“It was called Japan Life”, says Kristen Rutherford, as if remembering a former lover. She’s slightly embarrassed and a little wistful, but she has decided to confess: “I loved this game.”
Kristen is a TV producer and a writer and so she is articulate. This is part of the reason we invited her to Casual Connect San Francisco. She is also a mom. But the main reason we asked her along is she that she plays games. She plays a lot of games.
Kim Verbon talked about designing games for tween girls during her session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “If you’re going to develop for a wider children’s audience, destroy the stereotypes,” she advised.
Kim Verbon, founder of YamSam, loves the endless possibilities in the ever-changing landscape that is the games industry. There are new mechanics and trends emerging around every corner, and she has the opportunity to decide if she should stand still and let them pass by, or dive deep and go for it. She says, “The industry itself has become a game of skilled surfers riding the waves of trends, mechanics, and platforms, trying not to be eaten by sharks, sometimes paddling against the stream and, in the best scenario, being sold to a whale.” And for someone who enjoys games as much as she does, what could be more fun than riding this wave?
The Joy Of Bringing Joy
The greatest satisfaction she gets through her work comes from seeing children enjoying the games she has worked on. After releasing 50 games she designed herself and more than 200 her teams created, she declares, “It’s amazing to see the children play, or read the comments they give, or hear them talk out loud to the game; seeing children enjoy your game, that’s magical!” She emphasizes that this is why she keeps creating: the moment of tension questioning whether they will like it, and the broad smile and proud feeling if they pick up or point out the little jokes, new mechanics, or puzzles she put in there.
The Next Level
YamSam is Kim’s latest creation; she founded the company in June 2014. After she decided to leave Spil Games, where she had worked for seven years and on many games for children, she immediately received several requests for game and strategy consultancy and game design work. So she founded YamSam, and she’s currently working with several clients. She is also working on her own project, now in the concept phase, a game for tweens full of experiments and exploring. She expects to have the high concept level ready to show by the end of the year. YamSam offers consultancy on games for children as well as gamification for educational products.
Kim believes the biggest challenge facing the games industry today is the enormous fragmentation of platforms, and the number of choices to be made that seem old by the time you come to a decision. She responds by making clear and conscious decisions, and then following through on them. Otherwise, she claims, “If you keep turning back, you’ll never release anything because you’ll be stuck in the circle of trends and buzzwords forever.” She feels the market for children is still very open if you make decisions based on your target audience and game subject, but it is essential to make clear decisions and not necessarily follow the big hits of the day.
Experimenting Outside Of Work
The enjoyment Kim finds in creating and experimenting in her career also comes through in her free time activities. She loves to experiment with cake and cookie baking, using the ingredients she has on hand, although she also enjoys using a recipe. And baking with her pre-schooler is an experiment in itself, answering the important questions in life, such as “How do you get as much flour in the bowl as on the floor?” or “How do you keep the yummy dough from magically disappearing in a tummy?” But any cookies that do make it to the oven are delicious! And besides baking, she enjoys pub quizzing, photography, swimming, writing stories, polka dots, and, of course, petting unicorns with her two daughters.
For her gaming, she plays whatever she likes wherever she finds it. Currently, she is playing Mario Kart 8, where she is trying to get better than her husband, Monument Valley, which she considers the best game of 2014, Scribblenauts for the funny solutions you can create, Little Inferno for the thrill of setting things on fire, and lots of kids’ titles for both research and fun.
And she keeps a truly eclectic collection of consoles, PS2, PS3, Wii, Wii U, Gameboy, Nintendo DS, Nexus tablet, iPad, iPhone, even Atari and ColecoVision, although she avoids mentioning these last two to her brother who is actually their owner. And, of course, her PC.
Rob Grossberg, Co-Founder and CEO of TreSensa, Inc, is no stranger to HTML5 games. Tresensa has many HTML5 games in their own portfolio. He shares his thoughts about how HTML5 could help indie developers.
The sad truth within the Apple App Store and Google Play is that it is no longer enough to build an awesome game. There are thousands of absolutely awesome games in the app stores today that nobody is playing. The app store dead pool is alive and kicking with quality content in search of an audience. Discovery in the app stores is so tough these days that the only viable way to get someone to play your game is to pay one of the many mobile marketing services to drive installs of your game. As a result, a prerequisite for app store success today is a massive marketing budget to buy users (the current cost is in the $3 to $5 per install range), drive your game into the charts, and then pray it sticks. A large marketing budget is not even a remote possibility for the vast majority of game studios looking to become the next Supercell or Rovio. The app store economy is broken and it is the indie studios that are getting squeezed out.
So what’s the secret sauce? HTML5.
It is no coincidence that as it has gotten tougher and tougher to succeed within the ecosystems of the app stores, companies (including mine!) would jump into the fray to bring game studios alternative means to reach people with gaming content on their mobile devices. So what’s the secret sauce? HTML5. Yes, that is the same HTML5 that took a beating a few years back, but has not gone away.
Over the past year, demand for HTML5 games, particularly HTML5 games that are mobile web optimized, has been rising. Online game portals such as Games.com, Yepi.com, Spil Games and Gamehouse.com have all shifted their focus to HTML5 and are actively seeking quality content for their sites and their millions of monthly users. The online Flash game ecosystem has woken up to the fact that mobile now needs to be core to their business, and the technology most portals are adopting to make the shift is HTML5.
In addition, many game stores like the Firefox Marketplace, Tizen, the Amazon Appstore and the Windows Phone Store are hungry for HTML5 games and often look to showcase and feature indie games. These stores may seem very small compared to Apple’s app store and Google Play, but good games can really stand out as “big fish” in these smaller ponds. Also, more and more media properties are starting to include HTML5 game content within their various mobile offerings. These are companies like Disney, Warner Bros., WWE, and HBO, that are already attracting large audiences on mobile and want to start supplying their users with the most engaging form of mobile content (games!) without pushing their users into the arms of Apple or Google. They are turning to HTML5 to do this.
A real benefit to these new areas for game distribution is that they are all based on a revenue share model, and thus do not require upfront marketing dollars to get your game in front of millions of consumers. In terms of monetization, the freemium model is the model of choice with advertising and in-game purchases driving revenue. And because the costs to produce and distribute these games is much lower than native games, studios have more leeway to extend creativity within the games themselves, as opposed to constantly pushing users to purchase points in order to attempt to recoup large upfront development and marketing costs.
Because the costs to produce and distribute these games is much lower than native games, studios have more leeway to extend creativity within the games themselves.
Has there been a hit HTML5 game that has crushed it and turned its developer into a mega-millionaire? No. Are opportunities emerging for indies to make several thousand dollars per game per month with quality HTML5 games? Yes.
So indie developers are left with this – forge ahead with a native game, try your best to navigate the challenges within the app stores, and hope you are the next big thing, or pioneer emerging areas for mobile games by adopting HTML5 and hope you can be an early player in the next big thing for mobile games.
Robbert van Os, Developer Relations and HTML5 Advocate at Spil Games, says his ten years at Spil Games have been an amazing experience, every day of the week. He has had too many moments of gratification to be able to single one out as the best, but the fact that Spil Games is serving over 180 million users every month is definitely a source of satisfaction.
Van Os started out at Spil Games as a developer and shortly after became team lead. Then he transitioned into being responsible for the global IT infrastructure and development. A few years ago, he reflected on his true motivation and, as a result, moved into a kick-starter role for several key strategic products within Spil Games. Among these were their social gaming platform, their mobile web portals, native game development and, more recently, the next generation advertising platform. Now his focus is on HTML5 game development, with external developers, community, and Spil Games internal teams.
Play Whenever, Wherever
The pivot to touch devices and the movement toward device agnosticism are the trends van Os sees most affecting his company in the next two to three years. He emphasizes, “People will play whenever, wherever and on every device that holds a browser.”
Spil Games is prepared for what is coming because feature-based design is the foundation of their platform, built from scratch with a focus on mobile first. Van Os emphasizes, “We are rapidly deploying the products built on this infrastructure.”
He also believes the biggest impact on the game industry as a whole will be coming from device agnostic content.
Gaming with Kids
When van Os is not working, he is spending time with friends and family, and admits to being addicted to news and love-coding.
His gaming is frequently done with his children. These days, he is playing Mario Bros on Wii-U, saying it is perfect for the children to participate. For his personal gaming, he prefers to spend his time exploring casual game content, since it is readily available and free on his browser.
Right after graduating university, Ella Romanos co-founded Remode Studios. While at university, she had done a placement with Specialmoves, a small company whose founders were very supportive of her desire to start her own company. Her background is in programming, but as Remode has grown, she has found herself taking on additional responsibilities for the studio and now focuses on business strategy and development.
Romanos’ excitement about the games industry comes through loud and clear as she tells us, “This whole journey has been an amazing experience so far, and I feel like I’m just at the start. Making our first profit was a big moment and, in turn, led to us being able to develop our own IP. This was our goal from day one, so getting to that moment was incredible.”
Romanos claims the best part of working in the games industry is the people you meet. She says, “I love meeting new people, and the games industry is full of talented, funny and interesting souls.” She also admits to enjoying the business side of the industry more and more as Remode continues to grow.
Standing Out with Collaboration
The biggest challenge Romanos has found in the games industry is standing out. The marketplace is crowded with so many games that it is difficult to be noticed. At Remode, they mitigate the challenge by collaborating with publishers and partners. This allows them to increase their network and skills base. However, they do hope to bring these skills in house in the future.
Over the next few years, Romanos expects HTML5 and WebGL to be massive trends because they are accessible and cross-platform, so they offer fewer barriers to entry. Remode Studios is already anticipating this development by incorporating this technology into their projects. Their goal is to become a market leader, so they are investing heavily into R & D.
Always on the Go
When we asked Romanos how she spends her free time, she said, “It’s a case of when I’m not working, I’m working.” On those rare occasions when she is really not working, she enjoys snowboarding and scuba diving. She also plays the violin and hopes to do more of it. And she loves to cook!
As with everyone in this industry, she enjoys playing games, with iPad and iPhone her favorite platforms. Currently she plays several games, each for a different reason: Super Hexagon because “I am rubbish at it and it annoys me”, Spaceteamsince it is “the funniest game ever in a pub”, and Ending because, “I just can’t say no to a good puzzle”.
“We saw a huge shift in advertising away from TV over to online 30-second video ads in the second half of last year. Games are the perfect vehicle for these ads. In TV, there are usually 12 to 18 minutes of advertising per hour that both viewers and advertisers are used to and we’re achieving great success with this type of advertising in games,” Goossens explained.
The service offers a number of features, including access to Spil Games’ 180 million MAU, with access to millions more through their publishing partners, a cross-platform monetization via Spil Games’ global advertising platform, analytics to monitor and track game performance to better place ads, a portal where developers can track their earnings, and an easy to use API to trigger ads at optimal times.
“We designed the Spil Games Platform to appeal to indie developers wanting an alternative, and lucrative, way to make money and find huge and engaged audiences,” Goossens continued. “It takes the strengths we’ve built up over the years – from deep insights into our audience of 180 million MAUs, to state-of-the-art advertising technology – and combines that with a business model that makes indie developers thrive. We think this will be a highly profitable new revenue source for developers.”
A number of developers who participated in the platform’s pilot program are pleased with the results. Hunter Hamster Studio founder Andrey Kovalishin said, “Through the Spil Games Platform, we got a great additional revenue stream that allowed us much more freedom to be creative, experimental, and polish new titles. This ongoing additional revenue is something that really helps indie developers to hold on to their IP and work on new games with an element of financial security.”
Hunter Hamster’s Snail Bob game has had more than 600 million gameplays and was selected to participate in the pilot program. A number of participants expressed that the advertising platform is a great alternative to struggling with the high costs involved with self-publishing on various app stores. “We were able to make 20,000 EUR monthly revenue for the Snail Bob franchise,” Goossens declared enthusiastically.
“Being cross-platform is key today,” Goossens said. “People are playing on their computer, their phone, and their tablets. For this reason, we are really promoting developers to work in HTML5…. the program is open to anyone who develops in Flash, Unity, or native browser games, but HTML5 provides a better cross-platform experience and that is the direction where the platform will grow.”
At Casual Connect Europe, Spil Games announced the release of the Spil Games Platform, a new way for Indie developers to drive revenue and engagement. This platform will share the revenue generated from mid-role video ads. These ads capitalize on the global surge in 30-second video advertising and drive optimum engagement because they are strategically placed at cliffhanger moments within the games. Erik Goossens maintains, “The Spil Games Platform insures substantial earnings without taking away focus from making games and offers scalable revenue opportunities for developers who are struggling with the high costs and low return from app stores.”
Goossens, CEO of Spil Games, recognizes that Indie developers and monetization through advertising are two markets now morphing together, creating what he feels is one of the biggest opportunities the game industry has ever seen. Fortunately when he came to Spil Games in 2012, he already had years of experience in both these critical areas. Goossens’ career included co-founding well-known brands Zylom and Gynzy. One of the proudest moments of his career came when RNWK acquired Zylom. He states, “It recognized our position in Continental Europe at the time and really validated the casual games market for Indie developers around the world. It also represented a load of hard work accomplishing things that many folks told us would be impossible to accomplish.”
Two Key Trends
Goosens has noted two emerging trends that will directly affect Spil Games in the future. The first is the movement of advertising budgets from TV to Online as 30-second video ads. He realizes the 30-second ads need long form content for consumers to make the trade-off between free content and watching ads. Spil Games’ solution to this challenge is between level ads in game sessions lasting longer than 30 minutes.
The second trend is the adoption of HTML5 to truly develop cross-screen game experiences. Spil Games is responding by shifting most of its games creation and acquisition investments to games made in HTML5. They are also sharing knowledge and technology back to the Indie Developer Community to make for better games. Goossens is especially proud of one of their latest games, 1001 Arabian Nights, which he considers better than the flash version of the game.
A Solitary Gamer
For his own gaming, Goossens enjoys playing Magic Solitaire on desktop. He also joins his children in playing Disney Infinity on their Xbox 360. He sees no need to invest in either PS4 or Xbox One, since the children are happy with Xbox 360. Also, he believes they will soon be replaced by next generation tablets in combination with streaming capabilities to large screens and blue tooth connected controllers. As well, he states, “From a casual games audience perspective, I believe cross-platform browser gaming will yield the biggest opportunity for the second half of the decennium.”
Goossens’ time away from work is taken up with “trying to be the coolest Dad in the universe” by supporting his children’s hobbies and education. He shares a passion for cooking with his oldest daughter, so they spend many holidays and weekends involved with that. He tells us, “We do awesome BBQ lobster and usually create a mean bisque from the remaining parts of the lobsters.”
Spil Games is known for its social games geared toward girls, teens, and families. Now it stands to become equally recognized for its faith in the future of HTML5. The company has announced a commitment of $5 million for developers to create HTML5 games in 2014. These funds will provide the support necessary to create new games and game elements as well as to port existing games to HTML5. Marketing and monetization of these games are also included in the plans for these funds, with Spil Games 180 million monthly active users a ready audience.
Wanda Meloni, president of M2 Research, points out that HTML5 has had a slow start, as new technologies frequently do, leaving developers reluctant to become involved with early production. But she says, “HTML5 is finally gaining momentum as more developers view mobile web browsing as a viable development strategy. We believe 2014 will be the year HTML5 starts to shine. The timing of Spil Games $5 million investment is perfect and a great opportunity for any indie developer interested in showcasing their games through HTML5 and multi-device gaming.”
Developers today face considerable obstacles in developing native apps, according to Dan Prigg, senior director of games at Spil Games. These obstacles include high costs, the crowded app store marketplace, and the need to make multiple versions of a game for different devices. He says, “Our goal is to help remove the risks for developers through financial, technical and marketing support.”
His commitment to Spil Games’ new initiative is evident as he announces, “We believe HTML5 can offer the best solution to most of these obstacles. With our massive investment next year we are demonstrating our confidence in the future of HTML.”
Spil Games mission is to unite the world in play though a globalized network of online social gaming platforms tailored to girls, teens and families. Their platforms, including the well-known GirlsgoGames and A10, are localized in 15 languages, with over 180 million monthly active users around the globe. Their social and casual games encourage player to connect with and challenge each other, as well as to develop and share their creativity. More information about Spil Games can be found at http://spilgames.com/.
For more information about how Spil Games will support HTML5 game development, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oscar Diele, Chief Marketing Officer at Spil Games, points out, “Ultimately, gaming is a huge part of everyone’s online behavior, with games being played by both men and women of all ages. That offers real benefits to brands and advertisers.” But he reminds us that information about the gaming industry is still quite disparate; consequently, there is a very high demand for data and analysis.
Who is playing games? The short answer is — almost everyone. This report tells us there are now over 700 million online gamers around the globe. And, although gaming has traditionally been thought of as a pastime for young men, 46 percent of gamers today are women. Casual gaming is becoming popular with all ages and both genders, but each demographic has different game preferences and rates of growth, all of which Spil Games has investigated and analyzed.
Where are people playing games? With the increasing popularity of browser and app-based gaming and the explosion of mobile devices, significant numbers of people are playing everywhere; at work, while commuting, at home, while watching television, and even while using the toilet. And Spil Games provides the data to show how many people are playing in each of the different situations.
Similarly, the data Spil Games has collected through its platforms indicates just how much gamers are playing. Gaming has now become one of the top online activities, just behind watching videos. It is now higher in popularity than both watching TV and listening to the radio. The gaming audience is enormous and rapidly growing, with the number of gamers expected to exceed 1.2 billion before the end of 2013. And by 2015, Spil Games predicts more than 50.5 percent of the US population will actively play games on mobile devices.
The result of the tremendous growth in online gaming is equally significant opportunities for advertising. People are spending increasing amounts of time online, now averaging 5 hours and 16 minutes online every day. In response, companies are increasing their advertising spend. 75 percent of senior executives in the US now plan to shift their advertising budgets from television to digital video ads. And gaming sites increasingly appear to be the ideal destination for these ads, particularly as 83 percent of gamers are open to advertising in return for free gaming content.
Diele emphasizes. “What’s really important for advertisers is that people playing online games are immersed for long periods of time. Across our 180 million monthly active users, we’re seeing average session times of 30 – 40 minutes, which is more than double the session time on YouTube. This gives brands the perfect platform to reach their target audiences online and across mobile.”
Spil Games Technology latest report is filled with useful data for everyone involved with the gaming industry. And they emphasize that all their findings point to increasing opportunities too good to let slip away.
Dan Prigg, Head of Studios for Spil Games, began his career as a tester in the games industry in the 1990s, an experience he describes as a leap of faith. The greatest challenge he has faced is figuring out what he wanted to do in his career. He dealt with this by remaining both flexible and open-minded. He says, “I continued constantly evolving myself and self-educating because trends in the industry moved so quickly.”
Spil Games emphasizes the importance of creating localized games, not surprising since they have people playing their games across six continents and platforms with 180 million monthly active users. They have two studios in the Netherlands and one in Shanghai, for which Prigg is responsible. Because he has previously run studios and content road maps, he is very comfortable in this position.
Now, he is enjoying exploring Amsterdam after moving there from the US. His wide-ranging interests have him spending free time playing the guitar, writing and, when possible, indulging his music preference for 80s Hair Bands and becoming involved with photography.
The most important trend in the games industry today, according to Prigg, is the shift from traditional laptops to tablets, the device he sees coming to dominate our living rooms. He believes tablets on WiFi will have more impact than anything else for his company. At Spil Games, they plan to respond to this change by developing heavily on HTML5, which they believe will become more and more prolific in the future.