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Owlient's Olivier Issaly

The developer's CEO on how the company made micro-transactions a success in the West

The success of web-based games in the past couple of years - and particularly newer social network platforms - makes it easy to forget that this was once a frontier, with large potential numbers but significant challenges around turning those users into revenue streams.

Once company that set up in the midst of industry transition halfway through the decade was Owlient, focusing on a handful of products and seeing some success with micro-transactions long before they became sexy in the Western markets.

Here, CEO Olivier Issaly looks back over the company's history, explains why it's found that success, and why it's in a great position going into 2011. Owlient started as a business five years ago - tell us a bit about the journey since then.
Olivier Issaly

Well, Owlient started as a company with the game - game about raising horses, where you can manage a horse centre. We created the company when we were students and the game took off really from day one, and grew daily.

It enabled us to bootstrap the company for three years - 20 people and about EUR 1 million in revenue - and then we raised EUR 3 million in venture capital from Innovacom, to help us go further in the internationalisation process, and to launch a new product line and new browser games. That's how it started. A lot of browser game companies seem to find success by publishing lots of games - 40 or 50, for example. You've decided to focus on one specific market, with three games - what was the reasoning behind that? Does it enable you to provide deeper experiences?
Olivier Issaly

Yes, we try to both develop games with a deep design that are highly strategic, and also to focus a lot on the community building and management. That's really the founding value of the company - creating community and animating it. We want to let it live for as long as possible.

For example, this summer we organised the Howrse Summer Tour, going to 14 cities - five cities in France, six in Germany. We went to London, and two cities in the US, and the community managers were in the cities to meet around 50 players in each location.

It's really important to strengthen the community, so we do a lot of focus on that area - which is probably why we haven't made as many games. So far we're focused on these three games, and specifically the Howrse game, and we're developing it with some physical products. We created two series' of collectible cards that you can buy and play with, and we've also designed a board game for horse-riding. There was also a book in France. What's the demographic you're targeting?
Olivier Issaly

It's almost the same demographic for all three games - about 80 per cent of the audience is between 12 and 20 years old, and 90 per cent is female.

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