The studio's CEO Mehmet Ecevit discusses game clones, mobile ads and quick development

Gram Games on copycats: ‘Imitation is the best form of flattery’

Turkey-based developer Gram Games was founded in 2012, and has quickly released a number of successful games.

Its mobile titles include Railroad Gangs, Gran Tower, 1010 and the new 1010 World. The now 20-strong team is making thousands of dollars every day from its puzzle series 1010, and over the years has than $1.1m in funding rounds.

Develop caught up with Gram Games CEO Mehmet Ecevit to discuss how 1010 has become such a breakout hit for the company, how it deals with copycats, why it uses advertising instead of microtransactions and what is plans for the future are.

To what do you attribute the success of 1010?
With 1010 we set out to make a game that focused on a simple gameplay mechanic that was really fun, but hard to master. We also deliberately set out to create a really simple user experience with no time limits or paywalls. Which ultimately led to the success of 1010. Our users love the unlimited and uninterrupted sessions, the clean, crisp graphics and the fact that there are no lives or paywalls. They love that they can pick up and play a quick session and resume whenever they want. We get feedback from fans saying their 1010 game has been going on for weeks or even months at a time.

How are you building on that success? What are you doing to support the game going forward?
1010 players love competing for a higher score against their friends or even strangers online, so we’re working on some new features that will help players share their scores and show their friends exactly how they achieved it. We also hope to add multiplayer version of 1010 very soon.

As well as updates and new features to 1010 we’ve released 1010 World, which takes the distinct gameplay of 1010 and applies it to the adventure genre. Users place the blocks to solve puzzles and progress to the next level. It was recently voted one of the cutest games of all time by Apple’s App Store Editors.

What stance have you taken with the news of copycats and clones of your game? Has it impacted your business in any way?
There’s an old saying, that imitation is the best form of flattery, so on one hand we take copycat games as a compliment. But on the other hand, it creates a challenge for us. We have put a lot of time and effort to create a game that people will love and it is disappointing that copycat games draw users away from our game, to a version that is not as good. Especially when you consider that 1010 is completely free-to-play.

What could/should be done about copycat developers and their games?
There are really good developers and studios all over the world that spend lots of time and effort creating games that people will love and they should be rewarded for their effort. So, we as an industry should definitely do all we can to help stamp it out.

Stricter app store guidelines and scrutiny over what is allowed in the stores is one way to address the problem, but there is a risk that this could have other unintended consequences. Education with gamers also needs to be part of the solution.

Why choose display ads over other forms of advertising? How much does this generate?
It all comes down to our focus on providing the best user experience possible for our users. We were very clear that we wanted to make a game that was super fun and didn’t have any session limits or pay walls, so display advertising became the most obvious choice.

The game is monetising extremely well. We can’t disclose the exact figures because this serves to help copycat competitors, but it generates thousands of pounds per day. Display ads account for 99 per cent of revenue, the other one per cent comes from in-app purchases – to remove ads or change themes.

What advice do you have for other developers considering this form of advertising?
Display advertising is not dead, it can be really effective, but it should not compromise the user experience. The other thing is to choose your partner very carefully and always run a trial campaign and evaluate the success. We have been very lucky to have good advertising partners that help us achieve good results.

Why not use microtransactions? What is your opinion of this business model?
Microtransactions can be a very effective business model and something we may pursue in future titles, but for 1010 we really wanted to make a title that had a great user experience, no time limits, no lives, no paywalls, so display advertising made the most sense for us

What did you learn from the less successful titles released before 1010? What mistakes were you keen to avoid?
We’d made three games prior to 1010 and what we learned from the users feedback and our own reflection. These learnings ultimately contributed to the success of 1010.

Our previous titles were focused on very complex game mechanics that took users a long time to understand, which made it really hard to create a really good user experience. This was something we really wanted to avoid, so set out to focus on a simple gameplay mechanic and user experience.

How were you able to develop and release 1010 within a month? What is the secret to such a quick development time?
We have a regular thing we called prototype Wednesday, where the team focuses on a different project for the day. One of our designers, Cem, shared a really early version of the 1010 game mechanic and we were all hooked. From there we went into full on development, and had a team of five working on it full-time. Once we were all focusing on it, progress was quite quick.

The thing that actually took the most time was deciding on the best GUI. We’d worked on and tested several different variations with friends and family before settling on the clean flat design you see today. From there was test, test, test to make sure everything was right. We were really happy with the feedback that we decided to launch and launch globally. The early retention figures were really good so we knew we were on to something good.

The secret to such a quick development was having a really excellent and passionate team. Our clear vision for a simple gameplay mechanic without session times, levels or lives was really key to help speed up the process, as we didn’t have to solve some of the more time consuming aspects of game design – such as creating all the levels and how to scale the difficulty.

How will you follow the success of 1010?
On top of 1010 World and new features and updates for 1010, we’re in the early stages of a new title. Our company mission is for a Gram game on every mobile device in the world, so we won’t be resting on our laurels. We’ll always strive to create games that people love.

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