What HeroCraft's learned from 10 years of mobile game development
Moving from hard knocks to a new strategy
Not many mobile games companies can boast ten years in the industry.
But one such is HeroCraft, the Kaliningrad-based studio, which has worked its way solidly through the Java era, while cautiously dipping its toe into the smartphone era in more recent years.
Best known for mobile versions of PC online sim Majesty, it's now looking to expand its footprint in the strategy genre.
HeroCraft's head of mobile games licensing and marketing Alexey Sazonov provided some additional details.
Pocket Gamer: Why did you decide to start up a mobile games company ten years ago?
Alexey Sazonov: According to our founder Andrew Petrov, it was evident back then that the market for mobile phone apps would rapidly grow.
The PDA market was much smaller, but developers were already making good money. So it was a sure bet on a rapidly growing device install base.
What were the first game you released?
It was a puzzle game called Mummy and the Beauty. It was really nothing special. We just made simple things for some pocket money back then.
You're based in Kaliningrad; the bit of Russia that's in Europe. What it's like operating a business in that territory?
The usual bears, vodka and dashboard cameras, it's nothing special!
MMORPG series Majesty is one of HeroCraft's biggest mobile hits
Seriously, it's a great place to do business. The Kaliningrad region is a home to many game development companies. According to Nordic Games data, we have more people employed in this market than in the whole of Norway.
What was your first successful game?
Ball Rush. It was a simple concept (Arkanoid/Brickbreaker genre), with very good execution, and provided an excellent return on investment.
Being one of the best with a niche product will always work. These are good times for a similar strategy.
When smartphones hit the scene in 2009, how quickly did HeroCraft get into iOS?
Not quickly enough. It's our single biggest mistake since forming the company, I guess.
HeroCraft still a big supporter of Java games and Nokia's devices. Why?
That's simple. We still make good money on the Nokia Store. Especially since many developers are gone.
Having said that, I should point out that we don't do a lot of new games for these platforms now.
You're an official 'Top Developer' on Android. What is it that you like best about the platform and why do you think it's a better platform for HeroCraft than iOS?
Let me be 'politically correct' here: it's not better, just different.
One of our core expertise is porting and thus, we try to be on every platform - if it's profitable, of course.
How big a change has it been for HeroCraft to move from paid games to free-to-play games?
It's such a big change that some of our really successful freemium titles are yet to be seen; we're still working on them.
Converting existing premium titles to freemium wasn't always effective.
HeroCraft now has over 100 staff in offices in Russia, UK, China and Turkey, so which are your key markets and where do you expect to grow fastest in 2013?
We tend to do cross-culture stuff and to never stay focused on a single region.
The Russian market is growing rapidly, but even that doesn't make us do more local titles. You simply can't do a really good game and not count on selling it worldwide.
We would definitely like to be more active in Latin America and APAC. South Korea could earn us more revenue. We're also missing opportunities in Japan, I think.
What do you think is the most important lesson you've learned during your 10 years in the business?
Care and think twice when it comes to user experience... Oh, and never piss off your customers with too much paid DLC. The seemingly obvious things are sometimes learned the hard way.
Besides that, we need to be faster and react more quickly, not miss new trends, niches etc.
And be one of the best in something. It's strategy games for us - that's what we'll be working on and investing in heavily.
Thanks to Alexey for his time.
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