Gerald is CEO at Inzen Studio, a mobile game company that seeks to create new play experiences for audiences worldwide through their constant study of innovation and culture. Inzen’s founding five met at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, where they established a unique eye for design, game development, and prototyping for audiences across the East and West. In 2012, they decided to form Inzen, taking their shared brand of play design to players everywhere. Backed by Hatcher (Singapore), the Global Mobile Game Confederation (China) and the Incubate Fund (Japan), Inzen has set out to share their approach to games with the world, with their first stop being China!
Gerald was the moderator of a SEA publishing focussed panel at the recent Mobile Game Asia Conference in Ho Chi Minh City and will be presented at the Global Mobile Games Developers Conference in November in Chengdu. In this interview Gerald gives tremendous inside views into the SEA publishing sector and into his company challenges.
IGA.biz: How about we talk about your personal history in the games business first? When did you start your business?
Gerald: The five founders started Inzen in October 2012. We’d all worked together as part of the strategy & operations and development team at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab and we liked the philosophy of pushing design boundaries across different cultures. We also built a great friendship after 2+ years of working together and wanted to start a game company that would experiment with designing unique experiences across different cultures. At the start of 2012, we met a Dutch investor who’d been following our progress at the game lab. In September, when we were ready to start the company, we asked him if he would invest in us… and he did! And so Inzen was born.
IGA.biz: What is your business today and what is Inzen Studio doing?
Gerald: Inzen Studio do two things. We make our own games and we help other companies modify and publish their games through our networks in China and South East Asia. For the games that we’re making, we’ve secured the rights to some of the games we worked on at the game lab (Dark Dot and Nightmare Duel) and we’re re-designing them for different audiences around the world. For Dark Dot, we’re heavily focused on taking it to China and you might have a chance to play it soon! (if you’re in China). Nightmare Duel was always going to be a heavily competitive experience. We’ve enabled network PvP for it and we’re exploring a possible release in Korea, if our development schedule permits. For the games that we’re modifying for China, we’re working with several companies from other parts of Asia to take their games to China. We should be able to talk more about this come Q4 this year!
IGA.biz: How big is Inzen Studio and do have the Studios subsidiaries in the region?
Gerald: We are 13 people and a close group of freelancers that we work with regularly. 11 of us are based in Singapore, 1 in China and 1 in Uruguay. We’re exploring setting up a larger presence in China and this could happen in 2015!
We had Thomas Andreasen, Chief Growth Officer and Co-founder @ Playlab, Robin Sagacious Ng, Director of International Business @ Asiasoft, Keith Morales, Head of Publishing @ Altitude Games and Frank Sliwka, CEO @ International Business Media. The line-up was actually pretty cool because there was representation from companies at different stages of their publishing lifecycle:
a) Playlab is growing from a developer of super successful casual games (the Juice Cubes series), to a full-fledged publisher (publishing Ranch Run)
b) Asiasoft is an MMO powerhouse that’s using it’s strengths and channel relationships in South East Asia to grow its mobile publishing business
c) Altitude is a successful developer of games that’s growing its publishing capabilities through strong alliances (an example is their partnership with their investors at Xurpas)
d) IB Media has, through Frank’s experience and influence in the industry, gathered a strong European client base of companies eager to publish into Asia and this meant that our panel would have a breadth of perspectives
I thought it would be beneficial for the audience to hear about the entire publishing lifecycle, from market selection, to sourcing, through to launch, so they would have a holistic view of the process and some of the thinking behind each stage.
IGA.biz: What are the key markets and what player types do the companies focus on?
Playlab’s primary audience tends to be female and between 35 and 55 years old. They focus primarily on social-casual gamers and there is a geographic sweetspot of US and Europe. Asiasoft focuses primarily on the 6 key markets within South East Asia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Their RPG players are primarily male, aged 15-30. And their mobile players tend to be between 15-60. And Thailand is their key growth territory at this point. Altitude focuses on an English-speaking audience of casual-midcore experiences. They have a strong base in the Philippines and audiences in Malaysia and Thailand have responded well to their games as well. IB Media’s clientbase consists mainly of Mobile and Casual game companies in Europe and they focus mainly on strong English-speaking countries within South East Asia. They are currently running some market tests in Malaysia.
IGA.biz: Can you summarize each company’s approach to the publishing process?
Gerald: Playlab shared their experience with Infinity Levels to illustrate how they source for and select games. They typically look for games that test well. Their benchmark of D1/D7/D30 is 40%/20%/10% . They worked with Infinity Levels for 9 months before they Ranch Run was finally launched. They work with their developers to run lots of split tests, from marketing (where they test response rates to ad types) to builds (where they test different flows), so their efficiency of their marketing spend is optimized (this is especially important, given the high User Acquisition costs in the current market) when they launch.
In terms of the game support post-launch, Playlab tries to extend the lifecycle of the games that they publish for as long as they can through a mix of optimization, segmentation and adaptation. They spend a longer time in optimization pre-launch, so they can focus on ramping up operations as the game launches. They have a dedicated live ops team to support title launches. And the teams continue to iterate and test post-launch. They see post-launch optimization as even more critical than during the pre-launch process and they continually try to re-engage their users, so they keep coming back. They also see segmentation as a big part of what they do and they continually come up with customized ways to reach specific segments of their audience.
Playlab’s method ensures that their games are able to extend their lifecycle well past their launch date and Juice Cubes is an example of a game that’s evolved and stil going strong, 2 years after launch.
Asiasoft typically sources games from companies in Japan, Korea and China but they are scouting mobile games from South East Asia as well. They spend 1-to-2 months working with the developers to plan their content update cycle over the next year, and typically try to launch the games that they’ve signed within 6 months. They’ve evaluated 400 games so far and have published 4 mobile games to date.
In terms of game support post-launch, Asiasoft treats every game like an investment and typically have a 1-year peak revenue expectation for the titles that they publish. A critical part of their process is the 1-to-2 months that they spend on planning updates and culturalization factors with the developers and they have a 1-year horizon for their content roadmap.
Given their experience in launching games across the 6 different cultures, Asiasoft is able to mobilize resources to support game launches via online and offline marketing methods. They are also very mindful about the types of content that work in the different regions and the amount of culutralization required. For example, Japanese characters and art styles do tend to be popular within markets like Thailand and audiences tend to respond well to marketing activities that emphasize character styles.. like cosplay.
Altitude is currently sourcing for games that are playable alone have the ability to (within the game’s design) draw 3 to 4 players to the game, for every player who plays (this would be the game’s viral factor). Their first test markets for titles will typically be English-speaking audiences in Malaysia and Thailand and they are still building out their publishing pipeline. Altitude will seriously look at games that they think will have a 2-to-3 year lifecycle.
In terms of game support post-launch, Altitude is continuing to build on their publishing channels (Xurpas being one of them), while they optimize their processes through the publishing of their own titles within the region.
IB Media sources games from their client base in Europe. They normally take finished games from their partners and their goal is to publish and operate these games in South East Asia. A large part of their work is in integrating with payment systems in South East Asia. The other part is also in educating Europe side companies that the market mechanics in South East Asia are very different (for example, how these players do not pay using credit card and how the ARPPU may be significantly lower than Europe because of average income)
In terms of game support post-launch, IB Media is continuing to build on their partner network for publishing as well as payments. They will continue to test the reception for their titles on the English-speaking audiences first and then plan for culturalized versions based on the results that they receive.
IGA.biz: Thank you for the interview, Gerald.