Interview

Settling in and exploring new avenues: Gram Games on moving from a small studio to a mid-size company

Settling in and exploring new avenues: Gram Games on moving from a small studio to a mid-size company

2017 has been a big year for Gram Games so far.

The developer expanded out from Istanbul with a new headquarters in London, which got straight to work and launched its first game, Merge Dragons!, in June 2017.

It wasn't just a new game, however – it was also the first time that Gram had experimented with IAP, having previously developed casual games that were entirely supported by ads.

It's an exciting time for the developer, and Culture Developer Erin O'Brien is definitely pleased with how the year has turned out thus far.

On top of new studios and new games, "the year's allowed us to explore a lot of new talent, a lot of new people as we've expanded into this IAP space," she explains.

"The rest of the year promises a lot of releases – exciting releases, in my opinion."

In-App Potential

Gram is keeping tight-lipped on what form these games might take for now. But one thing is clear - it is very excited about the potential of IAPs.

IAP is a really exciting space to be in – it allows you a lot more creativity and freedom.
Erin O'Brien

"IAP is a really exciting space to be in – it allows you a lot more creativity and freedom with regards to what you can explore in terms of gameplay," explains O'Brien.

"We're a company that wants to be making games for the players, we want to be a company that's making fun and entertainment for people, and IAP gives you the opportunity to be very responsive to that.

"And also, we had our three hit puzzle games, and while those are really exciting and really great, we wanted to see what else our team can do."

The decision to try something new is paying off – O'Brien states that Merge Dragons! is performing well, particularly in terms of its community and fanbase.

And it seems to be a shrewd business move too. While Gram is still exploring different areas of monetisation, IAP is definitely something it is interesting in pushing further into.

"It's a very interesting realm to venture into, and see how you can use the data and player response to build involved, engaging gameplay that allows the game to stay alive without the distraction of ads," says O'Brien.

Merge Dragons! is Gram Game's first exploration into an IAP-led game, but it won't be its last

"Merge Dragons! has been an incredible experience with regards to that, and the titles that we have to come have also allowed us to further explore mechanics, meta, different forms of integrating IAP."

Diversity is good

But that doesn't mean it won't be making ad-based games anymore. "Diversity is always a smart move," says O'Brien.

"We still have one ad-based title still out there, and it's not like we're not going to be making ad-based titles anymore. We're diversifying what we're doing, diversifying offices, diversifying the team."

We are a company that puts a really, really high premium on the culture that we create.
Erin O'Brien

But Gram is only diversifying so far. A core title is off the cards – for now – as it focuses on its "mobile social" realm.

While a core game may not be on the table, the company is exploring implementing metagame elements in all its games – including casual releases like Bounzy!.

"We're interested in adding more and more – it depends on the demographic, it depends on what people want and what they respond to," says O'Brien.

"But the way we work as a company, we very much give the freedom to our team to explore the things that the data says will work, but also that they're interested in creating.

"As our team has delved into these games, they've become very interested in the idea of building another narrative on top of these puzzle games, and keeping it simple and casual while also allowing people to semi-engage in the way that you would in a mid-core game."

Cooling off

That team isn't looking to grow anytime soon either. After a rapid expansion at the start of 2017, with a new studio opening, Gram is slowing down to let the new people settle in a bit more.

Gram opened its new studio in London earlier in 2017

"We are a company that puts a really, really high premium on the culture that we create and encourage within the organisation, and it's something we're very diligent about every time we bring someone new onto the team," explains O'Brien.

"Our interview process is like, six steps long. Expanding and growing the team is not something we take lightly."

"We want to make sure everyone in London is settled in, we want to make sure everyone in Istanbul is settled in, and make sure our company culture and the way that we produce things is still working in two studios before we look to expand further."

We don't just want to be the company that makes puzzle games.
Erin O'Brien

The company is particularly wary of growing too quickly and losing sight of the culture that led to its initial success, as can be the case when developers expand rapidly.

"At the end of the day, we view our culture as just as integral to our success as our products," says O'Brien.

"There's a symbiotic relationship – you can't have the products without the culture, you can't have the culture without the products."

Settling in

So as much as Gram Games is gearing up for a busy period for releases through the rest of 2017, its settling down to give its team some time to relax, settle in, and try new things before it looks to expand anymore.

"We're moving from a small studio to a mid-size studio – we have two small studios, and we never really want to be more than a several small studios, but right now as a larger company we're moving towards mid-size," explains O'Brien.

"We're exploring different ventures, like what we can do with the games we've created – we want to be a scalable entertainment company, we don't just want to be the company that makes puzzle games."

"I think we are becoming that, and I think that it's a really exciting time for the company, and it's a really exciting time to watch out for what Gram is doing."

News Editor

Ric likes to read epic poems and watch classic films to hide the fact he plays way too many games. The facade has thus far not been very effective.

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