Big Fish: How PC will help us conquer free-to-play on mobile

Big Fish: How PC will help us conquer free-to-play on mobile
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

November 5th 2013 at 12:00PM

CEO Paul Thelen shares casual games giant Big Fish Games' vision to become the world’s biggest free-to-play firm

Last year, casual PC gaming veterans Big Fish Games announced it was shifting its focus towards mobile and free-to-play games.

Nearly one year on from that announcement, and in the wake of news that the company’s Android games will now be made available on PC and Mac, we caught up with CEO Paul Thelen to find out whether the transition has been a success.

“It has changed the way we think,” he told Develop. “Beforehand, when we were dealing in PC games for retail, we focused on quantity and we tried to work with as many developers as possible. But with free-to-play, we focus on fewer titles of a higher quality and fewer but deeper developer partnerships.

“We’re still using PC as the proving ground for our free-to-play content, but we view mobile as the bigger long-term opportunity. We will be bringing a very important portfolio of games to mobile and free-to-play next year. This year, we launched about ten free-to-play titles on mobile – next year, that will be close to 30.

“It’s a big expansion, and each title has a longer evergreen life than anything we released in the retail games space. Our vision is to be the world’s leading producer of casual, free-to-play games for mobile, and right now we’re well on our way to achieving that.”

Indeed, Thelen claims that roughly half of Big Fish’s revenue this year will come from mobile games, and the other half from free-to-play titles.  This is driven primarily by Big Fish Casino, which remains in the Top Ten in various mobile games charts around the world.

We’re using PC as the proving ground for our free-to-play content, but mobile is the bigger long-term opportunity

So if Big Fish Games is making so much money through mobile, why then bring Android games to the PC and Mac?

“We may not see the PC as a growth platform, but there’s a lot of users out there still playing games on PC,” Thelen explained. “They’re demanding the latest exciting new types of games and that’s free-to-play, but those are largely being made for mobile so PC gamers are being left out.

“This allows us to take the best of free-to-play and bring it to the existing PC audience. It’s a way of continuing our legacy as a PC publisher while still embracing free-to-play.”

Thanks to Bluestacks’ Android emulator that Big Fish Games is using, Android games developers can now bring their titles to the Big Fish store – which has an audience of 80m PC and Mac users – with very little effort.

“There are already several Android app stores out there already – Google Play, Amazon, even Verizon has one – so ours works as just another app store for Android games,” said Thelen.

“But the difference is, through our legacy of PC and Mac games, we have a completely unique audience that doesn’t overlap with those other stores. It offers games and developers a very large, new audience.

“And Bluestacks has a very robust Android emulator that allows these games to play unchanged on PC and Mac. Consumers won’t know the difference between a PC game on our platform and an Android title. Both will offer the same consumer experience.”

Our vision is to be the world’s leading producer of casual, free-to-play games for mobile, and we’re well on our way to achieving that.

Thelen is keen to emphasise that while Big Fish Games has found success in the mobile and free-to-play markets, as have many other casual games firms, there’s no reason to abandon the PC and Mac.

“PC is not growing the way mobile is, but there’s still about one billion active PCs being used for entertainment around the world,” he said. “And right now, they’re not being fed the amount of games and the new types of games that are being built.

“Most of those games are going directly to mobile because that’s considered to be the bigger growth opportunity. We’re not betting on PC as a long-term growth opportunity, but we’re betting on the huge demand for free-to-play games among the platform’s existing audience.

“It also gives us more insight into how people play free-to-play games. We can gather a lot of data on session length, daily active users, spending habits and so on. This insight on PC will help shape our mobile strategy.”