"Mobile Game Virality is an Art?Not a Science": Q+A with Wooga COO Jan Miczaika
July 8, 2015
Since Wooga CEO Jens Begemann announced that his company would produce two hits per year in 2014, the Berlin-based game studio has made good on his promise. The secret "hit" sauce: making fewer, better games and moving from social to mobile.Though Wooga is currently one of the top 50 developers on Facebook thanks to long-running hits like Diamond Dash, Jelly Splash and Pearl?s Peril, the company has committed entirely to developing mobile games in recent years. And it's paying off: Wooga's 2015 mobile releases Agent Alice and Crazy Kings have both spent time on top charts in Apple's App Store and Google Play, together with the existing hits.I recently spoke with Wooga COO Jan Miczaika about the 6-year-old gaming studio's rise to mobile-only success and why, following its chart-topping fame with Facebook, the studio set its sights on the mobile market?and hasn't looked back.Johan: When did mobile become an important part of Wooga's business strategy?Jan: In early 2011 we started building our match-3 hit Diamond Dash for iPhones and iPads. It launched in the App Store in December and the Android version followed in 2012. That same year our strategy became mobile-first, so all of our new games were primarily developed for mobile. In 2014, we transitioned to mobile only.Johan: What strengths did you leverage from your experience with Facebook ?games when working on your mobile efforts?Jan: We really profited from our experience making Facebook games. For example our target audience on both Facebook and mobile has generally been the same, especially for our first releases. This means we already understood our players very well. Additionally many of our development principles, the combination of heart and brains, emotions and data-driven development, transferred well.Johan: You said your team adapted well the to mobile shift, but did you have to acquire any new employees?Jan: We had already assembled a very experienced team of game designers, engineers, artists and everyone else required to build games. When shifting to mobile we mostly trained existing staff, but also invested into selectively hiring people with a mobile track record. The same had to be done for our marketing team, which has also grown pretty considerably. In general at Wooga we believe in keeping our company size relatively constant at around 300 people - large enough to have multiple games in different stages of development, small enough to keep our company culture great.Johan: How long did it take to start making money on mobile?Jan: [It happened] pretty quickly. After one year, 20 percent of our revenue was on mobile. Today, mobile accounts for roughly 70 percent of our revenues ? and the share is still increasing. We have always reinvested our profits into the business, which allows us to take a long-term view on key strategic projects, rather than rush something out.Johan: Do you approach user acquisition differently on mobile than you did on Facebook?Jan: UA on mobile is much more complex than it was on Facebook. On Facebook, we predominantly ran Facebook ads ? so we only had one partner to work with, and one channel to optimize. On mobile, there's a huge number of ad networks with vastly different levels of traffic quality, sources of traffic and geographies covered. We invested a lot of time scouting the market and trying different ad networks, even though we are focusing heavily on what we call primary sources of traffic now. Additionally non-attributable ?channels like TV are becoming more important, both for large and medium-sized game developers.Johan: Do you think it's too late for developers to make the move to mobile now?Jan: I believe it is becoming increasingly hard for new game developers to enter the very crowded mobile market. Occasionally a viral indie hit may surface through, but the bulk of revenues lie with big productions. Plus mobile experts are in high demand, assembling a team to build and launch a hit game is a huge challenge.Johan: Is virality viewed very differently now on mobile? Is it much harder outside of Facebook?Jan: Virality is very different on mobile. On Facebook, explicit sharing mechanisms (like requests, invites and feed posts) have a higher impact than on mobile. Additionally, tracking the different sources of virality is much easier on Facebook, so you can optimize them better.To be a hit on mobile you need a great game with fun gameplay, good retention, high production value and excellent packaging. If you are able to create buzz around it with your target group, you can definitely generate very significant viral traffic. [But] it's more of an art than a science.