Mobile first gaming group, Modern Times Group, has had quite a year with its portfolio of evergreen games and continued investments within the industry. We recently saw MTG take 100% ownership of PlaySimple, and earlier in the year, it was announced that the company was expanding its gaming village with the acquisition of Snowprint Studios, the team behind Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus.
With such a busy year drawing to a close, we took the opportunity to catch up with Modern Times Group’s CEO, Maria Redin, to reflect on the year and the state of the mobile market, in addition to MTG’s continued growth and plans for 2024.
Pocketgamer.biz: How has the past year been for MTG?
Maria Redin: Our Word Games have performed very strongly throughout the year, and we have continued to scale this part of our portfolio. We’ve also seen a solid performance in tower defense from Bloons TD 6 thanks to a fantastic pipeline of content that has really appealed to players in combination with making the game available on more platforms like Apple Arcade, Netflix and Xbox.
In our mid-core games, the story has been more nuanced. I’m proud to see that the team behind Forge of Empires, one of our most important titles, has done a fantastic job on the live-ops and event content in the game. This has enabled us to drive player engagement and reactivate established players, which made Forge of Empires grow again in Q3. Unfortunately, it continues to be challenging to bring in new players at profitable ROAS levels in this segment. We have always been very disciplined in this respect, but this has impacted our ability to scale our new mid-core games effectively during the last 12 months.
When we look at the business as a whole, the first three quarters of the year have been all about focusing on our execution and building operational momentum, which has enabled us to grow sequentially in Q1, Q2 and Q3, returning to organic growth in Q3.
With Snowprint, all the stars aligned. It’s a very talented team with three founders who have extensive mobile gaming experience.Maria Redin
In October, MTG acquired Snowprint Studios. How did this come about, and what drew MTG to that studio?
With Snowprint, all the stars aligned. It’s a very talented team with two founders who have extensive mobile gaming experience. In a very short amount of time, they have shown the world that they can successfully launch games by iterating on their previous titles.
Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus is an amazing game, and we believe it has a fantastic growth journey ahead. We also believe that we can help the Snowprinters accelerate their evolution by giving them access to our BI and marketing toolkit, as well as helping them with other elements of their expansion.
We’ve just done the deal and are getting to know each other. We need to fully onboard Snowprint and help them get going as part of MTG. I’m really excited about this. It’s our first major deal since 2021, and we have taken our time to find the next members of our gaming village. Now it’s full steam ahead!
How do you go about selecting studios to add to your portfolio? Are there key aspects you are looking for? How can studios that want to be acquired stand out?
We love evergreen titles and believe in strong, international IPs that help attract and retain players.Maria Redin
We see M&A as an important part of our growth journey alongside our organic growth. We are also in a strong position, having significant cash after our sale of ESL Gaming last year. On the other hand, we are not in a rush. We have always been very selective regarding acquisitions and want to make sure that the companies we acquire fit well into our wider portfolio.
First and foremost, it’s about the games. We love evergreen titles and believe in strong, international IPs that help attract and retain players. We also want any new games that get added to our portfolio to have what we call ‘affinity’ to our other titles. This means we are looking for games that sit adjacent to our current titles regarding genre, gameplay elements and complexity.
When it comes to evaluating opportunities, we, of course, also look at the business itself, its growth potential and its financial health. Last but not least, we look at how the management team would fit into our wider group. For us, it’s important to ensure that the cultural match is there and that we can see ourselves working closely together for many years. We want the relationship to be active and go both ways, so we want to see how we can contribute to our studio’s success through the tools and knowledge we have in the group and how they can help us evolve our Gaming Village.
What are your thoughts on the current mobile games market? Are there any big trends you are seeing or challenges?
It’s not enough to have a good game. You have to be great at every part of the process, from development to onboarding to live-ops.Maria Redin
It has become clearer as the year has progressed that our industry is showing positive traction again. At the same time, we need to look at things in a more granular way. As I mentioned, we still see challenges in marketing in the mid-core segment. Visibility here is more limited. At the same time, the ad markets and the marketing environment for casual games have been much more positive.
Our job is to continue delivering fantastic content that keeps players engaged. We are definitely out of the Covid effect and are living with the new realities of marketing games in a post-ATT world. Excellence really is a requirement. It’s not enough to have a good game. You have to be great at every part of the process, from development to onboarding to live-ops. I would say that player retention is critical, as the cost of acquiring a new player is vastly higher than the cost of retaining or reactivating an existing one. At the same time, our progress continues to be supported by some of the most solid demographic, technological and social trends in any industry. Altogether, this means we will be able to bring players fantastic experiences for many years to come, both in our current games and in new titles we will launch.
Is there something that particularly excites you at the moment in the mobile industry?
Yes, definitely. I think there is fantastic talent out there. We see many game developers with the passion, drive and entrepreneurial spirit we seek. At the same time, the way our industry is developing, it is becoming more challenging for independent studios to scale, even if they have fantastic games.
This is where we can come in and help. We think of what we are trying to build as a global Gaming Village, a place that game makers actively want to be part of. This means trying to find a balanced way of managing gaming companies and working together with gaming entrepreneurs to promote creativity and innovation while providing support and steering where needed.
All in all, I think we are heading into an exciting 2024 in a pretty strong position.Maria Redin
We are also working on creating a central layer of commercial tools and skills that game makers can access when needed to help them accelerate their growth. I think we are at a very interesting point in time in the evolution of our industry, and we are very strongly positioned to help talented teams grow their business.
What can we expect to see from MTG now that we are approaching the end of the year and going into 2024?
For us, it’s about finishing 2023 as strong as possible and successfully maintaining our positive momentum going into 2024. We have just completed the acquisition of Snowprint Studios, so we have some work to do on bringing them on board and helping them plug into the BI and user acquisition tools we have in the group.
All in all, I think we are heading into an exciting 2024 in a pretty strong position. Our racing studio, Hutch, just launched a new game called Forza Customs, and we have several new titles planned for launch next year, so we have an exciting time ahead of us.