Interview

CEO John Criswick on lessons learned from 10 years of Magmic

CEO John Criswick on lessons learned from 10 years of Magmic
There aren't many mobile developers who have been around for ten years, but one such is Canadian outfit Magmic Games.

Based in Ottawa, it's worked on titles such as The New York Times Crossword, Phase 10 as well as Boulder Dash, Guitar Hero and Frogger.

It's also successful transitioned from the feature phone market into smartphones, currently boasting 2.2 million unique monthly users, who accumulate 250 million sessions per month.

We caught up with CEO John Criswick to take a trip down memory lane.

Pocket Gamer: Back in 2002, why did you decide to start up a mobile games company?

John Criswick: Three years earlier, I had co-founded Beduin and developed a browser for smartphones on Sun's Personal Java platform, which ended up getting purchased by Sun Microsystems.

At Sun we were involved with developing the J2ME platform and we saw a great opportunity developing globally. After three years I left to start Magmic.

In those early days, how did you deal with the limitations of such low powered devices?

The games in that era were quite simple and casual because of those limitations. We also developed games for the first Java-powered BlackBerries that came on market in 2003 and began doing connected gaming with those handsets from the get go.

Early on, you focused on BlackBerry devices. Why was that?

Actually, we didn't - we supported J2ME primarily, BREW and other types of handsets including BlackBerry.

The BlackBerry market moved to the forefront for us when RIM launched the Pearl in 2006. Being that we were already in market with BlackBerry games and in tight with RIM, we were aware of and ready for the new consumer opportunity.

Seizing this opportunity caused our revenue to take off. We were also able to sign up a number of content publishers and took their content to the BlackBerry market.

Can you explain how your Gamezone social network works?

It was built out of necessity at the time and grew substantially in the new BlackBerry consumer era.

However, we use it now to have a platform agnostic log-in for all our customers across all handset types in tandem with Facebook and Twitter integration.

In 2006, you worked with Konami. How did that deal come about?

Konami and other companies at the time were interested in moving their content to new platforms and we offered a royalty-only approach for them to move into it. It worked out very well for both of us.

Before there were app stores, you had your own app store - Bplay.com. How hard was that to develop and what was the audience reaction?

Our first app store was in 2004 and included in-app purchase and a free-to-play approach to product management. That turned into Bplay in 2007 and was an ongoing effort into 2010 until the OEM app stores began to take over that market.

We have nonetheless gained from that experience and applied our knowledge to how we work with the OEM app stores today.

Texas Hold'em King has been one of your longest running brands, so why you do think it's been so successful?

We launched the game back in 2003 right when Texas Hold'em Poker was taking off as a sport.

Our second version in 2005 had multiplayer functionality on BlackBerry and we also managed to negotiate with RIM to embed the game on all BlackBerry handsets, which caused it to gain wide exposure - installed on 80+ million handsets.

Our latest version, THK Live has over a million downloads and is currently the #1 Card game on BlackBerry App World. We are also proud that this success has spread to our newest King product, Blackjack King - currently #4 Card game on App World.

When smartphones hit the scene in 2009, how quickly did Magmic get into iOS?

We had deployed an AJAX version of card game Phase 10 back when iPhone could only support browser-based games.

When Apple launched downloadable games, we capitalised on the AJAX usage to launch a native version of Phase 10. That game still sits in the #2 card position on App Store and is one of our best evergreen earners.

What are your views on Android?

We make most of our revenue from iOS and BlackBerry and for about a year have been experimenting with Android titles but are not yet making a major push in that direction.

It is too fragmented with multiple channels to deal with and reminds us of the earlier days of the mobile market with all of its porting and multiple handset support issues.

As a keen supporter of BlackBerry devices, what's it like to develop for that market now, split as it is between legacy BB5/6/7 OS and PlayBook and BB10?

We are in the process of transitioning to BB10-only and are excited by this growing opportunity. Despite the negative thoughts around RIM, we don't see it going away.

Of all the games Magmic has released, what are your top 3 and why?

Our top three would include New York Times Crosswords, Mattel's Phase 10 and Texas Hold'em King Live. As a developer-publisher we have always had a focus on maintaining evergreen content in the market.

What do you think is the most important lesson you've learned during your 10 years in the business?

The most important lesson we have learned is to beware of potential handset support fragmentation and always be able to innovate as a company to stay ahead of the game, as it is always changing.

Thanks to John for his time.

You can see an infographic detailing Magmic's timeline here.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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