CEO Khaled Helioui discusses how it has changed its development culture in the hopes of finding as much success in mobile as it has had in the browser
Browser games publisher Bigpoint famously quit mobile games development in 2012, having struggled to make an impact in the sector.
Two years later and under new CEO Khaled Helioui, however, the company acquired Lyon-based Little Worlds Studio and announced it was “happy to fail” in its return to the platform.
It’s now nearly doubled the number of employees at that studio, and has hired the likes of former Take-Two creative lead Francois Coulon as head of production, ex-Gameloft creative director Christophe Garnier as lead designer and Disney’s Ryan McDonald as senior producer.
Its first game has soft-launched in test markets, and another title is in pre-production. Its Hamburg studio also has four mobile titles at different stages of development, heralding a new mobile era for the company.
Making mobile games is a different kettle of fish from browser development, however. This has meant the studio has had to structure its teams differently in accordance with the target platform. But rather than a single top-down company-wide approach, Helioui says he wants teams to be responsible for themselves.
“We adopt a decentralised approach in terms of development and let producers determine the shape and structure of their team,” he states.
“Having said that, we do differentiate mobile from PC development and manage it as an independent unit. Differences go beyond development, but also in terms of publishing. If we look at our teams we can see that mobile teams tend to be smaller, with sizes ranging anywhere between eight to 20 people – versus up to 50 for PC – to allow more agility and flexibility in terms of development and a much stronger focus on UI and UX.”
Despite the differences, there is still some crossover between mobile and browser, though it can vary dramatically depending on genre, says Helioui. Strategy games, for instance, can be easier to migrate to mobile, while MMOs and RPGs may require significant redesign of certain features.
“From a development standpoint, developers should in general be careful of directly ‘applying’ online or browser designs to mobile,” says Helioui. “It is another platform with a now educated user base with different expectations notably in terms of UI, friction to progression and the feeling of reward.
“There is a lot to learn and leverage from a browser development perspective, but it doesn’t provide any guarantee and any new game should be considered as a product on its own.”
In with the new
Bigpoint has plans to bring both existing and original IP to mobile. Teams are allowed to choose what game they would like to develop, which Helioui says tends to lead them into completely new ideas, but he says fans of its biggest games can expect a jump to mobile over the next few months.
But even transferring existing browser game IPs to mobile, such as Dark Orbit which has 90m players and Farmerama which has garnered 50m users, standing out still represents a big challenge. Even for a big company like Bigpoint.
Helioui says the challenge isn’t just breaking into the upper echelons of the app stores, as any company with high marketing spend can achieve this. The difficulty is staying there.
“In that sense the challenge is there for any company notwithstanding its size or the level of historical success they have had,” he says. “It all goes back to the quality of the game, its level of accessibility, viral potential and eventually – beyond the viral potential – the company’s ability to sustain a level of traffic to keep the title there.
“There is no denying the market is extremely competitive with the top companies spending an inordinate amount of marketing on their blockbusters. The difference will come from the games – this is what we’re doubling down on.”
Though there are significant discoverability issues these days, though the App Store is a little more forgiving in terms of how high up a game needs to be to earn a healthy profit.
Helioui says it can be very profitable to be in the top 100 grossing apps.
Helioui believes that despite an undeniably competitive marketplace in mobile, with a new structure in place for teams, a fresh plan of action and popular IP to leverage, he says the company can be successful on its mobile return.