10 years is a significant milestone for a lot of things, and game studios are no exception.
Ten Square Games is a fast-growing Polish studio, best known for its mobile titles, Fishing Clash, Hunting Clash and Wild Hunt. The correlation? Ten Square Games has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
PocketGamer.biz caught up with Ten Square Games CEO Maciej Zużałek to discuss the company's origins, its core values, and the studio's future plans as it celebrates 10 years in the industry.
PocketGamer.biz: It’s been a decade since the foundation of Ten Square Games and more than two years since going public. How has the company grown in that time?
Maciej Zużałek: Within this decade, we have grown from a start-up, founded by a group of gaming and technology enthusiasts in a 10 sq. metre room, to a diversified and data-driven business listed in Warsaw Stock Exchange and valued at above US$ 1 billion, with a strong portfolio of F2P games.
The roots of TSG are in social media as the company founders were successful in building Poland’s first leading social network. An important fact that the company was started in Wrocław, which is the country’s centre for college and university STEM education. This all has given us this unique DNA, where passion and talent for building games is combined with business intelligence, machine learning, data analysis and process automation. All these elements are just as important as creativity and the quality of the games we offer to the player.
What is your vision for TSG? What will be the key growth drivers for the company, and the industry, in the near future?
The industry is going to continue to evolve. With this in mind, we’re focusing on three pillars of our strategy for further growth, that is: ongoing expansion of our hub in Wrocław, development of new studios in other locations, as well as intensive M&A activity. To start with, we want to ensure further organic growth of our Wrocław hub by making it even more talent oriented, so it serves not only as our gaming development centre, but also as the group’s infrastructure for business intelligence, user acquisition and access to finance.
We want our group to be more diversified. Starting the previous year with a single Wrocław studio, we’re now also located in Warsaw, and soon will be in Berlin. Whilst Warsaw is in full swing working on a new game, Berlin is starting from building our consumer insights team and later in the year it will turn into a full production studio.
We’re also open to new teams that may want to join us with their talents in different European locations. Whether a small studio willing to launch their game, a mid-size business searching for expansion, or a transformational M&A worth over US$ 100 million, we can share our infrastructure and knowledge with them. Our fast decision making, strong product teams, analytical support from BI as well as Growth and UA experts will allow a potential partner to rapidly scale and improve their operations in a short amount of time.
Ten Square Games has grown from just three to over three hundred people – how do you ensure you keep your company culture while still growing the team?
We’ve gone a long way from learning the game dev industry, through boosting our development potential, to the moment when we are in a position to continue to build games in Wrocław, but also share our know-how with our teams or companies willing to join us. As we’ve kept growing in terms of the number of teams and games, we continue our start-up philosophy where thinking on your feet, the decisiveness of people using their talents and ambitions, are the key to success.
Sure, our organisation has expanded. At the end of 2019, we had nearly 220 people aboard, 98 per cent of whom were Polish. Twelve months later, we’re stronger with 320 team members. Nearly 30 per cent of the 100 new joiners came from abroad, bringing to our business their unique perspective and experience.
We are working to maintain a culture oriented on entrepreneurship, creativity, the autonomy of teams and mutual trust. However, we also needed to adapt our structure for greater agility. For us, the answer is a relatively flat structure, in which each of our 9 game development teams works autonomously, with other teams supporting our core development activities.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected Ten Square Games, if at all?
The mobile gaming sector changed significantly in 2020, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak. By adapting to this situation, we were able to significantly scale-up our business. Back in March, when the pandemic started, we ran analyses and decided to sharply increase our UA spend to reach out to a much wider audience. Thanks to fast decision making, supported by our BI analysis, we were able to increase our marketing budgets by a factor of over 6x within a period of one and a half months.
In particular, in April and May, based on precise statistical models, we conducted a very successful campaign for our blockbuster - ‘Fishing Clash’. As a result, we were able to increase the player base of ‘Fishing Clash’, our flagship game, from c. 17 million in 2019 to 40 million throughout 2020. ‘Fishing Clash’ proved its leadership in the sports/simulation segment and became one of the top 50 grossing games globally in Google Play. As the newly-acquired users will stay with us for a while, we will continue to benefit from our decision to invest in user acquisition for quarters to come.
What do you think is the key to maintaining the success of a game years after its initial launch?
A good portion of our games are designed to live long and keep engaging players. Key to longevity is continuous improvement of the games by e.g. offering new contents, parameters or live ops and this is core of our DNA. Creativity is very important but we supplement it with science and data that allows us to strive for longevity. Machine learning system we developed, the degree to which we use AB testing and constant review and reaction to the market trends are the key ingredients to the success of our long-lasting games.
It’s still uncertain how the market will keep responding to the pandemic and what opportunities there will be in user acquisition.
What are your plans for your games and business over the next 12 months?
It will be a great, yet challenging in 12 months. It’s still uncertain how the market will keep responding to the pandemic and what opportunities there will be in user acquisition. That’s why we focus on organic growth and business intelligence to spot potential growth areas. Also, our portfolio is growing. In just a few months from the global launch, ‘Hunting Clash’, a younger brother of ‘Fishing Clash’, became the second-largest game in our portfolio with lots to go for.
In the meantime, we continue to work on our new projects in the Wrocław hub to further explore the hobby niche (we have a golf game in development and we will focus on getting it ready) as well as to look for a new mass-market theme. In our new studio in Warsaw, we are currently working on a new project targeted at a wide audience, and Berlin is the next logical location for us to expand organically. Furthermore, we’re looking into finding opportunities for cooperation with new platforms, both globally and locally, including in China. In particular, we’ve been working with Netease on the publishing of Fishing Clash. Also, we continue to actively search to grow the TSG family via M&A.
What is your outlook for the mobile games industry in 2020 and beyond?
The mobile games market is big and already constitutes half of the entire gaming industry, and this share is very likely to grow even further. I think consumers will continue to spend more time on their smartphones, which will continue to drive the growth of the FTP market and, despite its competitiveness, it is great to be playing in this growth market space.
Moreover, UA costs have been growing and the art will continue to be in finding gameplay models that allow to build a user base at rising costs. IDFA, the potential impact of which has been widely discussed by the industry, will be another puzzle to solve in 2021 but we really need to see what it means when the market will start to react to the changes.
Last but not least the entire market is consolidating and we want to participate in that as we have much to offer to smaller studios which would want to join our family and breath the air we breathe. This is our aim and this is what working together should be all about.