Interview

Rollic CEO talks Zynga acquisition, top-charting games, and how to dominate a fast-paced hypercasual market

Burak Vardal looks back on the last six months

Rollic CEO talks Zynga acquisition, top-charting games, and how to dominate a fast-paced hypercasual market

2020 was undoubtedly the gaming industry’s biggest year yet when talking acquisitions. As the mobile business continues to boom and app stores become more saturated than ever before, it is getting harder and harder to be seen, and support from a bigger studio can be a lifeline in some situations.

Turkish studio Rollic sought to dodge these difficulties under the new ownership of mobile giant, Zynga. The acquisition closed in October 2020, six months ago. Rollic already had an impressive hypercasual roster of games; High Heels and Blob Runner 3D both enjoyed stints at the top of the App Store. The support of a player such as Zynga has ensured that the company can stay on top.

PocketGamer.biz caught up with Rollic CEO Burak Vardal to catch up on the last six months at Rollic, how the acquisition has shaped the business for the better, and how the studio functions to create long-lasting, hypercasual hits.

PocketGamer.biz: So to kick off, how has the acquisition benefitted Rollic so far? Perhaps new hires, resources or growth?

Burak Vardal: The acquisition has been good for Rollic as we continue to scale our overall business and team. We are seeing a lot of benefits through the synergy of how our two companies work together and our shared in-depth knowledge of the industry. We are very excited to marry our diversified products and to fuse the knowledge that comes with Zynga’s forever franchises into our games. Together, we are creating the perfect combination to create the next big thing in mobile gaming.

How active is Zynga in Rollic’s operations now?

Joining Zynga was an easy decision for us because we knew that our core publishing operations wouldn’t have to change following the acquisition. I believe hypercasual is very niche with production, marketing and monetisation being unique in comparison to other genres within Zynga’s portfolio. Rollic benefits greatly from Zynga’s depth of experience with the dynamics of the different games in their portfolio and we plan to continue to do so.

Both High Heels! and Blob Runner 3D are enjoying a stint at the top of the App Store charts. What is it about these games that is keeping them at the top?

We are very happy with how both High Heels! and Blob Runner 3D turned out to be iconic games that every gamer can enjoy. Both games have very unique dynamics with a lot of engaging characteristics; including the diversity of characters, catchy mechanics, and attractive gameplay features. Our prior experiences helped us add distinctive features while strengthening the in-game dynamics. The enthusiasm stemming from our players gives us the opportunity to come up with many more gameplay ideas that they can enjoy.

High Heels is Rollic's top title. Images: Rollic

I noticed that High Heels!’ positive rating on the App Store was bolstered by five-star meme-inspired reviews. Is this cutting-edge marketing, or an unpredictable anomaly?

We are thrilled by the overwhelming organic positive responses and ratings High Heels! has received since we launched the game. The responses have all been organic and are not part of our marketing strategy, although we are all familiar with the meme-inspired reviews, and enjoy seeing them. I believe these reviews came about from the sincerity, inclusivity and authenticity of the game. It is a very relatable game that any person can enjoy and we are thrilled to see the High Heels! community grow.

While these reviews are beneficial for the game’s installs and overall rating, do you think this inauthentic feedback will hurt the title long-term?

Reiterating what I previously noted, the feedback is completely authentic. The reviews for the game are all organic and not part of our marketing strategy.’

What would you say are Rollic’s key strategies for publishing, and for maintaining chart positions in such a fast-moving hypercasual market?

First of all, Rollic’s key strategies are “speed” and having a strong “data intuition.” Our team is very familiar with the industry and gaming dynamics. They are very good at combining distinctive elements in a fast-paced environment. We test all our games. We analyse the data in-depth and try to quickly understand what “works” and what doesn't. Failing quickly has allowed us to win in this market.

Failing quickly has allowed us to win in this market.

Secondly, we saw a production potential in Turkey and took this opportunity to prioritise our local studio partnerships. This initial approach helped us create the basis of a great publishing community. Finally, we’ve created a strong, game culture: instead of thinking like a marketing company, we made sure gaming culture and game production culture is at the center of all our operations.

Is there anything that the independent Rollic once struggled to do, that is now doable with Zynga’s support?

We genuinely appreciate Zynga’s support and guidance. Rollic is a gamer family, consisting of 80 team members, with a very sincere culture. We are very happy to be a part of the greater Zynga family and leverage their breadth of experience as an industry leader - especially their understanding of creating beloved franchises that people enjoy for years.

What advice would you give to studios that are in the position you were a year ago, that are perhaps seeking an acquisition opportunity?

The basis truly lays in working hard and staying focused. One essential thing to note is that you should keep your focus on the core of their product, rather than trying to establish a successful “business.” It is very important to understand the nature of what you are doing, why you have failed - which you will many times - and what will be the next step to overcome any adversity that comes your way. Once you achieve success, the same process occurs all over again.

What are Rollic’s plans for 2021?

We’ll be consistently improving our existing titles and continue publishing new ones each month. It’s as simple as that. Keeping our focus on what matters, the product. This approach helped us scale rather quickly without distraction. We plan on continuing what we do best.

Editor

Danielle Partis is editor of PocketGamer.biz and former editor of InfluencerUpdate.biz. She was named Journalist of the Year at the MCV Women in Games Awards 2019, as well as in the MCV 30 under 30 2020. Prior to Steel Media, she wrote about music and games at Team Rock.

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