Creative Mobile’s top game is its first and best – Drag Racing, a mobile racing game app that came out on Android first, then on the iOS platform. In addition to its normal racing car version, Creative Mobile also pushed its latest bike edition with the same platform routine – Android first, then the iOS.

Vladimir told e27 that they started with Android first because they saw the racing category on Google Play and found that there were very few good apps there. They did not want to start off with the more populated iOS because of the big players who were already doing very well. The small startup decided to work toward the weaker Google Play end, and strive for success. He said the racing games were sparse back then. “We didn’t find much. It was obvious that free racing games were missing from [the] Android market [… and] within 6 weeks, we saw the opportunity.”

What can Asian gaming startups learn from his example?

Challenges turned into opportunities for success

Sure, they have their fair share of successes, but what about problems? The biggest challenge the team faced was trying to figure out a suitable business model. Vladimir shared that the market was initially small. “We started to develop our Android games in 2010 when there were only a couple devices on the market, the number of users was very small, reliable frameworks for in-app billing did not exist, choice of ad providers was limited, and our own understanding of app economy was based mostly on success stories from the AppStore. We started by applying similar techniques, trying to sell games at $0.99, and it didn’t work.”

There were many Android apps back then that did not generate enough revenue to be considered a profitable business, or viable in the very least, and Creative Mobile was just one of the many. They solved it by trying different strategies and adapting quickly. He said, “Eventually we switched to free-to-play ad-supported model and started seeing revenues climb. When Google introduced in-app billing we were among the first to react and integrate premium goods in a free game.”

It was then when they realized that many of these Android users did not have the means to pay online. So they changed and started using incentivized offers from different providers. Experimenting a lot with different types of advertisements to create an additional revenue stream, they eventually gained enough expertise to reach a revenue per user that was comparable with iOS games.

Then, they had to get noticed as well. Exposure is a problem almost every small developer faces. We all hear stories of one-hit wonders which successes never go far after that first explosion of downloads. Vladimir said that the team had to experiment with marketing techniques. “Some developers rely on publishers to get proper marketing, some look for investments and hope to buy their way into charts […] Instead, we started experimenting with marketing assets – the icon, title, description and screenshots – trying to figure out how users discover apps, what they base their decisions on, how long their attention span is, and how we can utilize the available opportunities (such as brief exposure in the “Just In” category on Android Market) to their maximum.”

After trying numerous times and failing just as many, they found a winning formula. Well, apparently, when they launched Drag Racing in April 2011, they had no marketing effort put into it. Vladimir’s own words: “We did absolutely nothing to promote it.” But the very next day, something odd happened. There were 40,000 downloads. By a month ago, the game was already downloaded to over 80 million devices. And all of them organic, made either through exposure in the catalogs or word of mouth.

He shared that when they first started out, many of these games tried to imitate instead of complement existent features. “Designing a successful game for any given platform requires a deep understanding of the hardware, software and the people playing your game. Simply copying things that work elsewhere, or used to work at some point in the past, won’t do the trick.”

From three to 70

In the beginning, there were only three individuals in the company three years back. It’s about 70 now. Vladimir said that it is hard to overstate the importance of hiring in a game development company. So, just how does he hire?

He shared, “We look for people who are motivated by the impact of their work, by being able to reach tens of millions of players, ready to take risks and fail, learn and try again. We are not interested in the number of lines of code a programmer produces per hour, or number of pages in the game design document, what we really need is magic that keeps the player in the game.”

He also noted that while the traditional hiring criteria still applies, they are more likely to accept a “young and energetic person who can quickly adapt, rather than a seasoned veteran looking for a secure nine to six job”.

But with many of these development studios which focus on creativity and innovation, the fastest way to kill passion is to have a strong hierarchy with a formalized and bureaucratic workflow. He said, “The best way to keep things under control is to build a team of super-productive and enthusiastic people who understand the business goals of the company.”

Image Credit: The Baltic Course