Branko Milutinovic has always had a passion for games.
But it wasn’t until founding Nordeus and becoming its CEO that he realised it could be a full-time job for him.
He started his career as a software development engineer at Microsoft in 2007.
But just two years later he and some friends set up a new company called Nordeus in Serbia.
The studio’s first game was an instant success.
Since its release on Facebook in 2010 and mobile a year later, football management game Top Eleven has garnered 140 million registered users. Its huge popularity has made it one of the top sports games on the planet.
Its ability to stay in the top grossing charts on the App Store and Google Play has allowed Nordeus to grow its studio from a small group of friends to around 160 staff.
There’s also the promise of new games on the horizon that could potentially take its success to new heights.
PocketGamer.biz: What were your favourite games as a kid?
Branko Milutinovic: Prince of Persia, Wolf 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, FIFA/NBA/NHL 9x, Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic, Warcraft 2 and… Championship Manager 96.
When did you realise you wanted to make games as a career?
I started trying to build games as a kid but didn’t realise it’s a career option until we were already somewhat successful with Nordeus a few years in.
We’ve made a difference in lives of our users, our employees and our local community.Branko Milutinovic
Moving back from 100 hour work weeks, I started to appreciate how blessed I am to work with some of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met who happen to be very capable, creative, fun to be around.
Where you can trust them and they trust you, and there’s no politics and rigid management systems. Where every day you blend art and science into something people want to play, that becomes part of their lives.
Also, in our industry, most people - competitors - are honest and wish you well. Most of the time it feels like we’re all on the same side.
I hope it never changes.
What was your first role in the industry? How did that turn out?
I started Nordeus with my friends and all of us were doing a bit of everything: designing the game, coding, testing, balancing the game economy, hiring, looking for cheap used office furniture and negotiating an even lower price while loading it into our car.
It turned out pretty well, we were so lucky to nail it with our first game, Top Eleven, and build a company that is very unique in our part of the world, if not broader.
What do you consider your first significant success?
Becoming profitable, three weeks after the launch of Top Eleven.
It’s not because money is the most important thing to us, it’s because it gave us validation that we’re doing the right things, when most people questioned it, and the freedom - we have no investors - to build Nordeus the way we felt was right.
That has never changed. And never will.
When did the potential for mobile games become apparent to you?
With the first smartphones. I enjoyed Worms for the Windows Phone, at a beach, in 2002.
I thought mobile gaming would become mainstream sooner but with the iPhone and Android, it became obvious, and that’s when we started thinking of leaving our corporate careers and starting a gaming company.
What do you think is the most significant event in mobile gaming to-date?
Democratisation through the App Store. It gave the chance to everyone, including few guys from Serbia, to publish their games independently all over the world.
I think the industry will move more towards more sophisticated games that fulfill the needs of smaller audiences.Branko Milutinovic
What are you most proud of? Any regrets?
Of the people I work with, how we work together and what we have accomplished over the years. We’ve made a difference in lives of our users, our employees and our local community.
No regrets, it’s all part of learning and making less mistakes in the future.
Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently and why?
Tough question, especially when mobile games are your profession. If I had to pick one — Clash Royale.
What are your predictions for the future of mobile games?
I think the industry will move more towards a bit more sophisticated games that fulfill the needs of slightly smaller audiences but fulfill them really well.
And I expect average production quality of successful games to rise significantly.
In which area of the industry do you hope to make a difference in future?
Our aspiration is to make a difference in lives of our users, to give them experiences they’d want to tell their friends about. Nothing feels as good as making something other people are “addicted” to, in the most positive way.
Also, if we do that while keeping our way of doing things: work-life balance, empowering our people and putting them first - I hope we will inspire some other companies to switch to our “Nordeus way”.
Starting out in simple monochrome in the days of Snake and WAP, the past decade has seen the mobile games industry kaleidoscope into a glorious, multi-billion dollar sector that's driving global innovation.
So it's high time we celebrate some of the people who helped make that journey possible - something PocketGamer.biz is doing in its regular Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame feature.
You can read our previous Hall of Fame articles here.