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Hall of Fame: Miniclip CEO Robert Small on building one of the most recognisable names in gaming

Hall of Fame: Miniclip CEO Robert Small on building one of the most recognisable names in gaming

Miniclip was founded back in 2000 and despite major market shifts, has always managed to keep up with the times.

Throughout that period it's been led by CEO and founder Robert Small.

Growing up with a passion for games, he jumped straight into the deep end with his own company. It wasn’t long before the company found success in free online games and since then has been on an upward trajectory.

You won't find many people who grew up during the early days of Miniclip that haven't played one of its titles.

It’s now famous for games such as the top grossing mobile app 8 Ball Pool and the viral hit Agar.io, to name just two titles in its vast portfolio.

Across platforms the company's portfolio has an audience of 200 million monthly active users, while its mobile games have been downloaded well over one billion times.

Miniclip's success was enough to attract the overtures of Chinese publishing giant Tencent back in 2015, which forked out for a majority stake in the company.

Small remains 18 years on, such is his love for games and the company he’s led for that entire period.

We caught up with the CEO to discuss the early days of his career and the lessons he’s learned building one of the world’s top games publishers.

PocketGamer.biz: What were your favourite games as a kid?

Robert Small: My parents gave me a 128k Spectrum on my 16th birthday. From that moment onwards, my love of games was ignited.

My favourites were Chucky Egg and Treasure Island Dizzy. At university, I spent an unhealthy amount of time playing Age of Empires and Command & Conquer: Red Alert.

My parents gave me a 128k Spectrum on my 16th birthday. From that moment onwards, my love of games was ignited.

When did you realise you wanted to make games as a career?

I started programming on my Spectrum, but it wasn’t until we founded Miniclip in 2000 that I really saw an opportunity to combine my love of games with business.

What was your first role in the industry? How did that turn out?

My first role was with Miniclip and I guess it turned out pretty well given that we are still thriving almost 20 years later.

Of course, my role at the company has changed dramatically over the years. In the early days you get involved with everything from making the games, managing customer support, hosting and payroll.

I am very lucky that these days I have a hugely talented team around me who are far more skilled than I ever was at dealing with all these aspects of the business. This allows me time each week to play all our current and future games and ensure I remain aware of all the other leading titles in the market.

What do you consider your first significant success?

We were lucky as one of our first games proved to be a huge success. A few weeks after establishing the company, we set about building our first product to put Miniclip on the map.

George Bush was running for the presidency, so we decided to make him the star of our first game: Dancing Bush.

It only took me one week to code in Flash 1.0, but the game went viral and become one of the largest internet success stories of its day, eventually clocking up more than one billion gameplays.

When did the potential for mobile games become apparent to you?

In the summer of 2005 we started looking at games on mobile devices. We had a huge content catalogue of more than 1,000 games on Miniclip.com and thought there could be an opportunity for us to port some of these onto mobile devices.

Sadly, feature phones were not powerful enough to run anything more advanced than Snake. So it wasn’t until 2007, when Steve Jobs announced the launch of the first iPhone, that we decided to take another look at mobile.

We released our first game in 2008 with the help of a Finnish company called RedLynx. The game ended up selling 3.8 million copies and it quickly became obvious to us that the iPhone had huge potential as a gaming device.

I still get a buzz when people tell me they played Miniclip games as a kid on the web or are a current player of our mobile titles.

Shortly after that we established our own internal mobile games studio and set about the challenge of transitioning from being a purebred publisher to a developer.

What do you think is the most significant event in the mobile games industry to-date?

It has to be June 2007: Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPhone.

Subsequently, there have been several events that have changed the nature of the mobile games industry: the shift from premium to free-to-play and Google releasing Android.

What are you most proud of? Any regrets?

I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved at Miniclip over the last two decades.

Proving all the naysayers wrong, particularly in the early days when everyone kept telling us that giving our products away for free was a crazy business idea. Working with amazing partners and being involved in successes like Trials, Runescape, Club Penguin, Agar.io and 8 Ball Pool.

I feel enormously privileged to have been working in the industry for all these years with so many talented people and I still get a buzz when people tell me they played Miniclip games as a kid on the web or are a current player of our mobile titles.

Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently and why?

I am currently addicted to Motorsport Manager 3 by Playsport Games.

I am a big motorsport fan and enjoy the challenge of managing and developing my own race team, particularly right now when the F1 season is running.

What are your predictions for the future of mobile games?

  • Augmented reality and virtual reality won’t be as big on mobile as everyone seems to think
  • There will be tonnes of copycat hyper-casual games companies all trying to copy Ketchapp and Voodoo. More and more of the top charts will be dominated by these types of disposable games
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence will play an even bigger role for companies (like Miniclip) who have mature and sophisticated business intelligence teams
  • Consolidation in the mobile CPI ad network space and a subsequent move towards “bidding”. This will help brands access mobile ad inventory

In which area of the industry do you hope to make a difference in future?

I hope that we will continue to advance Miniclip’s purpose, which is “to unleash the gamer in everyone” by connecting more and more people around the world through our games.

Check out our previous Hall of Fame interviews here.

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Senior Editor

Craig Chapple is Senior Editor of PocketGamer.biz and InfluencerUpdate.biz. He was previously Deputy Editor at Develop and Online Editor at Nintendo of Europe.

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