How MAG Interactive made its iMessage game debut with the trash-talking SmackChat

Johan Persson on seizing the iMessage opportunity

How MAG Interactive made its iMessage game debut with the trash-talking SmackChat

At the end of January, MAG Interactive launched trash-talking iMessage game SmackChat.

SmackChat is the first iMessage game from the Stockholm studio, which is best known for its word game Ruzzle. It encourages friendly banter between players in a simple, rock-paper-scissors framework.

But why did the firm decide to launch a game on the iMessage platform in the first place, and what unique opportunities and challenges does the platform present?

To find out, reached out to MAG Interactive's Vice President of Product Johan Persson. SmackChat is your first iMessage game. What was the inspiration behind the game and why did you decide to launch on iMessage?

Johan Persson: We always keep track on and evaluate new platforms as they appear, therefore iMessage looked like an interesting opportunity for us to play on our strengths in social games.

SmackChat is currently the top four downloaded iMessage game in the US, so it seems like we made a pretty good decision.

Seeing a great potential in the platform, we wanted to create something that would specifically enhance the chatting experience.

After all, it has been a dream of ours that every man, woman and child would talk smack to each other - not to mention the organic sharing aspect of the platform whereby the game gets recommended through iMessage among friends - the most powerful, trustworthy and compelling way of promotion.

From a design perspective, what are the challenges and opportunities of developing an iMessage game?

Games for iMessage need to be social by design, which is always a challenge, yet is the biggest opportunity the platform holds.

The goal is to develop around the conversational experience and treat that as your core experience.
Johan Persson

As CPIs are increasing, we need players to help us in spreading the word about the product.

In turn, making a great game is one part of the development equation while having a solid platform to share it without any obstacles is the final missing piece.

The goal is to develop around the conversational experience and treat that as your core experience. Don't try to shoehorn something that doesn't fit into iMessage.

For us, that enhancement to the core experience was providing the excuse to talk smack to your friends. That's what is fun about it because it's a battle of wits and words are the weapons.

Between iMessage and Facebook Instant Games, do you think messaging platforms will soon begin to play a major part in the Western mobile games market?

It’s a whole new gaming experience that most Western players are not used to and getting everyone on board will certainly take time.

In order to make the process of installing and playing games totally streamlined, the platform owners will need to spend their time and resources until it becomes completely familiar. We’re very close but not quite there yet.

The trend is toward companies communicating with consumers directly through messaging platforms and doing so at your own pace.

While currently Asia is more mature in this regard, we hold similar expectations for the Western markets.

How is monetisation implemented in SmackChat? Does the iMessage platform necessitate a different approach than your average mobile game?

While we do have in-app purchases in the game, our focus right now is on evaluating the platform, especially when it comes to engagement and virality.

iMessage needs different monetisation since everything about this experience is bite-sized.
Johan Persson

The monetisation in SmackChat is based on an exclusive character McCloud the Scotsman. Players can purchase his special attacks, defences and provocative win celebrations that really rub it in for the winner.

iMessage does need a different monetisation approach since everything about this experience is bite-sized.

How big was the development team on SmackChat and how long was the overall development time?

We had two people working on the game - one coder and one artist/designer/Scottish stereotype voice artist.

The first playable build was done in a couple of weeks with another month or so spent on tweaking the gameplay and polishing the overall experience.

With a move towards synchronous multiplayer in the midcore space, do you feel that the asynchronous play facilitated by messaging platforms better fits players in their everyday lives?

With the barrier to entry being certainly lower, our hope is that through messaging platforms we will reach players during times when they wouldn’t normally play our games.

Games like Ruzzle and WordBrain are typically played while staying at home or having some spare time.

Playing a round of SmackChat, on the other hand, takes only a few seconds, which you can fit it in more often throughout the day, right after coming up with that perfect insult.

Asynchronous play is done at your own pace, just like communicating via messages.

You don't have to dedicate specific time to it. You can play it in your next scrum meeting and no one would even notice. I’d recommend turning off the sound, though.

Are you interested in working with the iMessage platform again, perhaps with your established IP? Or does the platform require especially tailored concepts?

Before committing the resources in order to adapt one of our major games to the platform we want to test and evaluate how players engage with iMessage games over a longer period of time.

I’m a strong believer in building games that you can play for years and the platform needs to support that. While still young, iMessage has a strong potential and as it matures we would want to be there.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.