Imperia Online, the massively multiplayer online (MMO) strategy game, released a Windows Store version of their app in March and are currently working on a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) release. They started their company in 2005 with just a handful of passionate hobbyists in an apartment in Bulgaria. Building from a web-based game in an age before Facebook, Imperia Online grew from these humble beginnings into a game that is played around the world and on a wide variety of platforms: from the web and Facebook to mobile (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) and now to Windows 10.
Growing a gaming studio, it turns out, can be a lot like playing a strategy game. It’s all about gathering resources, finding tactical opportunities to increase revenue, and expanding your territory. For instance, pursuing a cross-platform strategy has always been important for Imperia Online because it means getting their game out in front of more people. At the same time, new platforms can also provide unique opportunities. Mariela Pavlova, Head of Marketing and Business Development, said “At first we were skeptical of the Windows ecosystem, but then we saw the lack of strategy titles in their games section, and we thought this new platform can expand the company’s market significantly.”
It also helped that using WinJS made bringing their web-based code over to Windows pretty easy. Imperia Online started with only a limited familiarity with the Windows development platform. To overcome this barrier, they partnered with Game Troopers, a prominent game publisher on Windows and Xbox who, according to Mariela, “made the integration process look like a piece of cake.” Having started down this road, they are now looking to UWP as a way incrementally grow their game even further. “To be part of a new beginning like the Windows 10 platform,” Mariela added, “is one of the most powerful opportunities for game developers today.”
UWP improves core gaming
Imperia Online has been a free-to-play game since its inception and relies on in-app purchases for revenue. “From the beginning we have believed that free-to-play is the business model of the future because you can reach a broader audience,” said Cvetan Rusimov, COO of Imperia Online Ltd. UWP provides a strong foundation for build in-app purchase gaming elements. In addition, Windows Store allows game studios to generate promotion codes for in-app products (IAP) that makes developing campaigns around IAPs extremely convenient.
The average in-app purchase for Imperia Online is around 20 Euros. Over the course of a game, Cvetan says this is a much better source of revenue than an initial purchase because, if a player enjoys the game, they can make multiple purchases at key trigger points in their play such as wanting to get revenge against another player or in order to impress friends. Cvetan says there is even a set of core gamers that will regularly spend hundreds of dollars for in-app purchases. Cultivating these sorts of players can make a Windows Store game especially lucrative.
Another aspect of the UWP platform that Imperia Online finds attractive is the ability to manipulate Live Tiles. On a website, it is difficult to get a player’s attention after they have left the game. With Live Tiles, on the other hand, users can receive discrete updates. “Our experience on Windows,” said Mariela, “shows that users benefit a lot from Live Tiles mainly because they are not disturbed by notifications. Instead, they see nice images for the local offers, coming attacks and finished missions in game. Retention rates are increased, as shown by more frequent logins and game sessions.”
Growing into new territories
Besides moving to new platforms, Imperia Online also looks for opportunities to move into new global regions. They currently support approximately 30 languages in Europe, South America, the Middle East, and even Japan. Moving into a new region requires not only translating the game and making sure localized fonts look good on the maps. It also involves a level of cultural accommodation, with adjustments to color themes, visuals, and music.
Because the game has a medieval theme, Imperia Online had to make adjustments for release in the Middle East. For instance, churches, which European gamers are familiar and comfortable with, need to be turned into mosques for Middle Eastern players. In addition, Imperia Online’s creative director collected thousands of pictures covering the architecture and clothing of the various regions to make sure the aesthetic of the game is appropriate and localized for each culture.
Imperia Online currently have their eyes set even further east. “We want to expand our territory,” said Cvetan. “We want to go to China.” In order to do this, it turns out that acculturation is not as important as one would think. According to Cvetan, western-style gaming aesthetics are currently very popular in China, following a period in which Japanese manga-style design was all the rage. This makes slipping in a medieval strategy game actually relatively easy.
The larger problem they foresee is server responsiveness. Dynamic content between China and the company’s servers in Sofia, Bulgaria can be less than optimal. To counter this, Imperia Online views Microsoft Azure’s global presence as a strategic opportunity to grow their game into new territories while ensuring the best data performance possible.
Growing the business
As the game expands into new platforms and new territories, Imperia Online has seen itself grow physically, also. Cvetan remembers when he was employee number eight. Imperia Online now employs 180 people and has a catalog of 20 games. While growth is not only good but also one of the principle goals of most game studios, it introduces challenges.
“At the beginning, it was a flat structure and everyone talked to everyone,” Cvetan explained. “Then when we hit 30, we needed to have teams, leads, heads of departments, you need to delegate more tasks – and then you have the problem of not having enough connection with the employees and being able to share knowledge. This is something that small companies underestimate.”
At the same time, Imperia Online continues to pursue further growth and looks for additional revenue opportunities. Right now, this means Windows 10 and the Universal Windows Platform.
Supporting a cross-platform game these days means having at least one foot in the Windows 10 ecosystem. Windows 10 is currently installed on 300 million devices. Putting your game on the Windows Store gives game developers access to the owners of those devices that they might not otherwise have. Building your Windows Store game with UWP additionally gives you great tools for creating in-app purchases and powerful notification mechanisms like Live Tiles that will expand your reach, grow your revenue and increase your retention.