Many mobile game makers have had success in their home market, but subsequently found it tough to translate this onto the international stage.
Different cultural norms, language issues and consumer tastes mean that taking content that works in one setting and transferring it to another is fraught with pitfalls and challenges.
One company that has managed to achieve success across international markets is South Korean mobile games maker Gamevil, which recently posted record quarterly revenue for its overseas operations as the result of a strategy that has seen it open offices around the globe.
Gamevil, which has passed 300 million downloads, has seen steady revenue growth in North America, Asia, Europe and South America, expanding its user base via its Gamevil Circle cross promotion network.
Mobile World Live spoke to Kyu Lee (pictured), who has been president of Gamevil USA since founding the division in 2006, about how the company is looking to keep up the momentum.
Gamevil has offices in South Korea, Japan, China and the US — its top four markets — and has found that having a local presence has helped drive its business.
In China, the company has seen rapid growth and user retention by tailoring its titles to meet distinct consumer preferences. It also has publishing relationships with Chinese online players such as Tencent and Qihoo 360 and has plans to find more.
“China itself has hundreds of portals that we could work with but we’re focusing on the top tier channels for now and we’ll gradually increase the amount of publishing relationships there,” Lee said.
Elsewhere, Gamevil’s most significant growth has been in South East Asia, which Lee said is largely due to preferences in these markets being very similar to its home market of South Korea – and there are also commonalities with the US market, he noted.
And the company is also keen to find partners in the expanding markets of Russia and South America. “Having various local publishing relationships is definitely something we look to explore further,” the executive said.
Connecting with consumers
A big part of Gamevil’s business is its live operations, which support in-game events, manage forum activity and relay user feedback to developers.
“In the past, in addition to great game quality, you needed a large user base or a great relationship with the platform holders. What’s becoming more important now is having a great relationship with the users themselves,” Lee said.
“We believe that live operations are key to any game succeeding. Even though you may have a great game, if you don’t constantly provide value to the users, they’ll take a bite and leave. You need to make them regulars to your game,” he explained.
The US operations team, which is responsible for delivering live services, has grown rapidly so the company can support its titles at a more in-depth level.
The growing role of social networks
Lee suggested that the growing role of social gaming features, as shown with the success of King.com’s Candy Crush Saga, will continue in the near future.
In South Korea, the likes of Kakao and LINE have taken much of the limelight in terms of popularising mobile games through the use of their social integration, and Lee sees this as something that will grow in importance in western markets.
As a result, most mobile games will need “a strong social angle in order to succeed”, Lee said.
Another trend the executive anticipates is an increased importance of niche propositions, where a small number of users can generate significant revenue if they are loyal and monetised effectively.
In August, Gamevil stated that it would be taking a more aggressive approach to acquisitions, investment and partnerships, which Lee said is down to the growing stakes in the mobile gaming sector.
“Mobile gaming is becoming bigger and bigger and production values are at an all-time high. The ante has gone up in terms of being a successful publisher,” he said.
He explained that aggressive investment around the world will expand the company’s global reach and “further solidify our position as a leading mobile games publisher”.
In terms of the kinds of companies Gamevil wants to acquire, Lee said the company is “more interested in sizable teams that have great execution capabilities and are willing to run games as a service”, which fits with its live services strategy.
“We constantly want to focus on publishing games with top tier developers around the world as well as focus on providing true value that a publisher can provide, whether it is live operations or distribution,” Lee said.
Another area of interest is casual games, “since this is the part that we’re missing”, according to Lee.
Relax Games, which Gamevil recently invested in, fits this mould, as does recently-acquired South Korean rival, Com2uS. Lee said there are also a number of other partnerships in western markets that have not yet been made public.
Supporting third party developers
Gamevil is seeing its greatest traction in the publishing side of its business. A $130 million investment programme to expand globally has allowed the company to sign talented developer teams around the world, with games that have been developed through these deals now starting to be released.
The company’s Partner Fund, which is currently working through its second $10 million tranche of investment for third party developers, has seen more than 50 deals signed since 2010.
The US office has been signing almost one deal per week since starting to publish third party apps earlier this year.
But Gamevil is taking a selective approach in signing up partners, according to Lee. “We don’t see the amount of deals increasing significantly since it’s becoming more important to focus on a handful of games rather than throwing all of them out and seeing what sticks,” he said.
Money isn’t all Gamevil is providing to its game development partners: the amount of Gamevil staff dedicated to helping third party games develop their titles has increased, allowing them to “dive deep” into each game.
Lee noted that a big challenge for developers is getting their games noticed on a global scale, meaning the role of a publisher will only become more important.
“Distribution is becoming more challenging in each market as user preferences are leaning more towards games that fit the local taste,” he noted.