Charmie Kim talks on joining the game industry and the creation of Beatstar

Rhythm game Beatstar has gone on to be Space Ape’s biggest hit so far being played by over 50 million people

Charmie Kim talks on joining the game industry and the creation of Beatstar

Beatstar has become a great success for Space Ape Games despite its rocky beginnings. The project hit several bumps in the road during development with the team being cut to just six members. While this was a drawback, the team remained committed and went on to release the game and continue to keep it fresh with new updates. The game has now gone on to reach millions of players and grossed $100 million in just over a year.

We spoke with Space Ape game lead Charmie Kim about getting involved in the gaming industry and going on to leading the team behind Beatstar. We also discuss what makes the mobile sector such a fascinating part of the games market.


How did you get started in the games industry and how did you find yourself in your current position?

I grew up in an immigrant Korean family of two girls and video games were barely a thing. Only when I was in my teens our first family PC arrived with a disc full of shareware and I became obsessed with a Doom-like called Heretic, and I saved up my allowance to buy Tomb Raider. It never occurred to me that I could make games as a career, but I have always been interested in visual experiences, so I focused on installation art at University. After that, I enrolled in the Game Design program at Vancouver Film School and my big break came when I was given an opportunity as a junior designer for one of my mentors in the program.

I joined Space Ape when it was quite small as a Product Manager on our first game Samurai Siege around 8 years ago. At the time, we were learning this new approach of mobile live ops and I was part of a small team that developed a lot of tools and processes that allowed us to operate these quite complex games very efficiently to keep games fresh and exciting for players.

After a few years of operating live games, I was given an opportunity to work on new game development. There I spent several years working on various ideas that never saw the light of day, which could have been quite demoralising but at Space Ape that experience was valued, as we believe that the best way to make a hit game is to stick it out and learn all the lessons from failure and apply those to the next game. Eventually, after around 5 years in R&D I found myself the game lead of a hit game, Beatstar.

Beatstar marks the first game you have led from start to finish, what would you say you learnt from the development process?

Great games come from a team and rarely from individuals with superpowers or special skills. I was the lead on the Beatstar team, which means being close to design, product, and strategy as well as the musical direction. However, my most important contribution was to build and nurture the foundation that allows the team to be successful.

But to direct and inspire the team, it still comes down to making the right creative decisions. There are so many decisions to be made when making a game, and it’s not always obvious which ones are the important ones. Even a small balancing decision can greatly impact the player’s experience. For this I spend a lot of time focused on the question, “how does this make the player feel?”. Whether we’re working on the core mechanic, the core loop, or the meta… I always go back to the feels! Being able to intuit the player’s emotional experience from a design or prototype is my most important ability as a game maker. Game devs are such clever people – it’s easy to approach game making academically. Often, we need to step back and remind ourselves that we’re building an experience, not a piece of technology or a graduate thesis.

What were some of the big challenges you and the team had to overcome?

Making games is just a long series of challenges so it’s hard to name just one!

Looking back at Beatstars journey, the lowest point was when we were pivoting from a rhythm RPG game to the music game we have now. Most of the studio had lost faith in the project and we shrunk the team down from 20+ to 6 so that we could refocus on the core gameplay. That was a real rough patch, although within the 6 of us remaining on the team we had so much passion for what we wanted to do that we hardly noticed the pressures. In hindsight though… Wow, everybody must have thought we were crazy!

Once we were live there was a lot of complexity in keeping the game fresh with updates and song drops that sync up with new album releases. Around this time, the Apple App Store also introduced new features for developers to promote content updates, so it was fun to experiment with new ways to communicate to players and tie in with the activity of artists like Eminem or Ed Sheeran on social media. It’s great to see Apple invest more and more in these tools and it is so motivating for the team when they see the editorial and music teams get so excited about talking about the game on the store.

Beatstar has passed over $100m in total revenue and stands as Space Apes biggest hit to date, what do you see for the future of Beatstar?

I see Beatstar as just the beginning for us. Having a game that has been played by 50m people and grossed $100m in little over a year is cool, and our biggest commercial success as a studio (the next biggest game is Transformers Earth Wars which took 6 years to pass that milestone). However, our ambitions are much bigger than that. We get inspired by games that tens of millions of people play every single day, and which make a mark culturally, and which my kids will have heard of when they are my age. That’s the kind of impact I want to make.

So, what does that mean for Beatstar? We see it as the foundation of our plans in music. We’re currently soft launching a new music game which is live in Canada right now, and we have lots of ideas and expertise in this category. I’m now switching gears to focus on new games development, so I’m excited to see where the Beatstar team takes it as well as what new exciting concepts we come up with next.

What excites you about the mobile games industry and its future?

The potential reach of mobile games continues to be so exciting to me. The other day I was asking my mother who lives in Canada to check out our latest casual game, now in Soft Launch. I had to explain to her how to switch pieces to play match three! As a game dev you take for granted that certain mechanics are universal by now. Yet here is my mom, who has a decent mobile device and has had it for years and has never played a match three game. I’ve seen her play Flash games on PC in the past, but she hardly does anything on PC anymore, all her life is on mobile now. Apps on the App Store have the opportunity to reach 650 million people every week and mobile is the broadest, most accessible gaming platform for the whole world and I still get excited for all the untapped potential.

Can you share with us any details on what we can expect to see from Space Ape in 2023?

We’re currently split into four areas: 1) Music, namely Beatstar plus new music games we’re developing that leverage our expertise and partnerships. 2) Casual. We have an extremely talented team with a game in soft launch now in this category. 3) Midcore, namely our Transformers Earth Wars team which is growing and investing more in the game. 4) We also have a small team exploring new game concepts that I’ll be part of. I’m hopeful that you’ll see the two games we have in soft launch now proceed to global launch this year and that I’ll be talking to you next year about my new game.





Deputy Editor

Paige is the Deputy Editor on who, in the past, has worked in games journalism covering new releases, reviews and news. Coming from a multimedia background, she has dabbled in video editing, photography, graphic and web design! If she's not writing about the games industry, she can probably be found working through her ever-growing game backlog or buried in a good book.