Interview

How localised experiences keeps Free Fire alive four years on

Garena producer Harold Teo talks a mobile-first approach and understanding the player's needs

How localised experiences keeps Free Fire alive four years on

Long gone are the days of developing and publishing a game without the need to tweak, adjust and support it years after launch.

Here at PocketGamer.biz, we want to take the opportunity to highlight games that have bucked the trend and found an audience that has kept them thriving long after launch with our regular Live and Kicking series.

This week, Garena producer Harold Teo discusses how localised experiences and listening to players has spurred the continued success of Free Fire four years since launch.

PocketGamer.biz: With Free Fire now four years old, how do you reflect on its performance – from launch to the mature title it is now?

Harold Teo: Free Fire was developed exclusively with the mobile game player in mind. This mobile-first strategy, coupled with offering quality content, has been key for us. For example, in many fast-growing regions like Southeast Asia and Latin America, gamers are increasingly leapfrogging PCs and consoles and choosing mobile as their preferred games platform.

On top of accessibility and ease-of-play, we create unique and localised experiences and grow an engaged, strong community of Free Fire fans globally through grassroots events, local influencer engagements and more.

Our core principles and commitment to delivering experiences that delight our communities have guided us since day one, and they continue to do so. We are encouraged by the support received for our communities all over the world.

Free Fire was recently named the most downloaded game worldwide in 2021 across both the iOS App and Google Play stores, according to Sensor Tower. This recognition signals that we are adapting and developing our game in the right direction. It encourages us to continue innovating and create even more ways to engage our global audience.

How big is the team currently handling live ops on Free Fire?

While we don’t share precise numbers, we can share that Free Fire’s global presence and focus on localisation mean that we have colleagues and teammates across functions all around the world.

How important is it to listen to your players? What has been your approach to this?

Our goal is to understand what our players’ other passion points are outside of gaming.
Harold Teo

Free Fire has always been designed with our players in mind. Understanding what our players want and identifying what matters most to them is crucial to keeping them engaged with our content. The good thing is that the Free Fire community has been vocal about what they love and hope for the game, and this helps us pinpoint key elements that would contribute to a more enjoyable playing experience over time.

For example, through conversing with our players we found that many of them enjoy music, electronic dance music (EDM) in particular. Over the years, we found ways to integrate elements of EDM into the Free Fire experience, both in and out of the game. We first started partnering with DJ Alok in 2019, and since went on to partner with other top names in the industry, including DJ KSHMR and duo Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike (DVLM). For our fourth anniversary celebration this year, we brought all four DJs together for a collaboration theme song, ‘Reunion’. We introduced DVLM as Free Fire characters for the celebrations, joining Alok and KSHMR who were previously introduced as characters.

Apart from that, we’ve also launched collaborations with pop culture content like Money Heist (La Casa de Papel), and sports brands and personalities such as McLaren Racing and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name just a few. One of our most recent collaborations was with Venom: Let There Be Carnage, our first ever crossover with a movie franchise. Ultimately, our goal is to understand what our players’ other passion points are outside of gaming, be it sports, music, movies or pop culture, and explore ways to deliver experiences that bring them together.

What steps have you taken to ensure that Free Fire maintains a sizeable and active player base all this time after its launch?

Localisation remains at the heart of what we do; we deliver localised content experiences, and we engage and build our local communities up. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and we work towards ensuring Free Fire players across the world have different, localised touchpoints.

Localisation remains at the heart of what we do... There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Harold Teo

For example, we celebrate Day of the Dead with our players in Latin America, where we plan for various Free Fire events both in and outside of the game, including new themed modes and costumes for our players to enjoy. We also work with popular local celebrities who we know our communities are also fans of. Working with stars like Egyptian actor and singer Mohamed Ramadan, "Vietnamese Pop prince" Son Tung M-TP, and Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan excites our players and gives them more reason to enjoy Free Fire.

We also believe in offering the platform for our players to compete at the very highest level. We have a global esports ecosystem to allow players to challenge themselves and prove themselves - from local tournaments all the way to global ones, where we gather the best Free Fire teams from all over the world. This level of competition offers an exciting viewing experience for our fans globally, and the reception we have received has been thrilling.

Earlier this year, we held the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore, which delivered record viewership across multiple platforms. The Finals of the FFWS 2021 SG hit a peak of 5.4 million concurrent online viewers, which is the highest peak viewership of any esports match in history, excluding Chinese platforms, according to Esports Charts.

To what do you attribute the game’s consistently impressive grossing performance, and how do you sustain it?

All this is made possible through the support of my amazing teammates across the world. We are able to rely on one another to offer feedback and perspectives as to what works in certain markets versus what might not. This enables us to design elements of the game and bring localised Free Fire experiences to our players worldwide.

Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU (daily active users) or retention you’re willing to share?

We announced in August 2021 that Free Fire achieved a new record high of over 150 million peak daily active users, a new record for us. Free Fire also hit over 1 billion downloads on the Google Play store earlier this year, joining a small group of mobile games who have done so.

Recently, we were awarded the Esports Mobile Game of the Year by the Esports Awards 2021 for the second year running, and we were named the most downloaded mobile game globally this year by Sensor Tower.

What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from Free Fire? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?

There’s still much to learn about our players and communities all over the world.
Harold Teo

There’s still much to learn about our players and communities all over the world. Every market is unique, and we are always looking to better understand players’ preferences, trends, community insights, and more. We do a lot of work in the background to better understand our communities, whether it’s engaging players, streamers, content creators, brands or speaking to players ourselves. It is always an educational journey, but only then can we keep developing experiences that resonate with our players.

Finally, how has your experience with Free Fire informed where you are/what you're working on now?

Working on Free Fire and seeing how fans from all over the world have embraced the game has really shown me the strength and camaraderie of the gaming community. My experience has taught me to really listen to feedback from the players, and we approach each new campaign, partnership or launch with our players in mind. Many of us are gamers ourselves, so we understand what are things that our players would enjoy. We hope to keep introducing fresh and exciting content for our fans globally.


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