PocketGamer.biz spoke to Hugo Furneaux about the creation of PlayEmber, a new joint venture between App Design Company and Boomhits.
PocketGamer.biz: So PlayEmber and Hugo - please introduce yourselves!
Hugo Furneaux: Hi, I’m Hugo Furneaux from Folkestone, South East of England.
I’m the founder and CEO of App Design Company which has, over the last 2 years, created a run of hit games grossing in excess of 50 million downloads with Lion, Voodoo and Kwalee.
A couple of months ago we created and launched a joint venture with Boomhits' parent company, where we now will move into games development and publishing as PlayEmber.
We already gained 14 million downloads in only four months since launch across titles including Raft Life and Hyper Cards.
What was it about the investment / joint venture model that made sense vs the existing F2P publishing model?
We were dabbling with trying to do it all ourselves - user acquisition (UA), design, development, et cetera, as we wanted to grow our business and we got to a point where giving the intellectual property (IP) of our games to external publishers wasn’t an option. I think there is a truth vs reality of self-publishing!
Our goal is to grow into a large, profitable games company that manages everything in-houseHugo Furneaux
Whilst it can be great working in the traditional hypercasual publishing model, we craved a solution that would not only provide us with full transparency over user acquisition and monetisation data but also where we remained in full control of the development and publishing process.
What we didn’t want was a dressed-up publishing model where essentially it's still the publisher that benefits.
Our goal is to grow into a large, profitable games company that manages everything in-house. We feel that the joint-venture model provides the perfect opportunity to achieve this by building a strong portfolio of games and gaining knowledge of every step of the process.
Your latest hit with PlayEmber was Hyper Cards, a top card game in over 50 countries. Tell us the story of this game?
The idea behind this game was based on a satisfying real-life experience whilst growing up.
We were reminiscing about opening Panini Football sticker packs and Pokemon cards, and the excitement you would get when you got a shiny card or sticker that you were missing from your collection. The initial testing phase delivered good cost-per-install results but poor user retention.
We decided to put the game on the back burner, this was until the team at BoomHits pitched the concept of adding a card-trading mechanic to the game. The addition of this feature resulted in creating stickiness in the game which allowed us to push to a full global launch.
We’ve really enjoyed the move into developing games with more meta.Hugo Furneaux
The next steps in the evolution of the game focus on implementing a hybrid monetization strategy and introducing a competitive element through casual PvP contests
You already published nine hypercasual games and have now successfully moved into idle games with Raft Life and hybrid games life Hyper Cards, what have you learned here vs classic hypercasual games?
On a personal note, we’ve really enjoyed the move into developing games with more meta. We’ve learned a lot more about the importance of analytical events within games.
Hyper-Casual game events can be as simple as level start, level fail, level complete. Being able to highlight blocks in funnels has allowed us to make more informed decisions about edits to our idle games.
And also changing the mentality of hypercasual where you rush everything, it's just about low cost-per-install (CPI) to actually making a game and focusing on playtime and the average revenue per user (ARPU).
How do you see F2P games evolving?
First of all, I think there will always be a massive market for simple addictive hypercasual games, it’s more competitive than ever from a developer viewpoint, but those snackable games aren’t going anywhere!
It's a question if these kinds of games are sustainable for game studios, sure you can make money creating prototypes for publishers but what is the long-term play here for small teams outside of living hand to mouth on pay per prototype deals?
What we do expect and what is happening now is squeezing more and more out of fun hyper-casual mechanics and moving them into other free-to-play genres. Using idle arcade as an example, studios are using hypercasual mechanics and integrating them into idle arcade games, changing a low lifetime value (LTV) game into one with more depth, higher retention and larger LTVs.
It's a question if these kinds of games are sustainable for game studiosHugo Furneaux
And of course monetisation - chasing low CPI we see as a race to the bottom. It's about building games with solid day seven (D7) average revenue per user (ARPU) that then give you the breathing room to develop the game without fear of copycats and then scale profitably.
What does the future hold for PlayEmber?
Sustainable growth and quality over quantity. We want to really innovate in F2P games mixing different mechanics and monetisation models. Our ‘hit rate’ after the joint venture has been around 25 per cent and we want to keep that up along with hiring more skilled Unity developers and designers.
We believe a big reason behind our recent success has been our solid code base. For example, we now have an in-depth, idle arcade code base that can be restructured, with relative ease, into a vastly different game with high retention.
One thing that we feel sets us apart from other studios or publishers is that we are proactively reaching out to skilled Unity developers to come to join us and work on developing the base code of our previous hits. What better to base a game on than a game that you know already works!
From a business perspective, the goal for PlayEmber is to reach IPO status within the next 24-36 months, which will be the catalyst for unlocking our next phase of growth.
We are actively looking for new team members to come and join us on this exciting journey, exploring a diverse range of growth opportunities, new office locations, and the potential of acquiring or publishing on behalf of other studios.
On the PlayEmber joint venture and investment, BoomHits CEO Jon Hook commented:
From the moment Hugo and ADC partnered with us, it's been a pleasure. The team have the winning formula in terms of understanding development and design, speed of ideation and testing that we successfully applied to several game genres, not just classic ad-based hypercasual games.
And this process has now been proven after publishing four games together and achieved with a very agile team versus a giant prototype factory. We are really excited to help Hugo and the team now deliver their vision for PlayEmber!”
“At BoomHits we are reinventing the traditional publishing model for F2P mobile games. We have built a process to identify, invest and rapidly grow games studios that want more than just a publishing deal.
These partnerships are built on total transparency over the development and marketing/distribution process and a mutual desire to bring innovation to mobile games.
The team have the winning formula in terms of understanding development and design, speed of ideation and testing.Jon Hook
Think of it as combining VC investment, strategic support ( hiring, M&A, legal, HR, finance support) and all the tools and services you would expect from a leading mobile games publisher ( BI, UA, creative, live ops, game design, development/art support) all rolled into a single partnership.
Game development, genres and technology are changing rapidly. So it's vital for developers and studios that the publishing model evolves just as fast!”
BoomHits is reinventing the traditional publishing model for F2P mobile games. The company has built a process to identify and invest in studios that want more than just a publishing deal and total control and transparency over the development, marketing and distribution process.
Think of it as taking the best part of venture capital (VC) investment. Funding of course, but also strategic support - hiring, merger and acquisition (M&A), legal support as well as all the tools and support developers would get from a publisher such as business intelligence (BI), UA, creative, live ops and experience across both ad-funded and in-app purchase (IAP) games.