Scopely sits as one of the biggest games publishers in the world, with hit titles such as the currently massively popular Monopoly GO! And Stumble Guys under its belt. The company was also recently part of one of the gaming industries biggest deals when it was acquired by Savvy Games Group. But what were the beginnings of Scopely?
We caught up with Scopely co-founder Eric Futoran to discuss his start in the gaming industry, the challenges of founding Scopely in 2011 and what he is most proud of from his time there. Futoran also shares details on his work after stepping away from Scopely to create Embrace in 2016 which helps mobile teams create the best games possible.
Pocketgamer.biz: Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the games industry?
Eric Futoran: Not unlike many successful game founders, I didn’t initially start out building a game company. Instead, I identified an acute user problem.
In 2010, Facebook was at its heyday and the centre of the app ecosystem – especially gaming. Farmville, CandyCrush, and others, even Spotify, all leveraged Facebook’s APIs for growth and monetisation. But what all these apps didn’t have was a naturally social fabric. People clamoured to connect and chat with like-minded users in near real-time, and not through a mechanic, like gifting, that posted directly to their social newsfeed. They wanted to know who else was out there, ready to interact. That’s where I got my start, building apps to connect users who desired a more fulfilling connection than generally simplistic games could provide and within the confines of Facebook.
Perhaps the biggest challenge any game developer or publisher faces is understanding the key metrics of a game and when and how to take action from them.Eric Futoran
What were some of the challenges of building Scopely? And what are you most proud of from your days there?
Perhaps the biggest challenge any game developer or publisher faces is understanding the key metrics of a game and when and how to take action from them.
I feel for all of the game developers out there. We all struggle with decisions to kill a game, release a feature, or prioritise a new vendor integration. I was constantly paranoid that a game release would not hit its numbers or that a big hit would tank. All of this comes down to understanding LTV versus effective CPIs. These metrics tell you whether you have a potential hit, a bomb, or a great game that just may go into the tanker. What these metrics don't tell you is when and how to act because what drives those two metrics is tough to discern, especially with limited data and imperfect data sources. It was super tough!
Outside of hiring great people, many who run Scopely today, I'm most proud that we built a data-driven, methodical machine to make better day-to-day decisions around the trade-offs to build games that release successfully and keep growing for years.
Why did you decide to start Embrace?
While I was kicking off and building the current, ultra successful model of game publishing that brought Scopely to its present position, I gained a ground floor understanding of the mobile ecosystem. Specifically, I identified significant gaps that every game team expressed frustration about. The main gap was caused by the lack of vendors who truly understood the needs of mobile teams, particularly engineers.
Focusing on that need, two opportunities were too good to pass up.
One which I helped found was MaxAds, acquired by AppLovin. MaxAds was built to finally have an ads vendor with the same incentives as the game engineers – a focus on user experiences by simplifying the morass of ad vendors and their opaque SDKs. (In fact, we are continuing to help solve the user experience gap with Embrace.)
The second gap I pursued was Embrace.
Mobile is all about the people and their details. The tools before Embrace didn't have end-users in mind or store the data to improve their unique experiences. The ecosystem required a platform to help manage the complexity of mobile to help engineers build better, bolder experiences.
While at Scopely, we had so many tools, and none were purpose-built for mobile teams, especially for games. Game engineers take pride in building great experiences and love seeing people play their games. However, with no platforms available to get all user experience data in one place, the game teams and I were forced to cobble together tools. We integrated app performance monitoring (APM) and real user monitoring (RUM) vendors who repurposed web and server-side ideologies to mobile.
What I wanted was a single platform that fundamentally understood the seemingly basic tenets that every mobile user is unique and that each of their experiences are important. So, I gathered a team and started building in 2016.
Mobile gaming is by far our fastest growing customer category.Eric Futoran
Embrace recently raised an additional $20m. How do you intend to use those funds?
Our recent roundup, bringing our total raised to date to $70 million, is to continue to invest in Embrace’s growth. The round was strategically timed to shift out from quiet momentum to a louder go to market.
Not surprising based on our team’s expertise, we are investing even further in solutions specifically for game developers, who we understand and serve better than any of our competitors. We have resonance across several app categories, such as E-commerce, Travel, and Media, and we have great momentum with games. Wildlife, Take-Two, and Miniclip are just a few examples; mobile gaming is by far our fastest growing customer category.
Can you tell us about the difficulty mobile teams face in finding and diagnosing performance issues? And how can they best combat these issues?
Mobile is the most personal technology of our lives. We are on it all day through work, life, and play. Because mobile is about people and their environments, it is also the most complex technology. Mobile engineering teams face an infinite permutation of challenges and only have fragmented solutions and minimal data to tackle them. This results in a constant struggle for answers. When a team is faced with an inability to quickly determine what an issue was or why it occurred, they waste valuable time and can get demoralised.
For example, without resources like Embrace, managing ANR (app not responding) rates in games can be extremely challenging. This is due to the complexity of games, the scale of users, the variety of devices, constantly adding new content, and the failure of existing tools to really pinpoint the root cause of issues with any specificity or depth.
Session-level data, and a play-by-play of everything that led up to a crash or ANR, helps teams tackle critical issues that can cause revenue loss.
Just think of all the issues caused by problematic SDKs - wouldn’t you like to be able to easily pinpoint the culprit in a widespread issue in your game? I lived through those fire drills on the game side and am loving being able to solve them for many, many engineers from the Embrace side.
While we see hyper casual games pop in and out, the games that really grab users for longer than a week or month have a story and an immersive experience to match.Eric Futoran
What do you think are some of the biggest trends in gaming right now? What is the next big thing?
I would love to say the Apple Vision Pro, but I think that one is a ways away from reaching maturity. This isn’t like the initial iPhone release when the first solitaire games submitted became multimillion-dollar assets overnight.
If we look back at mobile gaming trends over the last 12 years, we can see some thematic trends: increasingly social mechanics, faster and more interactive gameplay, and more immersive, higher quality experiences.
For all three, the primary driver is the ever rising expectations of each user for their next game and the corresponding ever rising quality of the games.
I took a large part in the trend of AAA immersive gaming coming to mobile. For those games that have a long-lived role in the app stores, they are becoming more engaging, often movie-like, and engrossing. While we see hyper casual games pop in and out, the games that really grab users for longer than a week or month have a story and an immersive experience to match. Just compare AmongUs, StumbleGuys - the latest successful casual games - with that of solitaire. Even in the same genre, those most recent games take orders of magnitude more time, and patience, to develop and release.
The vendors to support the mobile game teams must follow suit and innovate. With teams developing these higher quality experiences, they will expect their tools to grow beyond the table stakes of crashes and into more advanced optimisation identification and instant resolutions. The game teams’ expectations will advance to fulfill the higher expectations of users.
And on the other side, what do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the mobile games market?
The challenge of consistently delivering the best possible mobile experiences weighs heavily on engineering teams, and as we all know, the best games rank and win.
Embrace’s own data shows that mobile games rank the lowest of all app genres across iOS and Android in terms of good user experiences. We consistently see that games have more user-terminated sessions and ANRs versus other app categories.
We know that 50% of app users say they experience an app issue daily, such as slow startups, freezes, crashes, unresponsive buttons, etc. And on the flip side of this, mobile engineers tell us their biggest challenge in app development today is monitoring app performance. The complexity can be overwhelming.
With the changes to how the Google Play Store ranks games and the importance of keeping the LTV to CPI equation balanced, mobile game leaders should be hypersensitive to how technical issues will impact ranking and user retention. Poor user experiences stemming from technical issues can be incredibly difficult to identify and resolve without the right tooling, and I have lived it.
What makes games so great is that closeness to your end-user. Unlike any other business, what you do directly affects them.Eric Futoran
Do you have any advice you would offer mobile game developers?
For all the game developers out there who are engineers: You may feel like complaints are never ceasing and that your PM’s or CEO’s complaints when they come to your proverbial desk are super frustrating. Don’t lose faith and become numb to solving issues. Too many engineers stop addressing complaints, solving issues, and improving the end-user experiences because they care too much and thus are worn down into complacency.
What makes games so great is that closeness to your end-user. Unlike any other business, what you do directly affects them. When you make the startup faster or fix that seemingly small bug, you are one step closer to giving your users the experience they always wanted. And fortunately, you are directly affecting the metrics that matter most. Startup speed improves cohort retention and, thus effective CPIs. Fixing small bugs improves propensity to play and pay and thus LTVs.
So stay close to the metrics!
And finally, is there anything we should be on the lookout for from Embrace?
We think the best products in the DevTools space are ones that real engineers actually use. So we’re thinking a lot about how we remove pain and toil from game developers’ everyday lives.
A lot of these things seem simple, but are in reality pretty tough to do cross-platform, reliably, without introducing crashes or performance issues in your app, and then assembled in a way that makes sense to human beings. We think a lot of the new things we’re rolling out every day do that well, so that game developers can focus on creating great experiences!