King CTO Steve Collins: "2020 was made that little bit more tolerable through the power of games"

As part of our 2020 in review series

King CTO Steve Collins: "2020 was made that little bit more tolerable through the power of games"

2020 will be a year that lives long in many people's memories, for better and for worse. Thankfully, there have been some fantastic experiences on mobile to help us all through these particularly trying times.

The games industry is thriving despite the devastating effects of COVID, and the mobile sector has also seen extraordinary growth this year. Games have undeniably been a force for good under unprecedented circumstances.

With that, we've reached out to several members of the industry for their insight, thoughts and personal experiences throughout 2020. We're on a mission to discover favourite mobile games, how has the industry coped under the pandemic, and what we could see in 2021 and beyond.

This time, we're catching up with Steve Collins, chief technology officer at King

PocketGamer.biz: What do you think was the biggest news or event for the mobile games industry in 2020?

Steve Collins: The event that has probably had the biggest impact across the entire mobile industry is Apple’s recent decision to change how IDFA is handled, now requiring user consent to be obtained prior to using IDFA in an app. This has changed how many different parties in the industry interact and will be felt most in mobile advertising, an important revenue stream for many mobile game companies, including King.

However, we believe that the investments in our own direct sales and our own tech have positioned us well for next year. It’s really great to see privacy get focus and attention but the pace of change in this area is a real challenge for everyone to keep up with.

Which mobile game do you think had the biggest impact on the industry this year?

Perhaps not a surprise, but I want to mention our most popular game franchise, Candy Crush, here. We’re incredibly fortunate to have a very large player base at King (249m MAUs Q3 2020) and in March, to help bring a little joy during dark times, we launched an Unlimited Lives campaign in eight of our games, including the Candy Crush franchise, as well as a joint initiative with the World Health Organisation on spreading a message of staying safe and healthy.

We had a huge reaction from the players. Game rounds played per day in our games hit new records in March. That really served as a reminder of how important games can be in connecting people and providing some respite through fun. I’m also going to mention Call of Duty: Mobile here too, while strictly speaking it was launched last year, it really demonstrated how a triple-A entertainment experience can be translated to mobile devices taking advantage of the mobile form factor and business model.

Finally, it’s been really inspiring to see what Niantic have achieved with Pokemon Go. It’s still going strong with some excellent new campaigns and has built a vibrant community. It’s a real showcase for AR, and I have to admire the ambition of what the team is aiming to build, mapping the real world and gamifying our planet.

King's reigning franchise, Candy Crush, broke records in 2020

What is your top mobile game of 2020?

It’s not just a mobile title, but Among Us is one of those games that just nails the unique ability for games to create compelling environments with emergent gameplay and a truly social experience. It combines so many elements, like the tension of SpaceTeam, the deviousness of Spy vs Spy (a classic C64 game) and the intrigue of SpyParty. It just goes to show that great games don’t necessarily need ray tracing or reinforcement learning!

Do you think the mobile games industry has reacted well to the many challenges presented this year?

In many ways, we’ve not been nearly as impacted as other industries and should be thankful for that, but there’s no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. I know I don’t need to remind anyone of what these challenges have been, and continue to be, but it does remind me again of the role of art and entertainment in our lives and how important it is to be able to connect, interact and have fun, even in the bleakest times.

How many families were connected through Animal Crossing? When social gathering was impossible, how many kids hung out in Roblox? I think 2020 was made that little bit more tolerable through the power of games and I’m very proud to be part of a team that brings fun and joy to many millions of players every day.

I’m amazed at the resilience of the King team to all the changes that have been happening in 2020.

What do you think will be the biggest trend over the next 12 months?

The idea of what it is to be a social game has really advanced in leaps and bounds in 2020 and I’d expect to see that trend continue. We’ve also seen games emerge as genuine entertainment destinations with large scale concert experiences being delivered in Fortnite. I think we’re going to see a lot more innovation here as game designers explore the possibilities of using game environments to enable players to create their own social experiences, designing deliberately for emergent behaviour and enabling players to create their own fun.

In terms of your company, what's the thing you're most proud of during 2020?

I’m amazed at the resilience of the King team to all the changes that have been happening in 2020. We moved to entirely working from home over the course of a couple of days, with a ton of work from a lot of people making that process as smooth as possible, and since then we’ve continued to create new content and events for our live games and work on our new games pipeline, including launching Crash Bandicoot: On the Run! which will launch in the spring.

Everyone’s experience of this year has been unique and in some cases really really tough but the team has persevered through it and I think we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a company and how we can collaborate and communicate. I’m sure in the future we’ll look back on 2020 as the year it all changed but being in the middle of it now I’m proud to be working through it with and as part of this team at King.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

A night in a great pub with tasty craft beers surrounded by family and friends. Oh, and Dune the movie.


Danielle Partis is editor of PocketGamer.biz and former editor of InfluencerUpdate.biz. She was named Journalist of the Year at the MCV Women in Games Awards 2019, as well as in the MCV 30 under 30 2020. Prior to Steel Media, she wrote about music and games at Team Rock.