developers out there, I think that shows the importance of publishing today.”
AdColony’s Bryan Buskas started his career in games on the console side of the business, working in research and brand marketing in 2005. This was the year Xbox 360 was launched; an amazing time as they worked on titles like Call of Duty 2 and Guitar Hero. He loves the opportunity the games industry gives him to work on products people use every day and work with people and the technology that continues to evolves. He says, “There’s always something new and exciting happening in gaming, especially in mobile. There’s always so much innovation.”
Just as the industry is constantly changing, Buskas’ roles in it have continued to evolve over the past ten years, from console to social and now to mobile gaming. This is what keeps him going in the industry: the notion of transformation and innovation.
Buskas runs AdColony’s performance advertising division, also known in the industry as user acquisition. He describes his work as such: “At the most basic level, I help mobile game developers find new players, using mobile video ad campaigns. Every day, we run campaigns in over 200 countries, which support developers in distributing their apps to audiences around the world.”
Because he spent over five years working with console game developers through the “green light process,” he has seen first-hand all the labor, skill, and collaboration required to bring new concepts and titles to market. He speaks the same language as game developers, so he is able to help build better products for mobile game companies. He believes this also gives him the ability to become a trusted partner to them, as opposed to just being the rep for an ad platform or a vendor.
Pride in the Partnership
Buskas has had many proud moments during his career, varying depending on the role he filled and the company he was working for. At Activision, one of these was the launch and success of Guitar Hero. Right now, he is very proud to be able to work with the top mobile gaming companies in the world, just as mobile is starting to dominate the time spent in everything from browsing on the internet to watching videos to playing games. He says, “Being one of the key launch partners that are helping these companies promote and bring their new apps to market is gratifying and really exciting.”
From the mobile ad perspective, Buskas believes the next big trend in the games industry is the move to mobile video. Video is the fastest growing segment of advertising today, so it makes sense that this growth is mirrored in mobile. He emphasizes, “All of the investment and interest from developers, advertisers, and users will lead to new formats and innovation across the spectrum of mobile video, mobile games, and mobile ads.”
He expects to see mobile video tying into more traditional channels such as TV or online. He explains, “Think of an AAA console game launch. The publisher might run mobile video ads that support or complement their TV campaigns. On the other end, a mobile game company might run a print ad with a scannable bar code that links to a mobile video demo.” He also expects to see the television interact with mobile devices as mobile games become richer and more immersive in both content and experience.
Because AdColony is a mobile video ad company, mobile-centric evolution and innovation is their DNA and is in everything they do. At Casual Connect USA 2014, Buskas shared insights and results from AdColony’s annual mobile game developer acquisition survey. For three weeks in early June, they surveyed the 100 top grossing game developers on iOS and Android. They believe their tightly focused data will provide important context into how the most successful developers are monetizing through user acquisition.
In Buskas’ free time, he is an avid golfer and surfer. He has been a surfer for nine years and his favorite place to surf is Point Dume, but overall, he has spent more time golfing.
These days, his gaming is mainly on iPad and his favorite games are Supercell’s Boom Beach and Grand Cru’s Supernauts. There is so much great content on mobile that he no longer feels a need to use his console. But he does own both generations of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo consoles. On the next-gen consoles, he is a big fan of the quality and content but feels the newest entries have become a bit niche. And people no longer have hours a day to devote to gaming, so the idea of console gaming is becoming inaccessible to larger audiences. On the other hand, mobile gaming has experienced explosive growth because it is much more accessible.
Possibly the most unusual place he has played a game is on a golf course, and that illustrates the great advantage of mobile games and why they have grown so much in popularity. You can play them anywhere. Clash of Clans is the perfect example. You have to come back to it at certain times for clan wars, but because it is on your phone, it doesn’t matter where you are. So he played it while on the putting green waiting for the rest of the group to hole out.
Jamison Selby shared his knowledge and views on real-money gaming during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “By 2018, less than .01 percent of commercial mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers,” he said.
The best thing about being a part of the games industry, according to Jamison Selby, is, quite simply, that he gets to make games. He says, “I spend days creating new recipes for fun and testing them out.” He heads the Games team at b Spot, but refuses to divulge the secrets of how he joined up and exactly what he does there. State secrets, he claims. Or could they be industry secrets? But he admits that for years he walked the line between the video games space and the real money gambling world, an experience which he has found the perfect ground for his current endeavors.
He also reveals that he has had some great moments along the way in this industry, but he hopes the best moments are yet to come. He says, “Someday, I’ll get to show my kids what I’ve done. Ask me then.”
This busy father clearly makes his family a priority. With two young children, he spends his time chasing, splashing, running, dodging, reading aloud, and cleaning. And occasionally sleeping.
But he does find time for some game play. However, these days GTA5 on the Xbox often gives way to Wonder Pets and Octonauts. Currently, he is playing Wasteland 2 Beta and Broken Age. And his preferred platform is whatever happens to be available.
There seem to be quite a lot of choices available, since he says he has all the usual consoles, including his Nintendo DS which “shall never sunset.” For mobile gaming, he uses both Android and iOS depending on which game he is playing and claims the most interesting place he has played mobile games was in the crew bar of a cruise ship late at night in the middle of the Baltic.
It Started With The TV
Selby became involved in the games industry while working on TV game shows. The trivia content was the jumping off point for him to dive into the games industry. He became the head writer for ODVD games, working on a series of trivia titles published by Hasbro. He states, “It was a big creative challenge and offered a very different path from the feast or famine world of TV production.” He believes if he had not joined the industry, he would be producing questionable reality TV shows or possibly teaching drama at a small Northwestern college. Or even serving drinks at a bar on an island without a zip code.
Here Come The Wearables
The next big trend Selby sees affecting the games industry is the explosion of wearables and VR technology. He believes this will bring huge opportunities for new content creation in the years ahead. He insists, “Every new innovation opens up creative possibilities, and we’re constantly dreaming up new ways to play.”
Selby has years of experience leading cross-disciplinary design and production teams to create multiplayer social games and interactive entertainment. He founded and leads the International Game Developer Association’s Real Money Gaming SIG. Previously, he launched the Monkey King Games consultancy and was the senior producer at TimePlay Entertainment, creating a new generation of multiplayer gaming in casinos, cinemas, cruise ships, bars, clubs and stadiums.
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.”
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.
Jaremy Rich shared insight on bringing a PC game to mobile during Casual Connect USA 2014. One of the features he warned about was push notifications. “Try and bring that in a little bit later,” he suggested. “Try and bring that in at the point when the player is already invested and says ‘Hey, I like this game, I want to know more’.”
Jaremy Rich is director of product management at DropForge Games. His background in data analytics and optimization gave him his start in the games industry, and his favorite part of the industry is the people in it. It is one of the few industries in which the people are truly passionate day in and day out, spending both their work time and their free time focused on video games. He says, “This is a big part of the reason I got into the games industry in the first place.”
Every day, Rich is excited by the ability to marry game design with testing and analytics. It is now possible to understand player behavior with methods that didn’t exist five or ten years ago.
He loves video games and building products that people enjoy interacting with, and he continues in the industry because he believes nothing is more rewarding than working on something you are deeply passionate about.
Transforming Great Games
Rich describes his work at DropForge Games this way: “I work to transform great games into successful products by focusing on understanding player analytics and behavior and driving product decisions. My job often ends up being equal parts analytics, game design, and user experience design.” He credits his background in web optimization with giving him a crash course in customer analytics and UI/UX.
One of the most satisfying times in Rich’s career came with shipping a huge update and relaunch to the game Zuma Blitz. He describes the experience as a ton of work with a really fantastic team, and claims, “Hitting the finish line was really rewarding. It was also the first big game launch I’d worked on from end to end, so there was something special about it for me.”
A Maturing Industry
Rich emphasizes that the games industry is maturing, with players now looking for a truly mobile experience, not just a soft joystick port or a clone of an existing property. In recent years, he has seen a number of clones ship and flop, something that indicates players are looking for a more immersive game experience. He notes, “Deeper, more strategic games are beginning to succeed and take root on mobile, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Mobile players are looking for smarter games that allow them to think strategy even when they aren’t in the game. They want games with a thriving community and social aspects that aren’t intrusive or forced.” So, at DropForge Games, they are building their studio around these assumptions about the mature mobile user.
In Rich’s free time, he can often be found playing Hearthstone, Dota 2, or a handful of other mobile games, or just enjoying the sunshine with his wife and dog. He also likes a good game of softball or racquetball with friends.
The game he is currently enjoying the most is Hearthstone; he believes Blizzard did a fantastic job of simplifying a collectible card game, and have done an outstanding job with it on mobile. His play these days is split between PC and mobile, depending on how much time he has available to play a certain game.
He has found that iOS is still where many of the best games are shipped first. And they are showing higher LTVs and fewer QA issues when compared to Android, so they have greater ROI for developers. However, most of the games he plays are cross-platform at this point.
Console gaming has clearly been an important part of his life. He presently owns Xbox One, Xbox 360, and many older consoles. In fact, he is still playing Golden Eye and MarioKart 64. Although his opinion may be biased because in the past he worked for Xbox, he insists, “Microsoft has the ability to nail the end-to-end living room experience, which is a big reason why I chose Xbox One over PS4.
At Casual Connect USA 2014, Rich announced that DropForge Games is working hard to release Loot & Legends in the coming months. It is based on Card Hunter, PC Gamer’s Most Original Game of 2013, and considered one of the most unusual and innovative games. DropForge Games is excited to bring it to mobile audiences everywhere.
“Mobile graphics and APIs have come a very long way and they will continue to quickly improve,” Cristiano Ferriera mentioned at Casual Connect USA 2014. “The companies that jump on this, really push it to the limits and differentiate their titles are the ones that are going to benefit most from this.”
“Games represent a huge part of who I am,” Cristiano Ferreira shares proudly. Ferreira became attracted to the games industry while creating side projects at college, eventually deciding to make games his primary focus. In his final year of college, he accepted a nine-month internship at Intel, moving to Arizona to immerse himself in the experience. Immediately after graduation, he began work as an application engineer with Intel.
The Next Big Thing for Mobile
Ferreira believes the recent release of OpenGLES 3.1 and latest supporting hardware will be followed by a flood of high quality, graphically intensive games on mobile with, “We believe there is huge potential for optimization strategies among mobile devices.”
It’s All About the Games
Currently, the game Ferreira plays is Alan Wake, which he acquired through the Steam summer sale. He prefers playing on PC because it has the capacity for high end graphics and allows the player to easily use and create game mods. For his mobile devices, he sees advantages to both Android and iOS. He prefers the customizability Android offers, but appreciates the stability and quality application ecosystem of iOS.
Day to Day
Ferreira enables developers in the areas of games and graphics through keeping up-to-date with the latest graphics trends and techniques, publishing samples, doing performance analysis on mobile titles, and assisting game developers in supporting Intel hardware. His previous experience in tech support and customer service projects developed expertise in customer facing skills, something that has been invaluable for his current career path.
Although he has only been in his field for a short time, he is very proud to have shipped three samples this year showcasing new OpenGLES features and to have enabled some developers to take advantage of these features in their games. He derives the greatest satisfaction in the games industry is through seeing the exponential growth of the industry as a whole and experiencing the tremendous variety of different games.
In his free time, he experiments with electronic music production, playing at shows and festivals, and also enjoys drawing and painting. He states, “I am working on honing my skills in all the individual components of video game production so that eventually I can release something that is a direct result of who I am.”
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 Clans with 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.
“If you look at the Top Grossing and the Top Free charts today, you probably see Kim Kardashian being number one, you’ve got Game of Thrones up there even thought its not in season on network right now,” Ben Chen said when introducing his panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “So I think it is probably more indies and blockbusters: a match made in heaven, how you find success here.”
Ben Chen is executive vice president, global developer relations and business development at Fyber (formerly SponsorPay) and is responsible for the global supply portion of their ad monetization platform. He says, “Working in large mobile game companies, you learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t from a business, creative, and operational perspective. You also learn that challenges are everywhere and not to get overwhelmed by the small stuff.”
Pathway to Gaming
Chen relates that the beauty and magic of games grabbed him from the moment he first played Combat on his Atari. But his path to the games industry took an indirect route. He started his career in the film and television segment of the entertainment industry before transitioning into games. He began working at Playdom as games were first starting on Facebook, and his passion and love of games continues to be the compelling, fun aspect of the industry for him.
He has gained the most satisfaction in his work through seeing non-console gaming becoming a mature and growing business through the lens of a startup and seeing validation come through acquisitions from traditional media companies.
“We’re in the early days of the industry,” Chen asserts, “and as connected devices continue to spread, gaming will always be the content that leads the way through its creativity, innovation, and passion.” He feels the beauty of mobile and connectivity is that you can play anywhere – and he has, including while standing in front of the Berlin Wall. His mobile gaming is done on iOS, purely out of habit.
Connected in the Future and at Home
As Chen considers the future of the games industry over the next several years, he believes that connected devices, including wearables, home, and auto, will drive more and more of the user experience in the app ecosystem. And he states, “We’ll want to be there supporting all the companies playing in that space so they can continue to innovate, push boundaries, and take us to places we would never have imagined going.”
When Chen is not involved with his work, his main hobby is playing with his two small daughters, aged three-and-a-half and fifteen months. But he is also a huge sports fan and enjoys gaming. It is no surprise to know that he is playing FIFA14 these days. This is what he claims passes for exercise when you are a parent of young children.