HandyGames's Kassulke says '99c games will destroy the market'

It's a gold rush: a few will become rich, many will die

HandyGames's Kassulke says '99c games will destroy the market'
One of the most significant trends of 2009 has been the speed at which game developers and publishers have switched from standard mobile to iPhone development.

Speed can be fast or slow however, so while many companies have been involved in a headlong rush to App Store, others have taken a more cautious approach.

These tended to be the established mobile developers who have built a solid business on tradition Java/J2ME and smartphone game development.

One such is German developer and publisher HandyGames.

Founded in 2000 by brothers Markus and Christopher Kassulke, and Udo Bausewein, it is based in Giebelstadt, Germany with another office in Bucharest, Romania.

We caught up with CEO Christopher to find out HandyGames' attitude to iPhone, mobile and other emerging platforms.

Pocket Gamer: Considering HandyGames' history as a mobile developer, how easy is it to balance this with iPhone?

Christopher Kassulke: HandyGames is the oldest independent mobile games developer. We 've seen so many technologies and hypes coming and going. That's why we didn't jump into the iPhone market right from the start and instead waited and observed what the market really demands.

We will not leave our core market - the mobile games market - and become a pure iPhone developer.

I can understand why some game studios believe that this is the Holy Grail because the J2ME market can be very frustrating. Operators, for example, love to fight with a few big publishers instead of co-operating with several publishers that are perhaps not as aggressive. Operators should listen to the consumer instead of concentrating on pushing a single publisher.

The App Store is different. HandyGames tries to have a well balanced portfolio on both, the J2ME platform and the iPhone. Both platforms have advantages and disadvantages and that's why we are working on both actively.

Do you think too many developers are risking too much on iPhone?

My personal belief is YES: don't put all your eggs into one basket. I like to compare the iPhone hype with the Gold Rush. Of course, some of the early gold diggers were successful and their success created the hype but how many of them were failing, often dying, for nothing?

Another big issue is the communication between Apple and the developers. To be honest, some operators are doing a better job of this. Perhaps Apple can learn here from others.

What's your view on the App Store price drop to 99c debate?

I would not like to see full high-quality games selling for 99c. We don't have that debate with regard to the J2ME platform. J2ME games cost about as much as a pack of cigarettes all around the globe.

99c games will destroy the market sooner or later, if it hasn't happened already.

But that's the funny thing about the App Store - we can complain about it but it's actually up to us developers and publishers to get prices up to an appropriate level for quality products. All it takes is pushing some buttons in our App System to change it.

How have you found the App Store in terms of your releases such as Puzzlegeddon and Tattoo Mania?

We have seen huge downloads for some of our titles but deck placement and pricing is everything. If you follow us on twitter you can see that, for example, Beershooter is currently a very hot topic.

Long term goals are more important to us than quick success. We will do a lot of experimenting on iPhone as that's something that is not possible in J2ME market because you can't change pricing, marketing material and such on the fly like you can with the App Store.

How did the Red Bull Soapbox Race game come about and will you be doing more branded games?

Brands are keen to be present on the iPhone, no matter if it's with an original title or a rebranded title. Beershooter, for example, is perfect for any beer brewery.

HandyGames offers not only iPhone production and distribution but also, more importantly, production and distribution in the 'old' mobile game space too. You have to be present in the mass market and the mass market has J2ME phones. That's what we can do perfectly and we can advise our partners on what suits them best for their brand and for achieving the goals they have set.

Again, maintaining a balance between the iPhone and the mobile games market is very important. Of course, you will see many more titles coming out with consumer brands from HandyGames. We are always good for a surprise.

Townsmen is a massive mobile licence, so when should we expect to see it on iPhone and will you continue to develop mobile versions?
Townsmen is one of our brands and it's just a matter of time until it will make a showing on other platforms. Building such a brand costs a lot of money and we want to make sure that it will be represented by a state-of-the-art product on other platforms. A simple port will not be what we are focusing on. Of course, Townsmen will be developed further because the consumer demands it.

What about versions for PSP Minis or on DSiWare?

We will see how these platforms evolve. It's not HandyGames' core business. We are in talks with various developers and publishers to take our brands to these platforms, as well as others, but the development in these cases will be done by someone else. We will only make sure that brand integrity is maintained.

More generally, do you think other smartphone platforms such as Android, WinMo, BlackBerry etc will provide useful revenue?

Blackberry is already providing us with revenue, not only via RIM's App World but even more so through the regular operator and portal channels. WinMo, as well as Android, are platforms that we will have to follow carefully but, at the moment, we don't see much in terms of revenue coming out of these. But things can change very fast.

Why does HandyGames offer a publishing service for other developers?

We're not only offering publishing services. We also do a lot of content sourcing for operators and handset manufacturers.

HandyGames has been well known for honesty and high quality for close on 10 years now. We are not distributing huge amounts of content and we want to push the whole market, not just our own market share. We can work on that later, when the cake has become big enough. Others prefer to fight now and they're destroying the market in the process.

We really care for our products and that's one reason why more and more partners use HandyGames as content aggregator, beside the duo-poly. I am very proud of that department because it has been showing a strong growth in revenue since we established it.

Our partners have also found the services we offer to be great, so we must be doing something right and the numbers prove it.

Developers need a trusted partner as well and, being a developer ourselves, we know the challenges in the market much better than a pure content aggregator which might have more than 2,000 game titles in its portfolio but has no control and no idea where and what content is sold.

Thanks to Christopher for his time.

You can keep in touch with HandyGames via its website and twitterfeed.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.