Earlier this week at Slush, we met with some of the up and coming players in the mobile industry.
Two of these companies are MAG Interactive, who just announced a $6 million first investment by Nokia Growth Partners (NGP), and Grand Cru, a Finnish gaming company, who had secured an investment by NGP earlier this year.
We sat down with Daniel Hasselberg, the CEO and co-founder of MAG Interactive and Markus Pasula, the CEO and co-founder of Grand Cru, to talk about mobile gaming and the water in Nordic countries.
MAG Interactive already have two successful games out in the market (Ruzzle and Quizcross), and Grand Cru is looking to release their first game, Supernauts, later this year.
What was the first mobile game you played?
Markus: Nokia Snake back in the late 90’s.
Daniel: Same here. It was pretty much the only game available at that time.
How did you end up developing mobile games for work?
Markus: I think I started a little bit too early. I joined this mobile game start-up Riot Entertainment in 2000. The company went bankrupt before we released our first game. We were making games based on SMS messaging and WAP – it was the dark ages of mobile gaming. Things got better after that.
Daniel: My background is actually in mobile services and apps, and in the beginning it wasn’t so much about gaming. This was back in the late 90’s. It was some 10 years later, when app stores emerged, when it felt like the future was finally here. That’s when we started to create some really cool apps.
Many mobile game companies (like Rovio and Supercell), branching out from Finland and Sweden, have produced some pretty successful titles globally. Is there something in the water here in the northern hemisphere that explains this?
Markus: I think it’s the hobbyist attitude. People here put their minds, hands and hearts to it and they really care about what they do. There’s also a long history of mobile gaming in Sweden and Finland. Both countries are pioneers in this area.
Daniel: I think there are a lot of similarities between Finland and Sweden, so it’s not a surprise that both countries are making similar progress in this area. There’s the 80’s demo scene in both countries and most of the founders of today’s game companies have similar backgrounds, growing up in the 80s doing games and programming with Commodore 64 machines. I also think that Nokia and Ericsson have played a key role, providing a solid engineering background and know-how on how to build companies.
What makes a really good mobile game?
Markus: One formula for a really good mobile game is to do something for mobile that isn’t yet done well. There are still a lot of untapped gaming genres and a lot of new audiences, who are still waiting for the perfect game. Another important thing is to take into account where, how and for how long people play.
Daniel: I think execution is super important. In our case for example the game itself is not super special or something new, but it’s about how we execute it. It needs to look nice, be super easy to play and naturally fit into those moments when you want to share the gaming experience with your friends. Creating a game concept that is familiar rather than brand new is actually an advantage as the user gets it in 10 seconds.
Let’s talk about monetization. How do you make or are planning to make money with your games?
Markus: Our game, Supernauts, will be driven by virtual economies and in-app purchasing. People can use virtual money to speed up the progress, buy special decorative items, and all kinds of little toys they can use to express themselves.
Daniel: We have two games out there and they both have a similar business model. There’s a premium ad-free version with in-app purchasing and then a freemium version with advertising – our main revenue stream.
You have both raised funding from Nokia Growth Partners. What will this investment enable?
Markus: It has helped us to start working on new projects more quickly – we already have a couple of new games in the pipeline. We were also able to grow the company a bit quicker and the funding will give us the opportunity to put more marketing effort behind our game launches. It also enables us to fail with some of our games as this industry is still very much a hit-driven business.
Daniel: For us it’s not about the cash at all. We’ve been cash flow positive almost from day one. The driver for us was really to get a partner onboard who could help us grow and become significantly bigger. NGP has a global network, so that will help us extend the reach of our games to new markets. And generally it will help move the company up a notch.
You both have a long history in mobile gaming; can you share a career highlight and a lowlight?
Markus: I think the lowlight of my career is the time when I was making games based on SMS messaging – it just wasn’t a good platform. Highlight is more recent, and it was when we started the soft launch testing with Supernauts. Finally pieces are coming together and we’re amazed by what our users are doing.
Daniel: A highlight has got to be last December when we saw downloads double every day for weeks in the US for our game Ruzzle. Those weeks have ben the craziest weeks of my life! A lowlight is from the time when we launched on Android and had outsourced the development – the quality ended up being really poor. Having a game out there that you weren’t really proud of was a real lowlight for me.
Any tips for game developers out there who are building their first game?
Markus: Pay attention to details – keep it simple and smooth, make everything feel very natural and pay attention to the loading times, It’s a different audience who play mobile phone games compared to Xbox for example. And if you haven’t developed games before, it’s probably a good idea to join one of the top game companies like Grand Cru first.
Daniel: Come and work for MAG Interactive! But if you design your own, keep in mind the session times – you can only demand a couple of minutes of attention from your players.