Mobile social gaming is undoubtedly one of the key growth areas in the mobile apps industry, blending the established success of mobile games with the social elements already embraced by games for platforms such as Facebook.

In many ways, these games are perfect for the mobile user: casual, enabling play in bite-size chunks, while making best use of the connectivity and communications options offered by the handset.

In contrast to the many developers targeting the proven market for smartphone games, Star Arcade is looking to serve the “next billion mobile gamers,” coming from developing markets such as Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and India.

The company was launched in March 2011 by entrepreneurs Harri Myllyla and Jonne Castren, with the intention of offering cross-platform games to customers whose first experience of the internet comes from mobile phones.

Star Arcade has its development hub in Finland, with offices in the UK and West Africa. It received its first round of funding from an Africa-based investor.

Driving customer growth
By mid-July 2011, the company had passed the five million download mark, stating that it had achieved this “purely from word of mouth marketing and recommendations from our customers.” Myllyla told Mobile Apps Briefing that promoting the company’s products is something it has begun to focus on recently, and “it seems to be delivering results.”

“It is always difficult and you always hope to raise more awareness. And we do recognise that this space is very competitive, and there are large and small players making noise. So yes, it requires a lot of work. It’s been fairly satisfying in terms of the results we have had,” he said.

Star Arcade is signing up users of devices from a number of platforms, but Myllyla notes that “obviously a lot of it has to do with what kind of success we’ve had in marketing, and the marketing seems to be a bit different for the various platforms.”

The company makes games available from a number of stores, including Ovi Store, Android Market, GetJar, Mobango, Djuzz, Daily App Dream and Apple’s App Store. It also said that games will be launched on Facebook, which will support cross-platform gaming with mobile users.

Regional focuses
Myllyla told Mobile Apps Briefing that, geographically, “right now our approach has been fairly opportunistic. Wherever we see some traction, we try and concentrate our efforts in those markets. And it has got to be the Asian markets, India and a few other Eastern markets that have been very, very good for us.”

But in the early months of the company, there have also been some hurdles encountered. “I have been a little bit disappointed with the progress that we have had in Africa. It still seems that the developing countries in Asia are, maybe, they are a little further ahead,” he continued.

Operator opportunity
So far, Star Arcade has also had a limited engagement with mobile operators, although Myllyla notes that “going forward, I still believe that there’s a lot to be done with the operators. In the end they do own the customers, so they could do a lot of marketing or communication to those users.”

“We would like to work with the operators, and we have approached a few operators in the Far East, and – let me think how to put this – it seems that we are spending quite a bit of time, and not really getting the results we would like. But, having said that, we would really, really like to work with some of the operators, especially in the Far East,” he said.

“[The process is] very long, and the few trials that we have run, the results haven’t been as good as we were hoping. So still the direct approach has been better for us.”

Multiple revenue streams
The company also intends using a mix of methods to generate revenue moving forward. Currently, income comes from app purchases or from advertising. “In the next few months or so, we will be introducing virtual goods as in-app payments. And we actually expect that to be very, very high, and probably outpace the other two revenue streams,” Myllyla said.

While certain monetisation methods are likely to be more popular in certain markets, Star Arcade is expecting to support all of the revenue models internationally. “There will be differences in the kind of proportion of the different revenue streams, but it will still be three-fold across the board,” he concluded.

Steve Costello