Last week I popped over to Germany, to the sunny fields outside of university town Wurzburg, to talk to one of the veterans from mobile gaming still in operation - HandyGames CEO Christopher Kassulke.
Actually, writing ‘still’ suggests the company is clinging on, having only just survived the transition from Java to smartphone.
In fact it's doing rather well. Indeed, while I was there another handful of hopeful trainees were being briefed, about to start work on the company’s latest projects.
Recent successes such as Guns ‘n’ Glory and Happy Vikings, and the early adoption of the free ad-supported model, have reaped rewards for HandyGames, with downloads in one day for a new title on Android surpassing lifetime sales for some of its old titles on Java.
The bigger they are...
Despite a growing number of new developers leaping into iOS and Android development, Kassulke isn’t too bothered by the increasing levels of competition in the field, either from established companies or the one-man teams.
“As soon as a one-man show has to sell or market his game - he fails,” he asserts.
There’s not much confidence in the growing numbers of ex-home console developers pushing through either. “It’s a nice dream [moving from big development to striking it rich on iPhone], but a lot of these guys will wake up one day and realise that’s not going to happen.”
So what exactly is the best way to succeed on the App Store and Android Market?
“You need to have mass market, quality games ... I doubt anyone will pay fifty bucks for Happy Vikings, the idea is to keep the consumer happy, which includes updating your title after release,” is the answer.
One game that arguably set the benchmark when it comes to post-release updates is Angry Birds, but Kassulke wasn’t enamoured with Rovio’s recent chest-pounding, warning that it was “putting all its eggs in one basket” with the franchise, and that it should diversify soon.
Free as a bird?
Free games have become a hallmark for HandyGames in 2011, but other, bigger rivals from the Java days have tried to muscle in on this area. These old enemies (in business terms at least) include Gameloft. Again, Kassulke was none too impressed.
The main cause of his ire was directed at the company’s tactic of labelling up titles as ‘free’ that are actually limited demos of the game in question. He believes this to be a misappropriation of the word that shines a bad light on truly free games, even going as far to say that the company “wants to destroy the free [game] market” with such offers.
This isn’t due to the quality of the games in question, although he did express shock at the size of downloads these big titles required, but that it came across as dishonest to the consumer, “if they’d just say ‘it’s a demo’ people wouldn’t be upset.”
Despite the recent focus on smartphones, with the company’s most recent release Happy Vikings having been an Android and iPhone exclusive, Kassulke assured me the company will continue to make Java games too.
Likewise, early enthusiasm shown towards Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play hasn’t waned, with the company committed to the device’s future. Indeed, Kassulke feels “it’s up to us as gamers to support a gamer phone”.
One format HandyGames is unlikely to support any time soon, however, is the 3DS, despite Nintendo’s recent price-cut for consumers.
According to Kassulke, heavy promotion of first party titles like Mario and Zelda “don’t get developers on your side”, and for third parties to grow on a console they require “a push from the platform holders” or else no-one will make games for the device.
One thing is for sure, though - with new titles like Townsmen and Guns ‘n’ Glory WWII due out later this year, and 2011 already surpassing 2010 in terms of downloads, we’re likely to see a lot more of HandyGames on smartphones in the forseeable future.
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