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Top 50 Mobile Game Developers of 2016

The shakers, movers and moneymakers
Top 50 Mobile Game Developers of 2016

Welcome to's Top 50 developer list for 2016.

Now in its seventh year, it continues to demonstrate just how global and dynamic the mobile game industry is.

Of course, just like app store top grossing charts, at the top there's less movement.

It's become increasingly clear that in the west, the developers who - through a combination of luck and expertise - released a successful F2P game in 2012 and 2013 have been the biggest winners of the western mobile games explosion.

It's now much harder to repeat that level of success with new games, although that's exactly what the best companies have done and will continue to do.

Global vision

Elsewhere in the world, the situation is different.

Funded by local success, the most profitable Japanese, Korean and Chinese developers are spending big ­- both in terms of localising their content and investing in western companies -­ to take their success global.

And, more generally, the 2016 list shows how quickly the situation can change for any mobile games company with less than $1 billion in sales.

A single hit game can spark, delivering $100 million of revenue in a year.

A single hit game can spark, delivering $100 million of revenue in a year, while failures are more expensive and less easy to predict than ever before.

Reducing risk, not upside

That's why many developers are doubling­ down on a single specialism.

For example, this year's list includes companies betting everything on wearables or mobile eSports, while many others are harnessing their operational expertise to external IP to breakthrough the marketing stalemale.

Yet even in such an environment, there are shining examples of teams -­ both experienced and not ­- who are only laser focused on their games, and getting their reward from a global audience of billions of players who are always on the look out for something new.

Behind the numbers

In terms of the methodology behind our list, many factors combine.

Certainly one of them is financial success. Players spending money is a good indication of a quality experience, and this - both headline turnover and profitability (of course, not always publicly available information) - is something that drives position rank, particularly at the top end of our list.


(But, please note, this is not a list of the top grossing mobile game companies. If you want an estimate of that, refer to App Annie's annual list.)

Instead, we are also interested in wider issues: is a company successfully operating in different global regions (or just one); across many - and/or different - platforms; running a single big title or experimenting with different genres and themes; and looking to expand?

We particularly love to reward ambitious startups who are attempting to innovate and shake up the entire market.

Soft power

We also take into account a company's soft power: how does it present itself to players and the industry at large?

And we love to reward ambitious startups who are attempting to innovate and shake up the entire market.

But, let's be clear. The lodestone running throughout our entire process is the quality of each developer's game(s).

For, not only is this list an attempt to gauge the top developers over the past 12 months, it's also the attempt to highlight those who will be making the headlines over the year.

And the quality of a company's mobile games is - in my opinion - the best (if not the only) measure of this.

Note: Our list was compiled during February 2016, with additional information added during March 2016

#50: Gameloft


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Gameloft »

HQ: Paris, France
Sales: $290 million (2015)
Headcount: 6,000 (21 studios)
Key staff: Michel Guillemot (CEO)
Key games: Dungeon Hunter 5, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, Asphalt 8: Airborne
Structure: EPA: GFT
M&A: Currently fighting off a hostile bid from Vivendi

The waters are currently choppy for veteran mobile developer Gameloft.

Highly successful in the days of Java gaming where it combined a large headcount - predominately based in low cost countries such as India and China - with operational smarts for making a lot of paid games, it's been struggling to monetise in a world of free-to-play and games-as-a-service.

The appeal of its titles or its reach in terms of distribution has never been a doubt, though.

It regularly ranks at the top of app stores in term of most downloads: in 2015, it ranked #2 globally across the Apple App Store and Google Play.

And its annual sales aren't tiny either: $290 million in 2015, although it was also loss-making.


Indeed, unlike companies like EA Mobile and Glu Mobile, which started in a similar era and have weathered the same transition, it's never had a big free-to-play hit, financially at least.

Stormy waters

That's the background to the current internal restructuring that's seen the closure of 10 studios (it still has 21 remaining) and the loss of 850 staff.

It's also what triggered weak financials and share price, enabling Vivendi to make its hostile takeover bid.

Through deals such as a strategic partnership with Japanese giant GungHo Online, and a plan to generate more revenue and profits - it predicts sales of $390 million in 2018 - Gameloft hopes to persuade its investors and shareholders it doesn't need any external help.

Launching a hit free-to-play game in 2016 will go a long way to demonstrating its credibility.

#49: Metacore


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Metacore »

HQ: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $2 million)
Headcount: c.10
Key staff: Aki Jarvilehto (CEO)
Key games: Runeblade, Time Unit
Structure: $2.25 million seed funding
M&A: If anyone wants to acquire a good wearables game company, this is the one

The debate about the potential of wearable technology continues, but whatever you think about Apple Watch and other wrist-mounted tech, there's no doubt that the one developer which totally committed to the platform has made its mark.

Treating its Apple Watch launch title Runeblade as seriously as any smartphone game, with a TV season-style approach to content updates, Finnish startup Everywear Games has raised the bar for this nascent market.

There's no hint yet of how much money the company is generating - if any - but other metrics demonstrate its success.


The most active Runeblade players are generating 100 daily sessions, while the game's Day-30 retention rate is a strong 25%.

Everywear has since doubled-down on the sector, launching superhero game Time Unit, making it the only developer with two standalone games RPGs live on the platform.

#48: Zynga


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Zynga »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: $765 million (2015, c.70% mobile)
Headcount: c1.500
Key staff: Frank Gibeau (CEO), Mark Pincus (Chairman)
Key games: Zynga Poker, Words with Friends, FarmVille 2, CSR Racing, Dawn of Titans
Structure: NASDAQ: ZYGA
M&A: There's always speculation but it's expensive and loss-making

As the years go on, so Zynga is becoming a very different company to the one that was Facebook's gaming partner back in the early 2010s.

With mobile now generating 73% of sales (in Q4 2015), it's mobile-first, with social casino titles such as Zynga Slots and Zynga Poker providing its revenue engine.

Games such as Words with Friends continue to thrive too, while old favourites like FarmVille and CityVille will get new versions in 2016.

What's next?

Yet it's the reaction to internal studio NaturalMotion's much anticipated duo of CSR 2 and Dawn of Titans - which have been delayed almost a year in soft launch as Zynga attempts to maximise their metrics - that will have the biggest impact on the company's future.


Overshadowing the games, however, it's still Zynga's corporate moves, restructurings and quarterly losses, that continue to write the headlines.

The company is now onto its third CEO in a year, with founder Mark Pincus stepping back to the chairman role and ex-EA executive Frank Gibeau heading up operations.

And with its share price refusing to rise above $3 - remembered it IPOed at $10 - there will always be speculation about its longterm future.

Still, a current $2 billion market cap and Pincus' controlling stake means the deal will have to be a co-operative Activision-King one, not a hostile Vivendi-Gameloft situation.

#47: Ubisoft


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Ubisoft »

HQ: Paris, France
Sales: est. $1.5 billion (FY15-16)
Headcount: +10,000
Key staff: Yves Guillemot (CEO)
Key games: Rayman, Assassins' Creed, Hungry Shark, Trials Frontier
Structure: EPA:UBI
M&A: Recently acquired Longtail Studios and FGOL

As with many successful console game companies, Ubisoft hasn't yet really focused on its mobile business.

Indeed, within its financials, it doesn't even break out the revenue from the segment.

Yet with internal studios such as RedLynx and FGOL (Future Games of London), it has the talent to do a lot, as demonstrated by the continued popularity of the latter's Hungry Shark series; something being built on with the forthcoming Hungry Shark World.

More recently, it also acquired Canadian mobile developer Longtail Studios, renaming it Ubisoft Halifax.

What's next?

What's been more interesting, though, is to see how the company is thinking about making the most of its bigger licences.

So alongside the likes of paid game Rayman Classic, and F2P builder ANNO: Build An Empire comes the reworked Assassins' Creed: Identity.

Originally designed as F2P, it was released as a paid title with IAPs; something that shows both Ubisoft's experience as a game maker and inexperience as a F2P mobile game developer - although it's learning quickly.


Meanwhile, Ubisoft continues to experiment with original IP on mobile - something it's shown it can be very successful launching on console - most recently in the form of steampunk action game Sandstorm: Pirate Wars.

#46: KetchApp


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KetchApp »

HQ: Paris, France
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $5 million)
Headcount: c.25
Key staff: Antoine Morcos (CEO), Michel Morcos (Chairman)
Key games: Stack, 2048, ZigZag
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Does anyone need a F2P Chillingo in 2016?

French publisher Ketchapp Studio has a very simple approach to app store success: it works with thirdparty indie developers to release simple - often abstract - free, arcade games at the rate of one per week.

Of course, this level of productivity means it has excellent engagement across its portfolio.

If you don't like this week's game, then try next week's.


In that sense, this is the fulfillment of the portfolio approach that for other companies has become impossible to maintain or operate at pace as games have become more complex and most publishers try to reinforce their model by increasingly taking development inhouse.

By keeping gameplay simple and working as a publisher, Ketchapp not only make it easy for gamers but it also allows it to tap into the huge indie development scene which is otherwise struggling to find a market.

#45: Wargaming


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Wargaming »

HQ: Minsk, Belarus
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $300 million)
Headcount: c. 4,000
Key staff: Victor Kislyi (CEO)
Key games: World of Tanks Blitz
Structure: Privately held
M&A: More likely to acquire than be acquired, but an ambitious Chinese hook-up isn't impossible

It's a measure of how well Wargaming understands F2P games and its audience that almost two years after launch, the mobile-honed-but-still-hardcore World of Tanks Blitz continues to perform very strongly, especially in the places where the PC game rules.

It's been a top 5 grossing game in Russia on iOS and Google Play since launch, with the likes of Ukraine, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Finland also providing key markets. In secondary markets it's performed well too, being a top 100 grossing game in Korea and top 200 in the US.

What's next?

More generally, Wargaming continues to show its largesse in the wider military setting, with regular fundraising for museums in Russia, the UK and US.

In this regard, the company is also heavily involved in archaeology including the restoration of the only Panzer VIII Maus tank and Dornier Do 17 aircraft.


In terms of future output, it's been quietly working with fellow Belarusian developer Melesta Games to test new business models, both within and without its Toy Defense tower defence games.

But, more generally, the big anticipation concerns if/when Wargaming launches mobile versions of its other PC hits such as World of Warplanes and World of Warships.

#44: Jam City

Jam City

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Jam City »

HQ: Los Angelese, USA
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $300 million)
Headcount: c. 250
Key staff: Chris DeWolfe (CEO), Josh Yguado (COO), Aber Whitcomb (CTO), Jill Wilson (VP, Products)
Key games: Cookie Jam, Panda Pop
Structure: Privately held, with large equity stake held by Netmarble
M&A: Gained $130 million investment from Netmarble, acquired devs Fat Rascal and Kiwi.

How times have changed for SGN.

One of the original mobile paid and freemium companies with core air combat games such as Skies of Glory and F.A.S.T., more recently, US developer SGN pivoted.

There were two main reasons for this.

The structural one was the emergence of a massive western casual gaming market: the same trend that kicked King up the top grossing charts.

More significant, however, was the corporate move that saw Chris DeWolfe's MindJolt Games group acquiring SGN, with the combined entity taking the more consumer-friendly name.

Going casual

The result was the SGN moved to focus entirely on the social casual crowd with games like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop now downloaded more than 700 million times.


And this move was validated in 2015 when ambitious, expansive Korean outfit Netmarble made a $130 million strategic investment into SGN.

As well as the cash - muscle already deployed with SGN acquiring two local US devs to bulk headcount - the deal will enable SGN to get its games into Asian markets, while SGN will help Netmarble tweak its core games for western markets.

#43: ZeptoLab


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ZeptoLab »

HQ: Moscow, Russia
Sales: Not disclosed (est. c.$50 million)
Headcount: c. 100
Key staff: Misha Lyalin (CEO), Semyon Voinov & Efim Voinov (founders)
Key games: Cut the Rope, King of Thieves
Structure: Privately owned
M&A: Would make a good brand acquisition

Russian developer ZeptoLab had a busy 2015.

It released the latest game in the 750 million-downloaded Cut the Rope series. Interestingly, it charged $0.99 on iOS for Cut the Rope: Magic, while the game was free on Google Play.

There's a free localised version for the fast-growing Indian market with local partner Nazara too.


More generally, portfolio pricing was shaken up with the original Cut the Rope making the move to free (on all platforms), while a 5 game bundle on iOS provided players hours of Om Nom entertainment for $4.

ZeptoLab also demonstrated its creativity with the clever multiplayer action puzzler King of Thieves.

Downloaded 24 million times, it proved to be a great learning experience for its developers in terms of iterating a F2P game-as-a-service optimise retention and monetisation.

It was a process that boosted the game's LTV 10-fold (albeit from a low base).

#42: Mediocre


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Mediocre »

HQ: Malmo, Sweden
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $2 million)
Headcount: 3
Key staff: Henrik Johansson & Dennis Gustavsson (founders)
Key games: DIRAC, Does not Commute, Sprinkle
Structure: Privately owned
M&A: No

Despite the odd name, Swedish indie Mediocre has become a posterchild for mobile gaming creativity.

Bursting onto app stores with 2011's water physics puzzler Sprinkle, it's since revised the experience with Sprinkle Junior and Sprinkle Islands. You can get all three for $4 on iOS in the Sprinkle Collection.

More recently, though, the company's focus has been on making new paid games.

2012's Granny Smith was a racing platformer, while 2014's Smash Hit is an abstract glass-breaking sim with matching audio.

(A version has since been released for Gear VR).


Standout title, however, is the David Lynch-esque path management game Does not Commute, which was an Apple Design Award winner for 2015.

And Mediocre has plenty more in its tank, as demonstrated by new game DIRAC.

#41: Hipster Whale

Hipster Whale

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Hipster Whale »

HQ: Melbourne, Australia
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $15 million)
Headcount: 2
Key staff: Andy Sum, Matt Hall (founders)
Key games: Crossy Road, Shooty Skies, Disney Crossy Road
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Too indie to be bought, but investing in other indies

Australian indie Hipster Whale was one of the surprise success stories of 2015 thanks to its enormously popular 'endless Frogger' Crossy Road.

Combining stark, blocky graphics with arcade replayability and a neat rewarded video monetisation system, the game had all the mobile ad networks fighting each other to take credit for its more than $10 million success.

Perhaps more significant, though, was what founders Matt Hall and Andy Sum did next.

Hello Mickey!

Not content with reinventing Namco's iconic character in Pac-Man 256, they invested in fellow Australian startup Prettygreat, going onto to set up a joint venture Mighty Games with entertainment industry veterans Ben Britten and Matt Ditton.


Its debut 'Crossy Road in a plane' Shooty Skies has been downloaded 5 million times.

But the icing on the cake is the ultimate mash-up, which sees Disney's iconic stable of characters crossing the road in Disney Crossy Road.

#40: Space Ape Games

Space Ape Games

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Space Ape Games »

HQ: London, UK
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $20 million)
Headcount: c. 125
Key staff: John Earner (CEO), Simon Hade (COO), Toby Moore (CTO)
Key games: Samurai Siege, Rival Kingdoms, Transformers: Earth Wars
Structure: Privately held, raised $11 million
M&A: Sega Networks has a minority stake

Set up in 2012 by veterans from EA's successful Facebook Playfish studio, London-based Space Ape has been carving itself a reputation in the mobile build-and-battle strategy genre ever since.

Debut game Samurai Siege demonstrated the company's ability to generate revenue from a lean operational team and with a strong focus on customer support.

It made $12 million during its first six months, and was also something of a surprise hit in Japan, which led to investment from Sega Networks.

All your bases

2015's Rival Kingdoms bought a fantasy setting to the gameplay, also adding hero characters.

Financially, it hasn't been as successful as Samurai Siege, something Space Ape openly puts down to its darker setting, both aesthetically and conceptually.

Indeed, more generally, the company has been very active in the wider developer community, sharing its knowledge and best practices. After all, it is hiring!


At least, setting isn't something that will be an issue with the developer's next game, Transformers: Earth Wars.

A partnership with IP holder Hasbro and its inhouse studio Backflip Studios, the game has you choosing to play as the Autobots or Decepticons, collecting different Transformer characters for attack, as well as base-building.

#39: Next Games

Next Games

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Next Games »

HQ: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $10 million)
Headcount: 60
Key staff: Teemu Huuhtanen (CEO), Kalle Kaivola (Head of Licensed Games)
Key games: The Walking Dead: No Man's Island, Compass Point
Structure: Privately owned, VC funded
M&A: It acquired Helsinki Gameworks to bulk headcount but unlikely to do more

Founded by a group of Rovio, Disney and Supercell execs in 2013, Finnish outfit Next Games didn't rush onto app stores.

Well funded from the off - it's raised a total of $18 million - it built solid foundations, signing deals with the likes of US media companies Lionsgate and AMC, and successfully launching its own IP Compass Point: West to test its operational and monetisation strategy.


Indeed, it was one of the first F2P mobile games to demonstrate the retention and monetisation power of well-integrated rewarded video advertising.

Then quickly, it followed this up with the majestic The Walking Dead: No Man's Land.

Deftly managing the tricky situation required when a game is required to mesh with a live TV licence - it was released alongside The Walking Dead Season 6 - the predominately single player game also pushed the F2P gameplay envelope mixing complex turn-based strategies, card collection and permanent character death.

And, more recently, the game has been extended with PVP elements.


#38: Wooga GmbH

Wooga GmbH

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Wooga GmbH »

HQ: Berlin, Germany
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $30 million)
Headcount: c. 200
Key staff: Jens Begemann (CEO), Sebastian Kriese (Head of Partnerships)
Key games: Diamond Dash, Jelly Splash, Futurama: Game of Drones
Structure: Privately owned, VC funded to the tune of $32 million
M&A: Tends to acquire talent not companies, and hard to see who would be allowed to buy it

Despite its size, German developer Wooga doesn't appear to be the most prolific game-maker.

Best known for 2011's Diamond Dash and 2013's Jelly Splash, it didn't release any games in 2014, although 2015 saw the release of excellent hidden object title Agent Alice.

Internal activity

Yet, inside office walls, Wooga remains a centre of game design innovation where hundreds of game ideas are reduced to dozens of prototypes.

Rigorous testing crunches down this number to the handful of titles actually released.

A prime example of this process is 2016's Futurama: Game of Drones, which takes the foundation of Fox's cult animated series and innovates on gameplay with a match-4 dynamic.


But Wooga's isn't just about casual games.

It's announced new midcore studio Black Anvil Games, which is working on strategy title Warlords, while the company also has a new wearables division, which is looking to capitalise on the device's potential for very high daily session rates.

#37: Social Point

Social Point

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Social Point »

HQ: Barcelona, Spain
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $50 million)
Headcount: c. 200
Key staff: Horacio Martos (co-CEO), Andrés Bou (co-CEO)
Key games: Dragon City, Monster Legends, World Chef, Dragon Land
Structure: Privately held, has raised $45 million in VC money
M&A: Its heavy funding means an exit is likely sooner, not later

Starting out making social Facebook games, Barcelona-based Social Point continues to support the web platform, while also building an increasingly successful mobile games business.

The first example of this strategy - Dragon City Mobile - continues to be a top 100 iPhone grossing game three years after launch.

But its 2016's World Chef (also available on Facebook) that best demonstrates the developer's visual panache. A top 50 grossing performer throughout Europe, it's shaken up the competitive restaurant sim genre.


Social Point is also building on its dragon expertise with brand extensions - nurture-and-battle game Dragon Stadium and the Super Mario 64-esque 3D platformer Dragon Land.

The result is a company that across Facebook and mobile boasts 50 million active monthly players.

#36: IUGO Mobile Entertainment

IUGO Mobile Entertainment

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IUGO Mobile Entertainment »

HQ: Vancouver, Canada
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $20 million)
Headcount: c.75
Key staff: Hong-Yee Wong (CEO)
Key games: Knights & Dragons, The Walking Dead: Road to Survival
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Hard to see any buyer other than Scopely (or GREE)

One of the few mobile game developers with a history that stretches back to days of BREW, Java and early iOS games - how could we forget Daisy Mae's Alien Buffet - Canadian studio IUGO makes a welcome return to our Top 50 list.

An inaugural company in the 2009 list (and featuring in 2011), its biggest title in recent years has been the GREE-published Knights & Dragons. GREE also has a minority stake in the company.

Indeed, the game, which was published in late 2012, is one of the few successes of the Japanese company's expensive and troubled expansion into the west.

At one point, it was generating around $5 million a month, and while not still operating at that level, the classic mobile RPG remains a top 100 grossing game in key western markets three years after launch.

It's alive

But inclusion in 2016's list is also recognition of its development of the very successful Scopely-published The Walking Dead: Road to Survival.


Based on Robert Kirkman's original graphic novels, the game takes inspiration from Asian RPGs in terms of its meta-game focus, lightweight-but-highly stylised graphics and gritty, adult-only narrative.

And it's certainly found an engaged audience, out-grossing the official game of the TV series The Walking Dead: No Man's Land.

#35: Super Evil Megacorp

Super Evil Megacorp

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Super Evil Megacorp »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $5 million)
Headcount: c. 75
Key staff: Bo Daly (CEO), Kristian Segerstrale (COO)
Key games: Vainglory
Structure: Privately held, has raised $42 million in VC cash
M&A: If Vainglory continues to gain traction, a big money exit will be on the cards

Not only does it have the best name, US developer Super Evil Megacorp consists of an experienced team which is incredibly well funded and operating its debut game Vainglory at a high level.

Launching into the unproven mobile MOBA genre in late 2014, and despite strong support from Apple, it became clear that there's wasn't a large enough player base to support the company's ambitions for Vainglory in terms of making a League of Legends for mobile.


So the company switched focus, transforming Vainglory into one of the first mobile eSports titles.

Pro gaming

Heavy investment in community, events management and prizes - hence its large VC rounds; its last round was $26 million - has started to pay back, though.

Fuelled by prize money in 2015 of $350,000, there are now regular seasonal championships in Europe and the US, while Korea and China have also proved to be attractive markets.

Vainglory is also making a mark on game streaming channel Twitch.

And, significantly, this activity is now feeding back into a more general audience. Vainglory has over 1.5 million active monthly players, and that's having a knock-on impact on app store revenue, with the game occasionally breaking into the App Store top 100 grossing charts.

#34: GREE


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HQ: Toyko, Japan
Sales: $640 million (2015)
Headcount: c. 3,000
Key staff: Yoshikazu Tanaka (CEO) Andrew Sheppard (International COO)
Key games: Shometsu Toshi, Knights & Dragons, Tower Rising
Structure: TYO:3632
M&A: Too big and troubled to be a target, and very unlikely to be making any more big investments

Financially, 2015 was a difficult year for Japanese mobile game developer, publisher and platform GREE. As well as dealing with declining sale, it also booked a loss thanks to writedowns on previous expensive and failed M&A activity.

And, in the short term, this restructuring situation remains ongoing, with sales falling on a quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year basis.

When it comes to games, however, the company doubled its Japanese development staff for native smartphone games, and has already seen some positive results in Japan in terms of the audience reaction to releases such as Shometsu Toshi, The Samurai Kingdom, Tower Rising, which is a collaborative project with LINE.

It also has high hopes for the forthcoming Memories of the Blue, one of three new titles for Japan it has planned for the second half of 2016. 2017 will see that number rise to seven. It's also set up a VR studio.


Meanwhile, in the west, three years after release stalwart title Knights & Dragons - developed by Canadian outfit IUGO - remains a top 100 grossing game. A version tweaked for the European audience has also been released, and is being operated out of a new office in Berlin.

More generally, though, GREE's western experiment is over. It shuttered its Vancouver office and heavily cutback in its expensive San Francisco location and has many fewer releases planned.

One interesting one is a reboot of its 2013 PVP military vehicle game League of War. Labelled League of War: Mercenaries it's in development with US studio MunkyFun.

#33: Gram Games

Gram Games

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Gram Games »

HQ: Istabul, Turkey
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $5 million)
Headcount: c.30
Key staff: Mehmet Ecevit (CEO)
Key games: 1010!, Merged!
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Would be a good IP buy, but too indie to be interested in a deal

Turkish casual developer Gram Games' success story starts with failure; three game failures in fact.

In that context, the title that become 1010! was its final throw of the dice.

Cooked up during one of the company's regular game jams, the Tetris-inspired 10x10 grid dropping block puzzle was an immediate hit, generating over 50 million downloads.

Monetised through in-game ads, 1010!'s success allowed the developer to grow from 5 to over 30 staff.


But it's not lost its startup culture.

Thanks to its continued focus on regular, structured creativity, Gram Games has demonstrated it's more than a one hit wonder with 2016's Merged! looking likely to equal 1010!'s success.

And, more generally, the company is acting as a springboard to other aspiring developers in the region, thanks to its 2Tons Accelerator Program. This provides support and advice on new games, without any financial or legal strings attached.

#32: TinyCo


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TinyCo »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $30 million)
Headcount: c. 100
Key staff: Suli Ali (CEO)
Key games: Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, Marvel Avengers Academy
Structure: Privately held, has raised $38 million of VC cash
M&A: Would be a good move for either Fox or Disney if they wanted more internal capacity

One of the pioneers of social mobile gaming, TinyCo has had to ride the waves of the industry as it's shifted from the high volume release of lightweight social games to a more nuanced focus on operations, community and games-as-a-service.

Along the way, TinyCo has raised a lot of VC cash - $38 million - but more recently has been self-funding and profitable.

That transition has come as it's combined its hard-won skills to the dynamite of big media licences and sits in an enviable position.

It's a strategy that makes full use of the opportunities for combining engaging narratives and strong characterisations.

2014's Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff - a collaboration with Fox - continues to be a highly amusing, regularly updated and successful game.


And TinyCo's most recent release is a similar deal. Working with the Disney-owned Marvel, Marvel Avengers Academy adds a twist to its theme.

Reducing the superheroes to their immature teen forms, it places them back in the tricky, dramatic situation that is high school.

#31: Kiloo


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Kiloo »

HQ: Aarhus, Denmark
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $20 million)
Headcount: c. 75
Key staff: Jacob Moeller (CEO), Simon Moeller (CCO)
Key games: Subway Surfers
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Very unlikely to be a buyer or seller

Released way back in 2012, Subway Surfers continues to rule the roost when it comes to the seemingly endless success of endless runners.

Developed by Danish startup SYBO and operated and published by fellow Danes Kiloo, the game manages to maintain an incredible active audience - over 1 billion downloads and 27 million daily active players - thanks to its basic replayability and the monthly update cycle.

Most recently, the game's location has moved from around the world from the North Pole to Hawaii, San Francisco and Saudi Arabia.


And despite its light IAP monetisation, it remains a top 150 grossing title in most key markets.

Still running

Kiloo - which now has offices in Budapest and Copenhagen, alongside its Aarhus HQ - isn't resting on its laurels either.

It's developed and published a number of other games, ranging from simple battler Smash Champs, the Emerald City-developed RPG Stormblades and most recently, kids' puzzler Tesla Tubes, which was developed by Voony Games.

#30: Kabam


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Kabam »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: $400 million (2014)
Headcount: c. 600
Key staff: Kevin Chou (CEO), Chris Petrovic (Head of Corporate Development)
Key games: Marvel: Contest of Champions, Star Wars: Uprising
Structure: Privately held. Has raised $245 million
M&A: With a successful 2016, its IPO plans will be back on track

US/Chinese outfit Kabam is going all-in for highly engaged F2P mobile gaming success in 2016.

Having sold off its browser titles in 2014 to RockYou, it further streamlined its focus by selling off its legacy F2P mobile games to Gaea Mobile in 2015.

Another hard decision was canning the in-development Marvel United.

Honing the blade

Part of the reason for this activity, however, is the ongoing success of licensed beat-em up Marvel: Contest of Champions.

Not only is it the company's fastest game to generate $100 million, it continues to perform very well on global top grossing charts.


One reason is the game's inherent PVP playability, which accelerates both monetisation and retention.

And it's this multiplayer element that Kabam is resetting future development around.

With a promised $100 million budget for up to seven titles - it's raised a total of $244.5 million over since 2006 - it's certainly not holding anything back.

Although in the short term, one result has been the company's first big round of job losses, with 8% of total headcount gone.

#29: Rovio


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Rovio »

HQ: Espoo, Finland
Sales: $161 million (2015)
Headcount: c. 500
Key staff: Peter Vesterbacka (Mighty Eagle), Wilhelm Taht (EVP, Games)
Key games: Angry Birds, Angry Birds 2, Nibblers
Structure: Privately held. Has raised $42 million of VC cash
M&A: Would make an excellent if expensive purchase for any ambitious buyer

After a year of restructuring, things are looking up for Angry Birds developer Rovio: #MakeRovioGreatAgain.

For one thing, the long-awaited Angry Birds animated movie hits screens on 20 May. If the trailers are anything to go by, it will be very funny.


But it's mobile games where Rovio is looking to shake things up.

Indeed, if you break out the company's financials, the game division has experienced six years of year-on-year growth. It accounted for $130 million of revenue in 2015.

The company's recent financials problems were primarily caused by its licensing business.

And, in this context, the quality of Rovio's F2P releases continues to impress, with latest game Angry Birds Action! neatly transposing the physics gameplay of the original into a topdown pinball-style.

Anticipated midcore title Deminions Unleashed uses the same gameplay but wrapped up in a harder RPG theme, while Battle Bay - which ratchets up the action even further - has a strong PVP multiplayer mode.

The company isn't ignoring its core audience either, as demonstrated by casual fare such as Nibblers and Love Rocks Shakira.

#28: Disney Mobile Studios

Disney Mobile Studios

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Disney Mobile Studios »

HQ: Palo Alto, USA
Sales: Not broken out (est. $250 million)
Headcount: est. 500
Key staff: Chris Heatherly (SVP)
Key games: Disney Tsum Tsum, Frozen Free Fall, Star Wars: Commander
Structure: NYSE:DIS
M&A: Has been active in the past, but currently more interested in content deals

Although only a tiny part of the House of the Mouse's operations, Disney Interactive's mobile division is heading for bigger things.

Games such as Frozen Free Fall and the LINE published Disney Tsum Tsum have been enormously successful in terms of combining much loved brands with good F2P game design.

Indeed, Disney Tsum Tsum has generated over $300 million in a year, mainly from Japan.

The sandbox Disney Infinity: Toy Box games have also performed well on mobile.


And the company is serious about grown up games and gamers too, with build-and-battler Star Wars: Commander riding The Force Awakens' marketing wave. That's an audience Disney is looking to tap into further with its new midcore game studio in Silicon Valley.

But where Disney is really showing its smarts is its regular character mash-ups with existing high profile games.

Recent examples include Temple Run: Brave and Temple Run: Oz, with the wonderful Disney Crossy Road setting the ultimate example.

#27: Gamevil


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Gamevil »

HQ: Seoul, South Korea
Sales: $140 million (2015)
Headcount: c. 400
Key staff: James Song (CEO), Kyu Lee (President, USA)
Key games: Dragon Blaze, Kritika, Cartoon Wars, MLB Perfect Inning 15
Structure: KOSDAQ:063080
M&A: Has previously acquired small studios to gain talent and will continue to do so

Korean developer and publisher Gamevil continues to impress in terms of its focus on deep RPGs and the live operations required to monetise them.

Its top game remains Dragon Blaze, with titles such as Kritika (20 million downloads to-date) and Dungeon Link also proving popular in Korea.

Going global

Yet with international markets, especially Asia, now providing the majority of revenues, Gamevil is looking to tweak its library, with a heavy emphasis on the sort of strategy RPGs that appeal to Chinese players in 2016.


In particular, it's planning to bring successful online PC RPGs to mobile, with ten titles in development.

Lighter titles such as the Cartoon Wars series, shooter Afterpulse, and baseball games like MLB Perfect Inning 15 round out its portfolio.

#26: DeNA Co.,Ltd.

DeNA Co.,Ltd.

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DeNA Co.,Ltd. »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $1.2 billion (2015)
Headcount: c. 2,000
Key staff: Tomoko Namba (Chairman), Isao Moriyasu (CEO), Shintaro Asako (CEO, DeNA West)
Key games: Granblue Fantasy, Final Fantasy Record Keeper, Blood Brothers 2, Miitomo
Structure: TYO:2432
M&A: DeNA's days of expensive acquisitions are now over

The big news of 2015 for Japanese mobile gaming platform DeNA was its collaboration with Nintendo.

Years in the making, the move will see DeNA providing the backend and operations for Nintendo's first smartphone games.

Quality will be the focus, with only five titles being worked on.

The first is interesting social game/network Miitomo, which has been warmly received.

But we'll get a much better idea of how successful the partnership will be when the promised 'major IP' second title is announced and released later in 2016.

Business as usual

In the meantime, DeNA's business motors along - sales were $1.2 billion, of which 80% came from mobile games - thanks to the top grossing titles it publishes in Japan.

Current hits such as Granblue Fantasy is developed by Cygames and published by DeNA, while Final Fantasy Record Keeper, which is developed by DeNA, licenses IP from Square Enix.

But as for its operations in the west, they have dwindled, certainly in terms of local development.


Publishing deals such as 22Cans' Godus didn't work out, while internally developed games such as Super Battle Tactics, Blood Brothers 2 and Timenauts have been competent examples of F2P operations, but haven't generated much market attention.

In that context then, it's not quite Nintendo or bust, but certainly that relationship will be key in terms of DeNA growth predictions for 2016 and beyond.

#25: Square Enix

Square Enix

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Square Enix »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: Not broken out (est. $400 million)
Headcount: c. 3,500
Key staff: Yosuke Matsuda (CEO)
Key games: Lara Croft GO, Kingdom Hearts Unchained X, Final Fantasy: Record Keeper
Structure: TYO:9684
M&A: Very active in the past, but currently has bigger things to think about

As with many Japanese game companies, Square Enix is struggling when it comes to its console business - it's loss-making - and general corporate structure.

But when it comes to mobile gaming, it's looking to make the best of both worlds, twice over.

In Japan, it operates some successful F2P games such as its long-running Disney licence Kingdom Hearts Unchained X, whereas its western developers have stormed to critical success with the paid GO series.


Developed by its Montreal studio, beautiful action-puzzler Lara Croft GO was Apple's Game of the Year for 2015.

The beat goes on

In addition, Square Enix's stable of classic RPGs - Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest - remain a valuable financial resource in both markets.

This is the case for the mobile versions of legacy PC and console games such the recent $20 Final Fantasy IX, and as well as more creative mash-ups like the character-heavy F2P title Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, Mobius Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius.

Thirty years on, it seems that the Japanese markets remain a long way from Final Fantasy saturation.

#24: Etermax


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Etermax »

HQ: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $100 million)
Headcount: c. 100
Key staff: Maximo Cavazzani (CEO)
Key games: Trivia Crack
Structure: Privately held
M&A: Would be a great asset for someone on the boundaries of social and gaming

Argentine developer Etermax has emerged as the king of mobile trivia thanks to the engagement of its Trivia Crack game.

Something of an accidental success gained as the company opened up the game's submission process for questions on a country and language basis, not only the volume of submissions but the question's quality skyrocketed, helping the game's word-of-mouth marketing, especially in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of South America.

As is often the case, this success was pre-dated by a game that wasn't so successful but provided the springboard for another, better attempt.

For Etermax, that game was Apalabraodos, which was very popular in Spain, but didn't scale globally.

Daily dose

That certainly hasn't been an issue with Trivia Crack, which has destroyed the competition in the trivia game sector.

The result is a game with over 200 million downloads and 20 million daily active players; something Etermax is looking to morph into a mobile game-turned-social-platform.


As for monetisation, that's mainly through in-game advertising. Indeed, Trivia Crack's inventory is so large that Etermax has cut an exclusive deal with AdMob.

And if that wasn't enough, there's also a TV show based on the format and a push on merchandising.

#23: Miniclip


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Miniclip »

HQ: London, UK
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $150 million)
Headcount: c. 200
Key staff: Rob Small (CEO), Saad Choudri (VP, Business Affairs)
Key games: 8 Ball Pool,, Dude Perfect 2
Structure: Majority owned by Tencent
M&A: Unlikely but it may continue to do IP-based deals like

The year started with a bang for Miniclip, which gained a big strategic investment, and hence a new owner in the shape of Chinese gaming giant Tencent.

And then things just got better.

Games such as YouTube phenomenon Dude Perfect 2 and kids fantasy novel tie-in Beast Quest racked up downloads.

But the mobile version of Flash game proved to be the biggest hit for the Swiss/UK outfit. Indeed, such was the importance of the game - which has a massive and highly engaged player base - that it acquired the IP.


Yet, the company's biggest earner remains the rather more prosaic, but every bit as appealing, 8 Ball Pool.

The multiplayer game has slowly built its audience, especially in markets such as Australia, Canada, the UK and US, where it's a top 40 grossing game on Google Play and the App Store.

#22: Scopely


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Scopely »

HQ: Los Angeles, USA
Sales: Not disclosed ($200 million)
Headcount: c. 150
Key staff: Walter Driver (CEO)
Key games: YAHTZEE With Buddies, The Walking Dead: Road to Survival
Structure: Privately held. Has raised $44 million in VC cash
M&A: Given its trajectory, expect an exit sooner rather than later

Well funded with VC cash, the first phase of US company Scopely's 'next generation publishing' business was built around casual multiplayer games such as Dice With Buddies and Mini Golf MatchUp.

They proved to be an excellent foundation for its current commercial success with Hasbro-licensed YAHTZEE With Buddies, while a very different audience has been delighted by the F2P meta-game of The Walking Dead: Road to Survival.

As with some of the company's games, the latter was developed by a thirdparty: in this case Canadian studio IUGO, while YAHTZEE With Buddies was developed inhouse, with help from Romanian outsourcing outfit Amber Studio.


The company is focused on licences to build future prospects too.

WWE: Champions will mix up classic and modern wrestlers in quick head-to-head battles, while Breaking Bad: Empire Business combines the cult TV series with core F2P mobile gameplay.

#21: Pocket Gems

Pocket Gems

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Pocket Gems »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $150 million)
Headcount: c. 200
Key staff: Ben Liu (CEO), Daniel Terry (CCO)
Key games: Episode, War Dragons
Structure: Received a $60 million investment from Tencent
M&A: The deal has been done

Pocket Gems has been around since year one of the social mobile gaming explosion, but it hasn't had a better 12 months.

Not only did it score a $60 million investment from Chinese giant Tencent, but its teen interactive story game Episode took a running jump up the US top grossing charts.

It's a game that inspires strong emotions.


Thanks to rebranding with singer Demi Lovato and the Mean Girls brand, the branching narrative platform, which has over 10,000 stories and has generated over 1 billion reads, has been a strong top 50 player.

Multiplayer synchronous 3D game War Dragons has also been gaining momentum and is now a top 100 grossing iPhone game.

But given that investment, it's definitely a case of the best is yet to come for Pocket Gems.

#20: Sega Networks

Sega Networks

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Sega Networks »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $250 million (FY2015)
Headcount: 1,000 (est)
Key staff: Haruki Satomi (CEO)
Key games: Chain Chronicle, Puyopuyo! Quest, Hortensia Saga
Structure: Floated on the Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:6460)
M&A: Invested in Ignited Artists, Space Ape and Auer, and acquired Demiurge Studios

The situation that Sega Networks - the mobile F2P arm of Sega Sammy - finds itself in says much about the potential and competitive state of the Japanese mobile game market in 2016.

Generating 200% growth in 2015, with revenues of $250 million, it predicted another year of strong growth - 85% - based off the Japanese performance of titles such as Chain Chronicle, Puyopuyo! Quest and Hortensia Saga.


Sega Networks also predicted it could raise the proportional of sales from outside of Japan from 10% to 31%.

Neither of these events has happened.

The company is still growing, but instead of that 85% target, it now hopes for a more modest growth level of 34%, or around $340 million for 2016 sales.

What went not so right?

The reasons for this turn of events are many. Some existing titles have underperformed, although Chain Chronicle remains a $100 million annual franchise, while production delays hit Japanese launches and localised releases in the US and Europe.

Most troublesome, however, has been the failure of what Sega describes as "several major titles", both internationally and in Japan.

One example is Sonic Dash 2. Refreshing the 100 million downloads of Sonic Dash, it's only gained 6 million downloads to-date, something Sega Networks hopes to improve with US TV advertising.

More generally, the company hopes to boost its presence in the west thanks to M&A activity, which in 2015, saw it acquire US developer Demiurge Studios and invest in US startup Ignited Artists and highly regarded UK outfit Space Ape Games.

Meanwhile in Japan, it's launched another Puyopuyo! game, has a mashup with Hello Kitty IP owner Sanrio, and is working with LINE. Chain Chronicle, Puyopuyo! Quest and Hortensia Saga will also receive major content updates; something that will be backed with marketing.

And, better news comes from the company's various activities in Asia. Hortensia Saga has been doing well in regions that use traditional Chinese, while Sega Networks has high hopes for its operations with local partners goGame and Auer New Media.

#19: Seriously


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Seriously »

HQ: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: Undisclosed (est. $40 million)
Headcount: c. 100
Key staff: Andrew Stalbow (CEO)
Key games: Best Fiends, Best Fiends: Forever
Structure: Privately held, has received $28 million of VC funding
M&A: Currently on the rise, it would be a great, if pricey, IP acquisition

It doesn't take much for a startup to say they are committed to building an original brand. Following through and actually doing so on a global scale, and at a high level of quality across all activity, is truly impressive, however.

That's what Seriously has done.

Formed in 2013 by a mixture of ex-Rovio executives, it quickly raised capital, gaining additional talent from the likes of Supercell and Fox, before launching its debut, a character-driven match-3 game, called Best Fiends in October 2014.

Since then, a focus on growing its daily active player base - now 2 million strong - with creative marketing such as ongoing charity campaigns with top YouTubers, has paid off.

Total downloads across iOS, Android and Amazon are over 25 million, and Best Fiends has gained strong traction in key Asian markets such as Korea and China.


There's even an Apple Watch companion app.

Doing great, making money

Despite the usual claims around monetisation, Seriously also recently revealed the game, which has generated $25 million on lifetime revenues, now has a runrate of $3 million a month.

Okay, so we're not talking Supercell scale.

Nevertheless, the company's attention to detail and commitment to its brand, both creatively and operationally, is inspiring and refreshing to experience.

And next up comes the second game in a promised trilogy; Best Fiends: Forever takes the franchise into RPG territory.


#18: Glu Mobile

Glu Mobile

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Glu Mobile »

HQ: San Francisco, USA
Sales: $250 million (2015)
Headcount: est. 600
Key staff: Nicollo de Masi (CEO)
Key games: Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Kendall & Kylie, Racing Rivals, Deer Hunter
Structure: Floated on the NASDAQ (NASDAQ:GLUU)
M&A: Share price volatility makes it a target, but Tencent is the majority shareholder

Glu Mobile's up-and-down rollercoaster ride shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

2014 was a major up thanks to the transformative power of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which helped the company into profitability on the back of annual revenues of $223 million, up 113% year-on-year.

2015 looked like it would be another up, with Chinese giant Tencent investing $126 million to become a strategic shareholder, but come the year's end Glu Mobile only saw a modest rise in revenues, while posting a loss of $7 million.

The lure of celebrity

The reason is that while Kim Kardashian: Hollywood still provides the company's biggest single source of cash - around 30% - it's now in a mature phase.

And it seems like Glu is having to handover a hefty margin for the licence too

Expected hot titles Katy Perry Pop and James Bond: World of Espionage were total flops. CEO Niccolo de Masi blamed operational blunders by the company's distributed teams, which was a surprise given Glu's reputation as a tight operation when it comes to launching and running games-as-a-service.

Still, just as the future looked gloomy, along came another surprise hit from the Kardashians: at least Kim's half-sisters Kendall and Kylie. A toned and younger-focused title, Kendall & Kylie has leapt into the Australian, UK and US top grossing top 10 charts for iPhone, causing a leap in Glu's forever volatile share price.


Will the game be a $100 million franchise like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood?

That's currently hard to predict. But given the strength of Glu's portfolio, which include solidly grossing games such as Racing Rivals plus the Deer Hunter and Frontline Commando franchises, it only needs one surprise hit to continue its upwards progression.

And even if Kendall & Kylie don't have the longevity of their half-sister, Glu has celebrity games with Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Gordon Ramsey in development, not to forget its localisation of Chinese hit shooter WeFire and recent investment in once-popular trivia game QuizUp.

Almost anything could still happen.

#17: IGG


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HQ: Singapore
Sales: $200 million (FY16)
Headcount: 800
Key staff: Kevin Xu (COO)
Key games: Castle Clash, Clash of Lords II, Deck Heroes
Structure: Floated on Hong Kong exchange (HKG:0799)
M&A: Unlikely in terms of selling or buying. Would depend on share price volatility

Singapore-based but Hong Kong-floated IGG (I Got Games) has built its $200 million business thanks to being in the right place at the right time when the mobile strategy genre exploded.

While Supercell's Clash of Clans delayed an Android release, IGG's Castle Clash - which has added hero units - took first mover advantage on Google Play.

Released in October 2013, it's been a top grossing game ever since, with especially strong performance in English-speaking countries such as the UK and US, where it remains a top 20 grossing game.

Performance on the App Store isn't as strong, where it's a top 100 grossing in UK and US, although it is a top 20 iPhone game in Germany, for example.


Another reason for the game's longevity and 10 million monthly active player base is IGG's focus on language support with Arabic and Vietnamese versions added, to bring the total supported to 15. That's across Google Play, App Store, Amazon Appstore and Windows Phone Store.

Going global

Looking to extend this reach, the company now has offices in Japan, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, amongst others.

But while Castle Clash accounts for around 60% of sales, IGG's ability to build a portfolio of games is proving also significant.

Most notable is its strategy game Clash of Lords II, which has around 3 million monthly active players and generates around $40 million annually. CCG Deck Heroes has around 800,000 monthly active players, generating around $15 million.

#16: Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard Entertainment

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Blizzard Entertainment »

HQ: Santa Monica, USA
Sales: $4.7 billion (FY15) - for Activision-Blizzard
Headcount: 6,800 (for Activision-Blizzard)
Key staff: Michael Morhaime (president)
Key games: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Structure: Floated on the NASDAQ (NASDAQ: ATVI)
M&A: Just dropped $5.9 billion on King

With its DNA in core PC gaming, mobile hasn't come naturally to Blizzard.

Indeed, you could argue that despite the success of PC-mobile cross-platform CCG Hearthstone, it's still not really a mobile games company.

That would be to ignore some significant trends.

Blizzard has built a strong mobile business for Hearthstone - a game that works very well in terms of fitting into the immediacy and longterm flow of a mobile experience - and at least one set of analysts think the majority of its revenue now comes from mobile players.

Additionally, as demonstrated by rival PC-centric publisher Bethesda, the mobile market is desperate for core gaming brands.

Oh, and Activision-Blizzard has just spent $5.9 billion buying a pure-play mobile games company.

Best placed

The result of all this is that Blizzard remains one of the best-placed companies in terms of its potential to disrupt the current status quo, and do so a global scale.

Taking Hearthstone as an example, the game now has over 40 million registered players, hit a record level of active players at the end of 2015, and remains in the vanguard of the emerging eSports business: the importance of which Activision-Blizzard recently highlighted with the acquisition of Major League Gaming.

And on mobile, two years on, it's a top 100 grossing title in all major territories apart from Japan. Indeed, in China, Germany, Russia and the US, it remains a top 30 grossing App Store game.

That demonstrates its attention to design, community and customer support.


Annoyingly, the company doesn't break out Blizzard's financials, so it's hard to gauge how much of Activision-Blizzard's $418 million of mobile sales in 2015 came from Hearthstone.

The assumption, however, would be the majority; a monthly rate of over $10 million has been postulated.

That level of performance from a single game, combined with the potential of what comes next, makes Blizzard one to watch every closely in 2016.

#15: Netmarble


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Netmarble »

HQ: Seoul, South Korea
Sales: $800 million (2015)
Headcount: 3,000
Key staff: Young-sig Kwon (CEO)
Key games: Marvel Future Fight, Seven Knights, Monster Taming, Raven, Everyone’s Marble
Structure: Privately held but planning to IPO in 2016
M&A: Invested $130 million into SGN

Korea's biggest games company in terms of mobile revenue is a complex and dynamic beast.

For one thing, its corporate structure currently consists of partnerships and investments from some of the biggest Asia entertainment companies.

Part of Korean conglomerate CJ E&M, Chinese giant Tencent bought a share thanks to a $500 million investment, while Korean games publisher NCsoft is another shareholder.

Going public

That set-up will become even more complex when Netmarble completes its planned IPO in 2016.

It's not clear when or where it will look to list - Korea or the US NASDAQ have been rumoured - but the move is expected to value the company, which posted annual 2015 sales of around $800 million, at over $5 billion.

Aside from investors looking to recoup their investments, the other reason for the IPO is to provide Netmarble with a warchest for future M&A, especially to grow its reach in the US, China and Japan.

It's already been active in this area, investing $130 million into US casual studio SGN.

Local hero

In Korea, it already has a dominant position. Casual Monopoly-esque game Everyone's Marble has been the top grossing game for years (generating around $400 million globally thanks to Kakao and LINE integration), while core titles such as Raven (Evilbane in the west), Seven Knights and Monster Taming appeal to local tastes.


More significant in terms of the company's global ambitions, however, has been the success of Marvel Future Fight, which combines western IP with honed Korea gameplay, graphics and live operations.

Generating over 30 million downloads despite an almost 1GB file size, the game's been most popular in Korea, where it was a top 20 grossing game on Google Play for most of 2015.

In addition, it's been a solidly top 50 grossing title in France and the US, and top 100 grossing in the likes of Australia and the UK. Asian markets such as Taiwan and Hong Kong have also been highly supportive.

#14: Nexon


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Nexon »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: c.$400m predicted for FY16
Headcount: c. 5,000
Key staff: Owen Mahoney (CEO)
Key games: DomiNations, HIT, Titanfall
Structure: Floated on Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:3659)
M&A: Very active in the west, in terms of investment and acquisition

Although the majority of F2P developer and publisher Nexon's sales come from PC games, its attempt over the past years to 'mobilise' itself with some aggressive investments, is finally paying dividends, especially outside of Japan.

The big news for Nexon during 2015 was the success of Big Huge Games' Civilization-themed strategy game DomiNations.

Published by its western-oriented Nexon M division - and since acquired by Nexon Korea - it's done around 20 million downloads, mainly in the west, but also with strong niche audiences in Korea, Taiwan and Japan.


In addition, Korean game HIT has been a local hit, gaining #1 grossing status on Google Play and the App Store and growing revenues in the country by 80%.

Thanks to these, and other games, Nexon hopes to generate over $400 million of annual mobile revenue in 2016, which would be growth of over 30%.

Of course, even this would see mobile accounting for the minority part (25%) of Nexon's overall $1.7 billion of annual sales.

Yet Nexon's mobile growth story is far from told. It has licensing agreements in place for a LEGO mobile MMOG, a mobile game set in the Titanfall universe, and a co-development deal with Square Enix for Final Fantasy XI mobile.

Other interesting forthcoming titles include inhouse action/adventure Durango, the mobile version of successful PC game Dungeon&Fighter in China, and US startup Turbo's Super Senso.

It's all a long way from the $470 million the company spent in 2012 acquiring Japanese company Gloops; a deal which proved disastrous as the developer failed to ride the boom in smartphone games in the region that brought the likes of Mixi and GungHo Online to the fore.

#13: Colopl


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Colopl »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $640 million (FY15)
Headcount: 800
Key staff: Naruatsu Baba (CEO), Jikhan Jung (CEO, COLOPL NI)
Key games: Quiz RPG: The World of Mystic Wiz, Slingshot Braves, White Cat Project
Structure: Floated on Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:3668)
M&A target: Neither a buyer or seller

Despite warnings about competition in the Japanese market, Colopl smashed through its targets in FY2015, posting growth of 35%, revenues of $640 million and profits of $175 million.

And it's continuing this growth into 2016.

The foundation for this performance are ongoing sales of Quiz RPG: The World of Mystic Wiz, although the 2013 game is now into a declining, mature phase.

So what's really impressed has been Colopl's ability through marketing and live operations to double daily active player numbers and revenues from 2014's White Cat Project.

It's now the company's key title, both in Japan and as it attempts to broaden its operations globally.


In 2015, White Cat Project was released in the west as Rune Story through new US operation Colopl NI, but it hasn't yet found an audience. The game's performance has been stronger in Korea, which accounts for the bulk of the game's 500,000 active players outside Japan.

As for the future, Colopl plans six new game launches - 2 RPGs and 4 sports games: including a new soccer game from internal studio Indigo - which it hopes will take it to $760 million of revenue in FY16.

It's also experimenting with virtual reality with well-funded subsidiary 360Channel and a $50 million investment fund for gaming and other VR applications.

#12: Elex Technology Co. Ltd

Elex Technology Co. Ltd

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Elex Technology Co. Ltd »

HQ: Beijing, China
Sales: est. $500 million
Headcount: c. 2,000
Key staff: Peng Yu (Chief Producer)
Key games: Clash of Kings, Age of Warring Empire
Structure: Owned by Chinese Universe Publishing & Media
M&A: N/A

Many Chinese mobile game developers have attempted to find top grossing success in the west, but none have succeeded like Elex Wireless.

It built a strong foundation for its global success with the release of strategy title Age of Warring Empire, which was released back in October 2013 and remains a top 10 grossing game on Google Play in key countries such as Germany and Russia.

However, it's the performance of 2014's Clash of Kings - a Game of War-style strategy game (Elex Wireless could even be viewed as China's Machine Zone) that's taken the company to the highest level of the industry.

Leading on Google Play, where it's a top 10 top grossing game in all top territories, this success has been repeated following its 2015 launch on the Apple App Store, Amazon Appstore and Facebook.

Indeed, Clash of Kings was Facebook's Game of Year in 2015.


In total, it's now been installed more than 100 million times - of which half are from Google Play - but what's much more impressive is its top grossing credentials, which in certain months have seen it ranked as top 5 global grossing game on Google Play, and a top 10 grossing game on Google Play and the App Store.

And thanks to a partnership with OEM Xiaomi, the game is also performing well in China, where it's now a top 10 grossing title.

#11: CyberAgent


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CyberAgent »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $800 million (FY15)
Headcount: est. 1,500
Key staff: Yusuke Hidaka (Executive Manager, Games)
Key games: Dragon Quest Monster Super Light, Granblue Fantasy, The Idolm@ster Cindrella Girls Starlight Stage
Structure: Floated on the Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:4751)
M&A: Not currently active

Despite operating in the highly competitive and maturing Japanese mobile games market, CyberAgent's game business is demonstrating it can thrive.

Still smaller than CyberAgent's advertising division - the company has multiple businesses - its mobile gaming unit is growing fast, very fast, up from about a quarter of company sales in 2014 to over 40%.

In absolute numbers, this resulted in around $800 million of revenue in 2015, although 2016 will be substantially larger. Q1 sales were up 50% year-on-year to a record $260 million.

Interestingly, 99.5% of these sales are generated from Japan.


Indeed, CyberAgent - which includes developers such as Cygames, Applibot and Sumzap, and the Ameba female-focused social platform - reckons it now accounts for around 10% of the total Japanese mobile games market, ranking it behind only Mixi and GungHo in terms of development prowess.

The titles behind this performance include brands such as Dragon Quest Monster Super Light (published by Square Enix) and Granblue Fantasy (published by DeNA).

There are also little-known outside of Japan such as The Idolm@ster Cindrella Girls Starlight Stage and 100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams.

Thanks to them, CyberAgent typically has six titles in the Japanese top 50 grossing chart.

And it isn't done yet. It plans to release 14 games in the next 6 months, with the most high profile being spooky-looking RPG Shadowverse.

#10: King


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King »

HQ: London, UK
Sales: $2 billion (2015)
Headcount: 1,400
Key staff: Riccardo Zacconi (CEO)
Key games: Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Candy Crush Jelly Saga
Structure: Now part of Activision-Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI)
M&A: Has acquired studios in the past, but unlikely to do so in future

It's a mark of how myopic business commentary about the mobile games industry can be that for many King is viewed as a failure.

Granted, its 2015's financials saw sales down 12% to $2 billion, but read that line again. This is a company that's generating $2 billion annually from mobile free-to-play games.

Only three other companies - Supercell, Tencent and Mixi - have that scale.

Again, King remains an insanely profitable company: $517 milion-worth in 2015, (although this was down 10%).

What's next?

Instead, like many successful companies in the sector, King became a victim of its own success. Candy Crush Saga begat Candy Crush Soda Saga with Candy Crush Jelly Saga, the latest top grossing game in the series.


Of course, the wider narrative concerns the $5.9 billion Activision-Blizzard spent to acquire King. Whether that's a fair price will only be proved by future earnings.

However, as part of Activision-Blizzard, King will be able to maintain and grow its core profitability, even if sales fall.

There will also be less pressure in terms of new creative output, giving King the time and space to come up with new IPs and experience that meet players' - not shareholders' - expectations.

#9: GungHo Online Entertainment

GungHo Online Entertainment

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GungHo Online Entertainment »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $1.3 billion (2015)
Headcount: c. 500
Key staff: Kazuki Morishita (CEO)
Key games: Puzzle & Dragons
Structure: Floated on the Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:3765)
M&A: Biggest recent deal was with gaming social network PlayPhone

It's now four years since the then little known GungHo Online released Puzzle & Dragons onto an unsuspecting Japanese public.

At first glance, the match-3 game provided the sort of simple mobile experience that stressed salarymen could enjoy during their daily commute. But before too long, the heritage of Japanese mobile game developers when it comes to deep, deep RPG mechanics and strong monetisation came to the fore.

For the past three years, the game - originally developed by four staff members - has generated over $1 billion annually, the vast majority of this revenue from Japan.

2015 saw GungHo working hard to expand the audience, however, with the US, South Korea and south east Asia all providing fertile if secondary markets.


Yet just as the game accounted for 89% of GungHo's $1.3 billion revenue in 2015, so Japan remains the bedrock of Puzzle & Dragons profitability.

Of course, four years on, the game is now in decline in terms of absolute player numbers and revenue, but it will remain a highly profitable platform for years to come, both in terms of versions on other consoles such as 3DS, spin-off mobile games, and for the new mobile games GungHo is launching.

Most recently, it reported new game Summons Board had done 4 million downloads in Japan, while RPG Divine Gate had done 5 million downloads.

Neither are likely to match Puzzle & Dragons' financials, of course, but the game will finally get its official release in China through market leader Tencent in 2016; and that's a market that really has the potential to reinvigorate.

#8: Tencent


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Tencent »

HQ: Beijing, China
Sales: c. $3 billion (mobile games), $16 billion (overall)
Headcount: c. 25,000 (entire company)
Key staff: Ma Huateng (CEO)
Key games: WeFire, Legend of Mir 2, Hero MOBA
Structure: Floated on Hong Kong stock exchange (HKG:0700)
M&A: Aggressively investing in western companies - Glu Mobile, Pocket Gems, Miniclip etc

With a $175 billion market cap, Chinese internet and gaming giant Tencent is by far the biggest company that's involved in mobile game development.

Of course, that's a given. If you take into account China's thirdparty Android app stores, it's also the world's largest mobile games company by revenue.

And as well as games, it operates the QQ and Weixin/WeChat mobile messaging platforms that have a combined reach of 650 million users.

But despite its scale, it's mobile games that are now the fastest growing part of Tencent's business; up 63% last quarter for annualised turnover of around $3 billion. In part this is due to the company's stranglehold on the fast growing $5 billion Chinese mobile games market in which games integrated with WeChat dominate the top grossing charts.

This platform not only allows Tencent to develop its own mobile games but also cherrypick the best from thirdparty partners. It's a strategy that's seen titles such as shooter WeFire, RPG Legend of Mir 2 and, most recently Hero MOBA, generating strong sales.

Heavy investment

The next challenge for the company is to use its financial muscle to extend its mobile reach globally. As in the PC and console gaming market in which Tencent has strategic investments in key developers such as Riot Games (League of Legends) and Epic Games (Unreal, Paragon), so with mobile.


In 2015, Tencent invested $126 million for a 15% stake in US F2P publisher Glu Mobile, $60 million into US developer Pocket Gems and took a controlling stake in UK developer Miniclip.

These deals follow on from 2014 investments including into Japanese mobile developer Aiming and Korean outfits Netmarble and 4:33 Creative Lab.

#7: Bethesda Softworks

Bethesda Softworks

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Bethesda Softworks »

HQ: Bethesda Game Studios
Sales: Not disclosed (est. $20 million, mobile)
Headcount: c. 300
Key staff: Pete Hines (VP, Marketing)
Key games: Fallout Shelter
Structure: A subsidiary of ZeniMax Media
M&A: Has regularly acquired game studios, but most recently did a talent hire to set up Bethesda Montreal

Although not a top top grossing game, there is little debate that Fallout Shelter was the surprise hit of 2015, perhaps even for publisher Bethesda.

Announced as part of the company's E3 2015 press conference, it was immediately the most downloaded game from the App Store and despite the original perception that it was merely a marketing ploy for PC/console game Fallout 4, it demonstrated tremendous staying power.

Developed by thirdparty company Behaviour Interactive out of its Santiago, Chile studio, the game originally lacked many features that would be expected in terms of maintaining longterm retention - the most expensive IAP was $20 - but following its initial success, these were added, as was an Android version.


Yet, the biggest surprise of all was how well the retro and irreverent atmosphere of the much-loved Fallout franchise proved to be the biggest driver of engagement and monetisation.

Eight months on, Fallout Shelter remains a top 100 grossing title in key territories such as the US, UK and Germany, leading many in the console industry to ponder about the opportunity for other big IP to 'do a Fallout Shelter'.

We'll see if Bethesda can work the same magic when it releases its second mobile game The Elder Scrolls: Legends later in 2016.


#6: NetEase


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NetEase »

HQ: Beijing, China
Sales: $3.5 billion (2015)
Headcount: c. 5,000
Key staff: William Ding (CEO)
Key games: Fantasy Westward Journey, Westward Journey Online, Million Arthur, Kung Fu Panda 3
Structure: Floated on NASDAQ (NASDAQ:NTES)
M&A: Active in terms of investing in western companies, including Reforged Studios

Competing in the Chinese market with the behemoth that is Tencent is an almost impossible battle, but NetEase has demonstrated it's up for the fight.

Ranking #2 in the country in terms of revenue, the US NASDAQ-floated company operates mobile and PC games, including licensing Blizzard's games for China, as well as more general internet services, but games accounts for around 80% of revenues and they are growing fast; up 36% in 2015.

Mobile games are the fastest-growing segment with domestically-focused titles such as Journey to the West and Fantasy Westward Journey ripping up the Chinese top grossing charts.

Indeed, such is the scale of the market that during the spring, Fantasy Westward Journey was the #4 top grossing iOS game globally, beating out Mixi's Monster Strike.

Going global

Of course, like all Chinese companies, NetEase is now looking to make the most of international opportunities - it recently invested $2.5 million in Finnish startup Reforged Studios and launched Eternal Arena (a localised version of Chinese hit Battle to the West) globally - while doubling down on the local market, which continues to experience big structural changes.


In this regard, NetEase has announced plans to release mobile versions of its most popular PC games such as DaTang and New Ghost in 2016.

It's also licensing Korean hit Raven for China, and will release Kung Fu Panda 3 as well as exploring new genres such as shooters, MOBA and RTS.

#5: Com2uS


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Com2uS »

HQ: Seoul, South Korea
Sales: $369 million (2015)
Headcount: c. 800
Key staff: Casey Lee (Head of Com2us USA)
Key games: Summoners War
Structure: Floated on Korean stock exchange (KOSDAQ:078340)
M&A: Not currently active

Despite seeing incredible 2014 growth of 188%, Korean publisher Com2uS just can't stop growing.

Thanks to key title RPG Summoners War - a niche hit that's gone global - 2015 was another record year for the company, with sales rising 83% to $369 million and income up 59% to $107 million.

Going global

Equally, the vast majority of its business is now outside Korea, with heavy marketing in North America and Europe increasing the company's business in these previously under indexed markets.

Yet, its location in Asia means that this key area remains Com2uS' biggest single territory, accounting for 35% of sales.

The question of whether the company, which is technically controlled by one-time local rival Gamevil, can breakout another title to operate at scale alongside Summoners War is the next challenge.


Existing games Ace Fishing and Golf Star have solid audiences, and it's launching 5 more RPGs in 2016, as well as boosting its sports portfolio with new games in its Homerun Battle and 9 Innings Pro Baseball series.

Nevertheless, Summoners War will be the engine of Com2uS' growth for some years to come. How big can they grow together?

#4: Mixi


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Mixi »

HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Sales: $2 billion (2015)
Headcount: c. 1,000
Key staff: Hiroki Morita (CEO)
Key games: Monster Strike
Structure: Floated on Tokyo stock exchange (TYO:2121)
M&A: Not active

Until the release of Monster Strike in mid-2013, Mixi was most commonly known as the Japanese mobile social networking service that didn't get games.

Back then game-oriented rivals such as GREE and DeNA were still flying high, while Mixi was on the cusp of going out of business.

A change of CEO saw the company reverse this no-games policy: instead it actively looked to mobile games to save the business.

Still, even from that point of view, spending $5 million on a launch campaign for its debut Monster Strike - a monster collection game with pinball-style gameplay created by Street Fighter II designer Yoshiki Okamoto - could have been considered a last throw of the dice.

Top of Japan

Yet, while the game quickly climbed into the Japanese top grossing top 100, it wasn't until the start of 2014 that it fought its way into the top 10. But, again, the timing was serendipitous for Mixi as the longstanding #1 top grossing game in Japan - GungHo's Puzzle & Dragons - was finally peaking.

The situation has seen Monster Strike take the crown, not only of Japan's best monetising game, but because of the scale of the market, the title of the world's best monetising game.

Cash cow

Mixi now has annual sales of around $2 billion and generates over $500 million in profit, with over 90% of that cash coming from the mobile version of Monster Strike, which on peak days can generate over $5 million.

(There's also been a 3DS port of the game, which has sold over 1 million units.)


And it shows no signs of stopping. With less than 35 million downloads to-date, Monster Strike's player base continues to rise with the company now actively ramping up its marketing activities in North America.

Of course, as GungHo is now finding out, operating a monster hit is great, but that success is almost impossible to replicate.

That's something Mixi will have to deal as it looks to scale new title Black Knight Strikes and launch US/Japan brand mashup Marvel Tsum Tsum.

#3: EA Mobile

EA Mobile

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EA Mobile »

HQ: Redwood Shores, USA
Sales: $504 million (FY2014)
Headcount: c. 800
Key staff: Andrew Wilson (CEO), Samantha Ryan (SVP, EA Mobile)
Key games: Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, NFL Madden Mobile, The Simpson: Tapped Out
Structure: Floated on NASDAQ (NASDAQ:EA)
M&A: Hasn't been active since expensive PopCap deal in 2011

For the longest time, EA Mobile was the almost company of mobile development. Sure it had strong brands like SimCity and Battlefield and very strong sports brands like Madden and FIFA, but somehow they couldn't translate into strong mobile brands.

In that context, the success of 2012's The Simpsons: Tapped Out was a positive, but it was an $100 million brand not a $500 million or billion dollar brand.

2015 was the year everything changed for EA Mobile.

Finally it hooked up real world cadence with F2P operations, kicking the fall refresh of Madden NFL Mobile into a US top 10 grossing brand with an active player base up 50% year-on-year.

This resulted in the company's non-GAAP sales rising 43% to $162 million for the October-December quarter.


More significantly though was the immediate success of the Capital Games' developed Star War: Galaxy of Heroes; a game that didn't feature much in those financials because of its year-end release.

Based around the biggest movie brand of the year, and despite heavy competition, it was the only mobile Star Wars game to ride the coattails of The Force Awakens impact to app store success.

Perhaps even more surprising, and ignoring the licence, the game is one of the best examples of how to bring hardcore Asian mobile game monetisation and retention to western audiences.

And in that context, it marks the next step up for EA Mobile; both in terms of game-as-a-service operations and financial earning power.


#2: Supercell


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Supercell »

HQ: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $2.3 billion (2015)
Headcount: 180
Key staff: Ilkka Paananen (CEO)
Key games: Clash of Clans, HayDay, Boom Beach, Clash Royale
Structure: Majority owned by Japanese internet outfit Softbank (TYO:9984)
M&A: No

It's in the nature of running successful F2P mobile games in the era of games-as-a-service that a lot of hard work can be overlooked.

On that level, Supercell hasn't been doing much. After all, it didn't release a single new game for nearly two years after 2014's Boom Beach.

On the other hand, Clash of Clans received 12 updates in 2015, including the much heralded Town Hall 11 expansion, which amongst other things added the Grand Warden hero and Eagle Artillery. It also ensured the game remains one of the top 3 top grossing games globally.

Similarly, Boom Beach got 10 updates, while the often over-looked Hay Day received six updates.

Combined, the three make Supercell the top grossing mobile games company in the world (at least in terms of App Store and Google Play revenues), and this despite only having 180 staff.

All about the games

Yet, what's been much more interesting is the private-public way in which the Helsinki-based developer announces and then often celebrates the cancelling of projects that don't perform at the high standards required.

Puzzler Spooky Pop and physics-pinger Smash Land received their marching orders during 2015, with Supercell sending each to their demise with a champagne party.


Which leads us to Clash Royale.

Few mobile games have received the pre-launch attention of this card-based MOBA, which since its global release has shot to the top of top grossing charts all around the world.

And, as if to underline Supercell's status, it recently announced it had 100 million daily active players across its four games.

In this respect, as well as in the polished nature of the experiences it releases, Supercell remains the mobile developer others try to emulate.

#1: Machine Zone

Machine Zone

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Machine Zone »

HQ: Palo Alt, USA
Sales: Undisclosed (est. $1 billion)
Headcount: est 200
Key staff: Gabe Leydon (CEO)
Key games: Game of War, Mobile Strike
Structure: Privately held, has raised $13 million in VC money
M&A: Yes, but who could afford it?

There's no question Machine Zone (and subsidiary Epic War), isn't the most popular developer in terms of the broad appeal of its niche hardcore games Mobile Strike and Game of War.

Equally, there's no question Machine Zone did something in 2015 that no other mobile game developer did: as a western company, it successfully launched an original game globally into the top grossing charts, including in those difficult-but-highly-lucrative Asia markets, China, Japan and South Korea.

Sure, on one level, the Epic War-published Mobile Strike is contemporary military-themed version of the heavily meta-gamed and Alliance-focused fantasy-themed Game of War, which bought the company global success in 2013.


But, in a sense, such faint praise - as well as being incorrect - merely underscores the company's achievement.

To repeat that performance two years later, in a much more competitive and congested global market with 2015's Mobile Strike is nothing short of miraculous, particularly given the attitude of fashionable opinion.

And let's not forget that throughout 2015 Game of War continued to tussle with Clash of Clans for the title of the top grossing game in key markets such as the US, making it not only one of the most profitable mobile games ever, but one of the most profitable games ever.

Understanding the funnel

So, now Machine Zone - a fairly secretive US developer that raised minimal venture cash and started life as a failed dating service - has two games operating at the same annualised billion-dollar-revenue level.

Of course, the problem for many commentators is you have to spend hundreds of hours (and dollars: one analyst reckons it's possible to spend $120,000 in Game of War) to really understand how Machine Zone's games operate.

There is little or no gameplay in the traditional sense. Everything is meta and collaborative.


In this context, then, much of the focus falls on Machine Zone's brute force approach to user acquistion.

But not only does it spend the most on advertising - Maria Carey replacing Kate Upton for Game of War and Arnold Schwartznegger fronting Mobile Strike - it also understands its UA and retention funnel better than any other developer.

Surely the combination of understanding the games you're operating, the audiences playing them, and the process to connect the two, all at the highest level in the industry is the very definition of the best mobile developer?