Nukebox Studios has been one of the Indian games industry's biggest successes in 2017.
Food Truck Chef was its breakout hit, scooping up three million downloads in 10 days and generating revenues of $500,000 in 45 days.
This was enough for the organisers of India's Nasscom Game Developer Conference 2017 to invite Amit Hardi to be its keynote speaker – making him the first Indian to do so in the history of the event.
Hardi's talk presented an even rosier picture for Food Truck Chef, which was downloaded 4.7 million times in 100 days and has recorded revenues of more than $1.3 million.
But as with so many so-called overnight success stories, Food Truck Chef was the culmination of much hard work behind the scenes.
A long road
Nukebox Studios was formally established three years ago as a game development division of Bangalore-based IT services company TechTree.
Hardi and his team had already worked on close to 200 games in a work-for-hire capacity, mostly on feature phones, before finally deciding to “stop the noise” and focus entirely on its own IP.
From the off, Nukebox's outlook was global.
“India as a market never appealed to us, because the numbers weren't there,” Amit Hardi tells PocketGamer.biz at NGDC 2017. “The dynamics of this market were completely different, and the signs were not there.
“People say that, in terms of engagement numbers, it's very similar to what we are seeing in China. But I believe that these are two different markets that we're comparing, and it's going to take a longer life cycle to see the monetisation trickle in.”
India as a market never appealed to us.Amit Hardi
With this decided, hitting upon the style of game in which to specialise was Nukebox's next dilemma. The initial plan was what Hardi calls “the portfolio approach – very Ketchapp-style, hyper-casual games,” with the aim being to “cross-promote and build.”
However, the studio quickly realised that such an approach relies on one hero game spearheading the rest. Nukebox began to soft-launch these casual games, but the numbers were poor and nearly all of them were canned.
14 games got left on the cutting room floor on the path to soft-launching Food Truck Chef, but its early numbers were a lot more encouraging. Players burned through the content quickly, day one retention was at 55%, and some early monetisation began to happen.
“If this had failed, we would have perhaps had to shut up shop,” admits Hardi.
The 14 games that preceded it hammered home the importance of market research, and Food Truck Chef benefited from the coupling of familiar cooking gameplay with a timely yet relatively untapped food truck theme.
But through the failures and the successes, the one constant has been Nukebox's rigorous process.
Food Truck Chef's onboarding has been through at least four iterations, resulting in a 98% FTUE conversion rate. There have also been 10-15 different app icon designs. In short, the Nukebox approach is one in which player data is king.
“It's a very important factor,” asserts Hardi. “It's a big funnel from the people visiting the store to those finishing the last level of your game. If your funnel is very narrow at the very beginning, there are no surprises at the end of it.”
This is the framework that Nukebox feels can propel its 33-person team to become a world-leading mobile game developer, with Supercell setting the benchmark.
As long as you're connected to the process, you can produce hit after hit.Amit Hardi
“They are the example that it can be repeatable,” says Hardi. “And that as long as you're connected to the process and the way you build games, you can produce hit after hit.”
Understandably, Nukebox's current focus is to continue optimising Food Truck Chef for continued success.
The studio is continuing to experiment with in-game events, which powered the game to higher revenues on Halloween week than on the week it was featured on the App Store, and has plans to reinvest more profits into user acquisition – the current revenues have been achieved with less than $400,000 spend.
“We can easily see this game sustaining for three to four years, if not more, and the entire baseline is that we continue to iterate,” Hardi enthuses. But Nukebox has more up its sleeve.
“We're fully invested in this one title, but the idea is to be a portfolio company,” he goes on. “Our vision and goal is to become one of the biggest game studios in the world, coming out of India. We can't be a one-trick pony.”
To this end, Nukebox is hoping to grow its workforce 30-40% within six to eight months.
Some have questioned the studio's ambitions to achieve its lofty goals from India, where the pool of games industry professionals is considerably smaller, but Hardi remains confident.
“We believe that the talent definitely is there, it's just perhaps the right people in the wrong places,” he says. “If they're aligned with the right process, we can definitely replicate success.
“We're creating opportunities for people even without the [game development] background, and that's the only way we can grow because we are the process guys. We built a process that can make people independent, so if we nurture and bring in people who can execute, I think we're there.”
The success of Food Truck Chef has gone a long way to convincing Nukebox employees that its rigorous standards – and not to mention the heartache of working on a game that's canned – is worthwhile.
Hardi reports that “the entire mindset of the studio now is completely different. They are so excited, and it's validation for all of us after the persistence and hard work we've put in.”
The hope is that they can keep riding this wave of positivity until Nukebox is dining at the very top table of mobile game development.