“We do great content. We don't do smart business schemes.”
Those are the words of Tactile Games CEO Asbjoern Malte Soendergaard during an interview at this year's GDC. It’s a statement that ultimately sums up the somewhat unassuming studio’s culture: focus on the game, innovate, and success will follow. Don’t chase the latest fads for a quick cash grab.
It’s a philosophy that has served the developer well. Despite flying under the radar, its flagship mobile game, narrative-driven match-three blast title Lily’s Garden, is one of the most successful launches for a European studio over the last five years.
To date, the title has generated $517 million worldwide in lifetime player spending across the App Store and Google Play, according to data.ai estimates. Meanwhile, it followed that hit up with Penny & Flo, which has accumulated $60 million since its release, and in March 2023 the company launched a brand new puzzle game, Makeover Match.
The big pivot
The journey to becoming a hugely successful mobile games studio didn’t start that way, however. Similar to heavyweights in the industry like Supercell and Playrix, Tactile Games actually started out eyeing up a different platform entirely. Following his time at Crysis maker Crytek, Soendergaard set up the studio as a PC games developer. But eventually, the company pivoted to mobile, launching Lily’s Garden in 2019 - a decade after it was founded - and it has never looked back.
One of our biggest achievements is that we were the first company that really brought storytelling at scale to a female audience.Asbjoern Malte Soendergaard
“Early on in the company lifecycle, we were testing a lot of different concepts,” says Soendergaard. “Our first game was a Tamagotchi game. We did line drawing games. We did all kinds of different titles that were exciting to us at that point in time. And then, eventually, looking at the data, looking at who was advertising our products and so on, we ended up prototyping match-three games. That's how we came into being the company we are today.”
Lily’s Garden was crafted using that approach to data and market research, analysing top trends and then finding a way to innovate for a specific segment, in this case, match-three. Soendergaard says the team was ultimately able to find success by adding meaningful storytelling alongside the core gameplay, targeted at an audience of women. While titles such as Playrix’s Gardenscapes and Homescapes had shown a highly lucrative path forward for narrative-driven puzzle games, Lily’s Garden struck a chord with an underserved audience.
“I think one of our biggest achievements is that we were the first company that really brought storytelling at scale to a female audience, telling stories that were actually relatable and meaningful to that audience,” says Soendergaard.
To create such relatable stories requires a diverse team, and Tactile has put together exactly that. Soendergaard says almost 50% of the company are women, who are all in on catering to this underserved player market. Part of the vision for the company is simple but incredibly successful: tell the best stories for a female audience.
Innovation and marketing
That vision is backed up by market research and data. Soendergaard isn’t a fan of the term ‘prototyping’ when it comes to the company developing new ideas, as he feels this is too simplistic a term for the studio’s approach. Before the team even puts together a line of code, it tests how concepts will resonate with an audience. If the idea works, it can build from there.
Research and marketing then - which Lily’s Garden is famous for - is a critical part of how Tactile carefully crafts successful games. Marketing is integrated early on, which Soendergaard says represents “half the success” of the product. Without that integration early on, “you will not have a product you can market”.
“For us, a clear vision is that we want to be the best at doing casual puzzle games,” says Soendergaard. “We want to be one of those companies that are going to be at the top of the App Store in these categories in five and 10 years from now. I think, from that perspective, it's really just about product excellence, and then increasingly, it also becomes the whole entire marketing funnel, which is something that cannot be ignored by the game team.”
Of course, marketing is just one factor - albeit a critical one - in a game’s success. It needs to be backed up by live ops on the product side too. To that end, Tactile Games has kept the title a success for the last four years, adding regular new story beats to keep players coming back.
Soendergaard says building a live ops platform and pipeline is fundamental to being successful in the modern market. “In many ways, mobile gaming now is like triple-A gaming used to be. You have to have massive teams and a lot of content.”
While building a strong live ops strategy won’t be news to PocketGamer.biz readers, Soendergaard elaborates further by saying it’s not only important for one game, such as Lily’s Garden, but the tools and technology investment can be carried over to future projects. In Tactile’s case, that includes Penny & Flo and the recent launch of Makeover Match.
“Using that technology across your games becomes important because when a game in itself is such a big investment from a technology point of view and from a production point of view, you need to be able to leverage the technology you built across multiple productions,” he says.
All about the games
As Tactile looks to the future, the focus it has maintained on innovating concepts for its core audience remains undiminished. It has no interest in chasing fads like web3, which Soendergaard states currently offer “more distraction than disruption”.
Rather than look for “quick capital gains”, for the team at Tactile, it’s all about the games, and it aims to maintain its position as a successful mobile developer, regardless of what other companies are doing.
“We do great content. We don't do smart business schemes. And I think the through line of our company history is that we are trying to do the best possible content, and then I think engagement will follow, and eventually manifestation and players will follow as well.”