Kixeye has had consistent success with a series of Facebook games aimed squarely at hardcore gamers, with titles like War Commander, Battle Pirates and Backyard Monsters. While other companies were content with a small percentage of users actually paying for content, Kixeye's games generate revenue per payer at 20 times that rate. Even as the social game market has declined, Kixeye has continued to do well with its existing slate of games.
The lure of the fast-growing mobile game market has not been lost on Kixeye, though, and it recently introduced its first mobile game, a version of Backyard Monsters. The [a]list daily spoke with Kixeye CEO Will Harbin about this game, Kixeye's plans for the future, and his view of the industry.
How important is the mobile market to Kixeye? “It's extremely important, and we're not putting all of our eggs in one basket,” said Harbin. “We're still continuing to do browser and PC download titles we're working on as well, but mobile could easily be half of our audience or more over the next year. Our formula is successful, given all the copycats out there, so it's our opportunity for the taking.”
Harbin doesn't see the Kixeye formula as an great mystery. “It's the same approach as making a successful game on any platform,” said Harbin. “You absolutely need to take advantage of the strengths of each individual platform, while taking into account weaknesses.”
He explained how Kixeye interprets that for mobile platforms. “Mobile, obviously the strength is physical accessibility, but people aren't necessarily walking down the sidewalk and staring at their device for an hour,” said Harbin. “Sometimes asynchronous experiences work a little better, you play as you go and you play on your time. I don't think an hour-plus synchronous session is going to work on a small form factor mobile device, but it certainly could work on a tablet. We make a quality game that's true to the genre and make it for mobile. Our games are not ports – it's not like this is a distribution opportunity. There's absolutely lots of hand-tailoring going on to a new platform like mobile.”
Fulfilling that promise meant some hitches in the development process for Kixeye's new game. “Backyard Monsters mobile actually has a long history,” Harbin observed. “We initially started with a third-party partner a year and half, two years ago to get it out on mobile. That didn't go well because they approached it as they were just porting the browser game over to mobile, and we canceled that because it didn't hit our quality bar. We wanted a game that works well and is hyper-tailored to the device.”
An extension of that philosophy is to consider the differences between smartphones and tablets. “They way I look at it, if it works on a phone it will work on a tablet, but just because it works on a tablet but it won't necessarily work on a phone,” Harbin said. “We've got a game coming up and we're still debating on whether we're going to optimize it for a phone or not, versus keeping it with tablet and browser. We expect to learn a lot of lessons out of this first launch on mobile. We went with Backyard Monsters first because it's the broadest reaching of our titles. It's already had 25 million installs in a much more limited market relative to iOS.”
Harbin expects to reach beyond the existing Backyard Monsters audience for the mobile game. “I would imagine 60 percent plus will be new,” said Harbin. “Looking at the App Store reviews, there are definitely a lot of people who were playing it on browser. We'll reach those users through a few different methods. One is the obvious, paying for installs, and the rest will be viral word of mouth and other kinds of marketing promotion.”
Harbin feels that Facebook is becoming a more difficult platform to succeed on for game developers. “Our existing games are doing quite well,” said Harbin. “It's definitely challenging to launch a new game on Facebook. A lot of players have just migrated elsewhere, and there's really been a lack of new content on Facebook for midcore, much less hardcore, in the last year. I hope Facebook does something, but I think they're mostly dedicated to figuring out mobile. We have one last hoorah coming up or browser, and that'll inform whether or not we do more stuff for browser or just stick to mobile and PC download.”
Overall, Harbin is optimistic about the market for games. “It's a great time to be a game developer,” said Harbin. “There are so many democratic ways of publishing a game these days. There are not as many excuses for failure as there were ten years ago, that's for sure. You have billions of people playing games across the world.”