Mathias Royer, former Gameloft and Flaregames and now general manager at Tilting Point Barcelona, shared his knowledge on how to successfully grow a mobile studio earlier today at Develop:Brighton.
During his talk, the mobile expert presented practical tips for developers who are just starting their studio or are about to launch it.
First and foremost, location matters – “more than you think” Royer said. “It’s easier than ever to move around, especially in Europe. If you have the luxury to pick a location, it will come down to three factors: talent availability (how big is the talent pool?), cost (salaries won’t be the same depending on where you settle), and personal connections (do you know a group of people already that you can leverage in a specific location?)”
He also highlighted the importance of hiring in a smart way, hiring people who will fit the culture you are building at your studio. “No apple is better than a bad apple,” he said, before quoting Netflix’s approach to it: “In a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks’. The cost to teamwork is just too high.” He continued: “Brilliant jerks are just jerks. Never settle, never say: ‘this person is an asshole but they’re great’.”
How you do that is by involving the entire team in the selection process: invite candidates on site and ask them to do real tasks. Flaregames for instance asks for an introduction in front of the entire company so everyone gets to see if a candidate is a good fit. Anyone can then veto a hire.
“You’re not just building a game, you are building a team, a company and ultimately, a culture. Culture is a result of what you do, of your actions, of who your hire, it starts shaping on day one and is extremely hard to change. In case of any doubt, trust your gut feeling,” Royer concluded on that aspect.
“Culture is a result of what you do, of your actions, of who your hire, it starts shaping on day one and is extremely hard to change.”
When it comes down to building your first title, he highlighted the importance of doing your research before even starting to write any line of code. Use tools such as Sensor Tower and App Annie, among others. He also advised to test your concepts before building anything, using apps such as Playstestcloud and Nielsen.
“Once you’ve done that, do a CPI test,” he added. “The game doesn’t exist but what you do is you put together ads for a fake game and you have a fake app store and you measure everything (clickthrough rate, conversion rate) and compare it to historical data.”
During this time of tests and iterations on your idea, it’s important to maintain your existing income. In order to do this, Royer gave different options: “Take some work for hire projects. Take over live operations from another studio. Give support to another team. The benefits from all these is you won’t be running against the clock. It also allows for better decision making (not only pushed by time) and it’s great to build your team’s synergy.”
He also advised to limit the scope of your first game and to remain focused. Pick a business model you believe in, whether that’s freemium and premium – and stick to it. He commented: “Give yourself a mission, a mission that matters for your studio,” quoting Ustwo as an example, with the studio founded on the question: “What would an internal first-party game from Apple look like?” The answer being Monument Valley – resulting in the success that we all know.
He also pointed out the importance of actually shipping your game (sooner rather than later) and not staying in development forever: “Get real users feedback – especially negative, that helps you build your game,” he said. “The more you wait the more variables there are and the harder it is to iterate. Finally, the earlier your ship the earlier you kill – it’s horrible to kill a game but if you have to kill a game it’s better to do it early cause you still have time and money to try something else.”
Google Open Beta program and Testfight are only two of the numerous ways you can get beta testers.
Make sure you have a team who is able to do a bit of everything – a “Swiss knife team,” as Royer called it. “At the beginning you should be able to do everything yourself,” he said. Activities to try before outsourcing include analytics, QA, localisation, UA, marketing creatives, and more, “so you can understand their values” if later down the road you do want to outsource them.
At the end, “it all comes down to successful and scalable UA,” he added, before concluding: “Don’t forget that we have the best job in the world. It can be stressful, but it’s the best job in the world. So remember to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”