While Zynga has been busy snaffling up all the social gaming limelight, German company Wooga has been quietly catching it up, building a massive user base with titles like Bubble Island and Diamond Dash on Facebook. Currently, Wooga is the fourth biggest game developer on Facebook, with 34 million monthly active users.
GamesIndustry.biz spoke exclusively to CEO Jens Begemann just after his talk at GDCE where he revealed that the company was currently expanding at a rate of two new employees a week, and spoke about the benefits of developing for Facebook.
Q:You've had great success so far, what do you think you're doing right?
Jens Begemann:I think what we combine at Wooga is analytics combined with emotions. We think both of those are as important as each other. There are some companies out there that just focus on one of those elements, we believe you really have to combine them. It's about looking at every number and every detail and making tiny variations that sometimes just go live for 5 per cent of users, and looking at which of these variations performs best. But at the same time never lose the long term vision, never lose the small details, the small things that you can't really measure with numbers but that in the long run create very loyal players for you.
We've got this company culture where always one person is responsible for one game, has the last word on everything, can also overrule me, and that's a very important aspect of it. To keep the long term, consistent feel of the game, and not just optimising this number and this number and in the end it just feels like a cluttered pieces and not like one big thing.
Never lose the small details, the things that you can't really measure with numbers but that in the long run create very loyal players for you.
Q:And how do you keep people coming back when there are ten new Facebook games a day?
Jens Begemann:It's a combination of various things, a lot of attention to detail, smart user Facebook communication channels, without being spammy. Really using them in a way where people want to send gifts to each other but they don't want to spam each other. Then using things that give people a reason to come back regularly, for example in Diamond Dash we've got a tournament every week. So every week you can win a gold, silver and bronze medals, so every week there's a new reason to come back to try to win this week's tournament. So it's all of these things that make sure people come back all the time.
Q:You seem happy with the features Facebook has to offer, so what attracted you to try Google+ as a platform?
Jens Begemann:For us it's not mutually exclusive. The technical port was quite easy because we now have a platform where the differences between those two platforms can be captured. We think Google+ is interesting and we thought we would give it a try and we're curious to see how it develops. But we remain very very committed to Facebook. We will not slow down there.
Q:And Google+ offers a slightly better deal for developers?
Jens Begemann:Yes. Google has made that public. So Facebook you have 30 per cent revenue shares, and Google it's, initially at least, just 5 per cent. But to me all of this discussion about this revenue share is going a little bit in the wrong direction. To me it's not about what piece of the pie is for me, and what's for the platform provider, it's really about how big the pie is that you can create.
I don't think the 30 per cent Facebook share is an issue. The whole Facebook platform is free, you've got tons of communication channels, you've got lots of viral communication to users, it's an amazing platform and you have traffic that's worth millions of dollars, and you get all of that for free. And only when you're successful do you pay your 30 per cent revenue share. So it's fair.
To me it's not about what piece of the pie is for me, and what's for the platform provider, it's really about how big the pie is that you can create.
Q:So your main competitor is Zynga, can you beat them? Do you want to?
Jens Begemann:We have a very long term vision to create a very big company, we're not mainly looking at other companies. We're really trying to create our games, make them as good as possible, make them the best experiences possible. Obviously it's nice that we have so many users...
Q:Zynga seem a lot more focused on metrics...
Jens Begemann: I think that's for others to judge.
Q:What challenges has moving into the mobile market presented?
Jens Begeman:Mobile is different. I mean one thing that has changed in mobile is now the most successful games on the iPhone are free games where you pay for virtual goods. So there mobile has become more similar to what Facebook games already are. The thing that is really different on mobile is everything around social. So how do access your friends, how do you access the social world, how do you get viral distribution, which communication channels do you use? All of that is very different because the App Store is the default way that people discover our app, not through their friends, so we know we have a lot of experimentation ahead of us. And we're working hard on making a great game there, but it will take time.
Q:You mentioned in your session that you were growing at a rate of two people a week, how do you manage that sort of expansion?
Jens Begeman:For us it's very very important to integrate these people well into the organisation and we use to grow at one person a week, but as the company gets bigger, as we're getting better at integrating people into the organisation we're now able to grow at two people per week and still make everybody part of Wooga.
And I think a big key to that is that we've got these independent game teams which operate almost like a start up inside all of Wooga, and therefore it's much easier to integrate people if you have a ten or 15 person team, than if you are a big organisation.
One thing that has changed in mobile is now the most successful games on the iPhone are free games where you pay for virtual goods.
Q:So what's the next big milestone for Wooga?
Jens Begeman:Obviously we remain committed to grow social games on Facebook and also of course on Google+ but the big thing for us really is mobile. So we have done nothing with mobile, we're launching two games now, one native version - Diamond Dash for the iPhone - and just announced today that Magic Land will get a special version based on HTML5. That's a new field for us and we know that we have little experience in that field and we will have to learn a lot.
Q:Where do you see social and casual gaming in five years time? It seems to be growing and evolving at a rapid rate.
Jens Begeman:Nobody knows for certain what will be there in five years, and we try to build Wooga in such a way that we can really move fast and move quickly, and we've got a six month plan. Beyond that it's really open for speculation. But broadly speaking I think gaming and playing games and playing social games will be something very normal, that almost everybody does. It will integrated into our lives, people will play these five or ten minute gaming sessions on the phone and on the PC.
Over the last few decades the whole games industry, we've all created games for young men who want to shoot aliens.
Jens Begeman:In my presentation I focused a lot on that woman because this is audience here, at the Games Developers Conference, it's a lot of men and they don't think that this woman, that I used as a role model in my presentation, would be a customer. So for us it's 70 per cent women, but it's also 30 per cent men right? We don't just do female games, we do games for everybody. And I think the reason why it's so many women is that that audience was completely under served.
Over the last few decades the whole games industry, we've all created games for young men who want to shoot aliens. And that's fine, but we under served a very very big part of the population and that why I think that there's nothing female about our games, it's just that this audience has been under served so far.