Gamerizon's Alex Sakiz on building out the Chop Chop franchise to 20 games and 40 million downloads
Starting with Chop Chop Ninja, it launched a number of iPhone games using the Chop Chop brand, building up to eight million downloads.
So in 2011, the company is starting to turn up the volume, with aggressive expansion plans, in terms of releases, platforms and business model.
We caught up with CEO Alex Sakiz to find out more.
PocketGamer: When did Gamerizon get interested in iOS gaming?
Alex Sakiz: It was in late 2009. We had just launched a PC casual game called Quantz and were growing frustrated with the existing conventional distribution models.
The iOS direct distribution model seemed much more appealing as it allowed us complete control over our pricing and over our intellectual properties.
What was the inspiration behind the Chop Chop franchise?
At the time, there were very few, if any, genuine mobile games franchises on the App Store. Most developers seemed to follow a hit-driven strategy, trying to get a single game to generate strong downloads and then trying various approaches to minimise that game's rate of decay via additional levels, content updates, etc.
While that strategy made - and still makes - sense if you happened to be one of the top ten or top fifteen games, it was a very risky one to adopt if you were trying to make it to the top with limited means.
So we decided to take a different approach, a different business model, one that didn't require any single game to be a blockbuster hit. And we came up with the idea of adopting an umbrella approach with multiple game entries whereby their combined strength would create a single brand identity.
What are the core elements?
We made sure that all Chop Chop games shared common grounds in branding, gameplay mechanics and art direction, but also made it a point that they would be otherwise very different from one another, spanning over multiple genres. Thus, our goal became to create a very strong mobile game franchise as opposed to a very strong mobile game.
As a consequence, we've adopted a "leave no game behind" approach to our portfolio whereby when one game shows signs of weakening, all the others games team up to cross promote it and lift it back.
Why do you think this appeals to the iOS audience?
A number of elements resonated well with our audience. For one thing, they understood very early on what we were doing from a branding perspective and really liked the franchise idea. It became a collectible thing, like, "Hey, here's the fifth game in the Chop Chop franchise".
We also often saw them comparing our games as you would compare different episodes of the same TV show. They'd say Chop Chop game A is better than Chop Chop game B but would always keep the comparisons within the franchise, which was great.
Our 2D and 3D cartoon style was another bonding element that was universally liked by both consumers and reviewers. Our innovative one-finger game user interface was yet another element, albeit more polarised (love it or hate it).
Do you notice any difference between fans of the action games and the sports games?
Yes, there are differences. Our action game fans really seem to be hardcore aficionados of the genre. They'll tolerate us wandering in different genres, but will always be very quick to tell us "Your new games are okay, but enough already; when are you guys going to launch Chop Chop Ninja 2?"
Our sports game fans seem less fanatic and enjoy the variety, though they all want a basketball and a football game.
We certainly did notice that cross promotions within each game genre were more effective. That said, the reality is that all our games tend to perform in a similar fashion, the first four having generated between 2 and 3 million downloads each, and the latter two expected to reach these levels within a couple of months.
What are your plans for building out the franchise in terms of new games, and what opportunities do you think you have in terms of creating Chop Chop characters that can extend outside the games?
Our short term plans are to continue expanding our Chop Chop catalogue across different genres with three new releases per quarter for the next 12 months. This will give us a catalogue of roughly 20 games and, at our current 2 million downloads per month velocity, will translate into 40 million or so total downloads.
This, we believe, will be sufficient for the Chop Chop brand to have an actual presence in 30-50 percent of all iOS devices belonging to kids or teens worldwide. We currently estimate our number to be in the 15 percent range.
This metric is actually a pretty good measure of our aided brand awareness, which is already strong enough to warrant extending the brand in a trans-media fashion. So yes, we're currently exploring a number of brand extensions, ranging from toys to cartoons and a bunch of things in between.
To-date, you've mixed a 99c price point with free Lite versions. What opportunity do you see for freemium Chop Chop games or games with IAP?
The biggest opportunity we have for a freemium Chop Chop game is undoubtedly our very strong existing user base. That solves the key issue of a successful launch from a preliminary adoption perspective.
But a successful launch in no way guarantees a successful game and the utmost care must be taken to properly balance the myriad of elements particular to a freemium game on a mobile platform, especially for a Chop Chop game that mostly caters to kids or teens.
Stuff like very short playing times (between 2 and 4 minute-long sessions), parent-approved / parent-friendly pricing structures and mechanics holistically integrated within the game (i.e. no $50 items that a kid might "accidentally" buy), a social or multi-player setup, etc. So all this to say that we are working on a freemium Chop Chop game but won't launch it before Q2.
As for in-app purchases, we're gradually adding them to our entire catalogue, starting with the sports games.
What plans do you have to bring the games to other platforms?
Given the current economics of the various mobile ecosystems, most indie developers tend to adopt the path of least resistance rather than make a strategic commitment to a given platform. As such, in our case, since our games are built on a Unity 3D platform, porting to Android was a no brainer since it is very easy to do. So we've done that and will launch our games this quarter.
As for other existing mobile platforms, a number of them provide some form of assistance or incentive and we're evaluating them on a cost-benefit ratio.
As for Chop Chop games on 3DS, XBL, Kinect or PSN, it only makes sense for us to go there if there's a clear chance of strong success. I guess it's like a great boxer in a given weight category who wants to move up to a higher weight category: He really should only do so when it's clear to him that he can leave his mark in that new category as well.
If we execute properly on all the stuff we say we'll do, I'm pretty confident we'll be in such a position in the near future.
Thanks to Alex for his time.