If you want to know true cold visit a Swedish games studio on the morning when its heating has exhaled one last, rattling death gasp.
As tendrils of ice snaked across the city of Gothenburg, Palringo’s game development team were huddled indoors wearing enough layers to insulate the Vatnajökull ice cap.
It's not the best time to have come for a studio profile visit.
Chat is hot
Having shored itself up as one of the leading lights in mobile UA, Palringo is a community and gaming platform built around an app that gives players and developers a direct line to chat about games.
While its business is centred on selling rich media messages, premium features and chat apps, 85 percent of the UK-headquartered company’s revenue comes from games.
As such, the Gothenburg office is a sprawling hub of different teams working on an arsenal of projects – from new games, to creating feedback loops between players and developers.
Its employees are delightful. Like a member of its tester team who gazes lovingly at the model Death Star on his desk, beaming as fingers of ice scratch against the window outside. For perspective, he is wearing shorts.
Palringo’s CMO Magnus Alm also embraces eccentric fashion, wrapped in his grandfather’s old smoking jacket where (midway through our tour) he exclaims with alacrity “I found a toothpick in the pocket!”
Then, as we walk past one particularly diligent team hunched over their monitors, Alm whispers quietly “they are responsible for watering the plants.”
He gestures to a wizened husk of a plant drooping off the windowsill.
The importance of social
But questionable greenery aside, this is an office that buzzes with activity. Abandon all hope, ye plants that enter here because Palringo’s developers are too busy creating to brush up on their botany skills.
“Integrating social and game is the whole reason I wanted to work here,” one of the game producers tells me.
For us social means that we truly want people to play together.Magnus Alm
“It creates some completely unusual experiences as you try to get ‘chat people’ who are not into games and ‘game people’ who are not into chat to exist side by side.”
Trying to unite the two is a task easier said than done, but be successful and you unpick a rich new seam of potential users for your game.
In December 2015, Palringo ran an experiment with its casual game Balloony Land. By incentivizing engagement within the Palringo app, Balloony Land reached the top 10 download charts in 9 countries on iOS and 7 on Android.
Plus, the equivalent CPI cost was $0.44 compared to the industry average of $1.70.
“For us social means that we truly want people to play together,” says Alm.
“We are soon launching a chat game called Gunpowder, where groups of players will man a ship and fight pvp style against other groups," Alm continues.
"We are innovating on the graphic experience of these type of chat games, and as you can see with Facebook Messenger games, others are following that path as well.”
Creativity within restrictions
Johan Peitz, Palringo’s head of product management, describes his job at the company as “the man with the broom in curling.”
We’re interested in creativity within restrictions.Johan Peitz
Having once created indie-hit Icy Towers, Peitz provides a guiding force to all facets of Palringo’s operations. Between him and Alm, both have over 20 years experience in the games industry – and there’s one thing they think many companies overlook.
“Many game companies lack business focus,” says Alm. “We meanwhile have a clear focus on business targets – we can’t lose focus. It’s not enough to just create fun games, you have to swing on the pendulum from passion to business.
“We’re interested in creativity within restrictions,” agrees Peitz. “It forces people to think outside the box. The reality is that blank paper can be paralyzing.”
For Alm, it’s summed up by the fact that “Anyone who has ever developed a game know the importance of the term ‘kill your darlings’. It is so easy to embark on a trip down feature creep lane, without even knowing it.
“We believe in creating a fun core and then build your product outwards from that, anyone who has tried the opposite knows that it is costly and time consuming.”
Still, that’s not to say that Palringo does not prize passion.
According to Magnus, “numbers and metrics might tell you that engagement is down, but they don’t tell you that to raise it you need a new enemy.
“You can’t just tweak based on metrics, you need to find that creative flair. Like a rocket fart.”
He points to a raspberry blowing sound effect in Balloony Land as a rapidly deflating balloon cavorts across the screen, gives a satisfied grin, and goes to play table tennis with the rest of the Palringo team.
Because, after all, Palringo never forgets the importance of being social.