Didn’t the world change and quickly? Only a few years ago, mobile games worked like a supermarket: if you have shelf-space, you rule. The early kings of mobile gaming 1.0 (which many users today won’t even know about) were the ones that “owned” the relationships with mobile operators (or carriers if you prefer that word), OEM and the like. Those relationships guaranteed that you would be in front of consumers. Those of your competitors who didn’t? Well, tough luck. Today, the picture is very different. There were a few waves since those early days: the Wild West days of iOS and Android (which didn’t happen simultaneously but with similar patterns), the rise and fall of the Zynga empire (and folks who thought that that approach would cure all [business] evils of gaming and, in its latest pattern, the rise of Supercell, Kabam and King and the scratching of heads (and lay-offs of people) in a lot of other gaming outfits.
So what’s this all about then? Now, I won’t be able to offer you the full Monty in just one small blog post (it’s bloody late already) but there are a few pointers that show both the opportunities but also the pitfalls of the whole thing.
Ilkka Paananen is the CEO of Supercell who are, arguably, the undisputed money-spinners these days. $2.4m/day is their benchmark, and that was a while back. In Q1/2013, they made $179m in revenues and $109m in operating profits (or so says the FT). Their two (!) games ride comfortably in the top-5 of the top-grossing charts of Apple all around the world, sometimes #1 and #2, sometimes #2 and #4 but never far off… When asked, Ilkka (who is as nice a person as you’ll ever meet) will always tell you that fun is what matters first and foremost (and I reckon this is what young master Pinkus wishes he had known earlier…). Ilkka managed to combine a dream of the free-wheeling nature of the likes of Valve, Inc. with the experience he gained in running as tight a ship as Digital Chocolate who, from the olden days of mobile gaming, were amongst the ones who had perfected the tightly-strung mastery of processes and engines. The result were – now famously – a number of canned projects plus two of the most profitable games (on an ROI basis) produced ever.
Alas, Ilkka will tell you that fun matters. If your game is rubbish and no fun, no one will like it, at least not longer term. Some earlier appstore succresses might have wanted to take note… It is an important bit to remember though: games are part of the entertainment side of things. And entertainment is about fun. No fun = no (long-term) success. There is only so much conning you can do…
Marketing is Part of Design
In the olden days, you had developers and suits. The former had grand ideas and the latter were a pain in the rearside. The success of a game always was due to the former and the success was always claimed by the latter. Now though, even the geekiest of developers has realized that you need to market efficiently if you want to be successful (which also means that your company has a chance of survival). Here’s a post you should read in this respect (it is a bit patronizing but there is a lot of good – if harsh – insight there nonetheless).
Building Brands is Cool (and Hard)
So, let’s go and build a brand, right? Because then we can replicate things, right? I mean, Rovio did this with Angry Birds, right? Yes, they did. How many others do you know who did? Not very many, right? Because, you know, it is not easy. Many tried (and are trying). Many see some traction. None I know of have had counterfeited bobble hats sold in San Francisco so far (yes, there are hand-knitted Angry Birds beanies on sale every weekend at the farmers market at the Ferry Terminal in SF! No, I haven’t seen beanies of the Cut-the-Rope frog yet…).
If you can get it right (and there is some magic (and hard work required), building an entertainment brand is insanely rewarding (just ask Walt Disney, George Lucas, Stan Lee, etc.). However, it is also very hard to do. And it is not for the faint of heart. So think twice… Oh, and hire the right people (two of Rovio’s rockstars just started his own thing in this realm. Go, Andrew!).
Those Bloody Whales
There was a time when only one-legged near-pirates hunted whales. Nowadays every game developer and their dogs (or cats or rats or pet hedgehogs do). According to Forbes, here’s (well, below) is why. Those are the folks who bring in the money. By my reckoning, the numbers Forbes calls out are not actually the industry benchmark but – perhaps – an averaged out number. This means that, if you’re good at what you do, you should be pulling in a lot more than what their article has you believe you should. And that is something that can be a little daunting. So, kids, there goes your easy career in game development…
Before I link to this Forbes thing then: it is not easy, mind the fun, get some kudos to them suits and be in for the ride… 😉
Here’s the Forbes article (from which I copied the infographic below and where you can get the fully scalable version).