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Miniclip CEO Saad Choudri discusses the history and future of one of the biggest names in mobile gaming

“I think it will be more challenging to penetrate the top positions which will be dominated by a handful of large studios."
Miniclip CEO Saad Choudri discusses the history and future of one of the biggest names in mobile gaming

Miniclip used to be a dominant name in flash gaming, but the company pivoted to mobile gaming several years ago, and now stands as one of the biggest players in the mobile games space having accumulated billions of downloads across its portfolio.

We spoke to Miniclip CEO Saad Choudri about the company’s history, its place within the mobile gaming industry, and the changes he expects to see in the coming years. Firstly, can you please introduce yourself and briefly explain your role within your company?

My name is Saad Choudri, and I am CEO at Miniclip. Last October, I became Miniclip’s CEO after 10 years of holding executive roles within Miniclip. Coming up to almost a year in the role, it’s been a fantastic experience working closely with our President and co-founder, Rob Small, and with our talented executives and colleagues. A key highlight since becoming CEO has been Miniclip’s acquisition of SYBO, the creators of Subway Surfers. From an acquisition perspective, this was a key milestone for the company.

What would you say has been the biggest change in the industry since you entered into it?

The app stores have fundamentally changed the way we play games. It is incredible to see how the games industry has continuously evolved and adapted to cater to its audience needs on mobile over the years.

One example is the shift in the mobile business model where developers were driven to adopt the freemium or free-to-play business model after mobile players grew reluctant to pay for new games. The idea is that once many players have downloaded and played a free game, some of them will enjoy it so much that they will be willing to pay for cosmetic add-ons, new features, in-game currencies, and other in-app purchases (IAP) for an enhanced experience.

F2P is now a hugely successful business model for mobile games, but it’s not without its issues. On one hand, it benefits the players as they can now play games for free. On the other hand, developers who embrace F2P are incentivised to run game as a service (GaaS) keeping in mind that the richer their content, the higher their chances to convert players into payers. They are encouraged to continue adding fresh features, running events, building and engaging communities to prolong the game’s lifespan and keep players coming back for more.

Did you see the above mentioned change coming? If not, how did you adapt to it?

Miniclip was one of the early adopters of the App Store. We made the decision to enter the mobile games industry the year the App Store launched, in 2009 when we opened our first studio in Portugal and began publishing premium games. I joined Miniclip in 2010 just before we made our biggest pivot into F2P when we switched Mini Pets from paid to free in 2011. This timing was certainly key to our successes and the rest, as they say, is history. 8 Ball Pool remains our biggest title to-date with over 1 billion downloads and continues to see over 10m active players in the game daily.

Over the last 12 years we have continued to release no less than 70 mobile games, all of which are F2P. We remain focused and committed to deliver the best mobile games experiences possible for our players.

Thinking back over the past couple of years, what is the biggest hurdle you've faced?

Today, the barrier of entry to the mobile games industry is lower than it has ever been. Thousands of new games are launched every week on the app stores, all competing against one another to win entertainment time from people. While it is great that we now have a lot more games to choose from, the barrier to gain attention and players is higher than ever. This has made it challenging for developers like ourselves to launch and introduce new games successfully.

Even if a game is launched successfully and gains traction in this crowded marketplace, the work is not over. The GaaS model that Miniclip adopts demands a high level of user engagement. It is essential that we pay close attention to our players' feedback, engage in community building and release new updates constantly for the long-term sustainability of our business.

Many app/game developers have moved away from in-app purchases in favour of subscription models. How do you feel about the current state of monetisation in the industry?

Mobile games are one of the most dynamic markets ever. Competition is fierce and both newcomers and old-timers in the space have to experiment and use any advantage they can to get an edge over their competitors or create a new niche that only they occupy. This has delivered an innovative and very colourful landscape of monetisation practices that all thrive on mobile in some shape or form: from hypercasual games relying on just ads, through 4X games with heavy in-app-purchase monetisation to subscription based educational games and many more in-between.

Miniclip has always been very clear about what our purpose is, to “unleash the gamer in everyone”. That means keep people having fun and enjoying our games for a long time. Guided by that purpose, we are always aiming to engage, retain and entertain players before we monetise them and therefore features like subscriptions or the Battle/Season Pass that provide high value to our highly engaged players are an important part of most of our games.

Where do you think the mobile gaming industry is headed in the next few years?

I think the mobile games industry is going through the shakeout stage where top games companies are competing to gain more market share in a slower growth market. Consolidation has been actively happening between games companies whether within the mobile space or between console and mobile companies in the past couple of years. Recently, we’ve been seeing far bigger consolidation taking place. For example, the merger between Unity / Ironsource and acquisition of MoPub by AppLovin as we move into a more mature market. I believe the creative and innovative nature of the business will continue to make space for budding developers to emerge and generate great businesses, but I think it will be more challenging to penetrate the top positions which will be dominated by a handful of large studios.

Technologies like AR and location-awareness are becoming increasingly mainstream. Which, if any, technology excites you the most?

There’s always excitement in the mobile games space, and things never stand still. Technology is constantly moving forward across all areas of our business, and we need to keep adapting and be on top of new opportunities. But we strongly believe that delivering great accessible gameplay experiences is the most important thing, and that means the most exciting part of technological progress for us is simply the continuing improvement of smartphone capabilities, their accessibility, and ever-increasing adoption throughout the world, enabling us to bring mobile games to more and more people across the world - this is the most rewarding part of being in our industry.

Edited by Lewis Rees