Cape Town-based game de­vel­op­ment com­pany has re­leased an in­ter­na­tional hit, and learnt a lot about the busi­ness of gam­ing. Meet

Finweek English Edition - - TECHNOLOGY - Si­mon Din­gle

An­gry Birds is prob­a­bly the most fa­mous app of t he smart­phone era so far, earn­ing mil­lions as a fran­chise for Fin­nish dev house Rovio. Mo­bile games are po­ten­tially big busi­ness (the lo­cal videogame mar­ket gen­er­ated rev­enues of R2.2bn in 2012) and lo­cal com­pany Thoopid is caus­ing a stir with its de­but ti­tle Snailboy, which was crafted in Cape Town. The com­pany is re­al­is­tic about the cur­rent state of the mar­ket and the com­bi­na­tion of hard work and luck re­quired to make it big.

Founder of Thoopid David Mof­fatt, who is also MD of dig­i­tal de­sign agency Hello Com­puter and gui­tarist for rock band The Dirty Skirts, said that the in­ten­tion is to learn from Snailboy and keep it real in terms of ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We cer­tainly have com­mer­cial ex­pec­ta­tions of our mo­bile gam­ing start-up Thoopid, but are re­al­is­tic about the chal­lenges of this highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Snailboy – An Epic Ad­ven­ture is our first re­lease, and we would be more than con­tent to just break even. The ap­pli­ca­tion is of the pay-to-play model with fur­ther in­app pur­chase propo­si­tions for the gam- ers,” he says.

Snailboy took eight months to de­velop, with a team of five peo­ple on the project. Ac­cord­ing to an in­fo­graphic on the Thoopid web­site, 504 hours were spent on test­ing alone. A team of five peo­ple in SA worked on the game, with Pol­ish pro­ducer Ja­cob Thomas Czech pro­vid­ing the sound­track.

“We are pas­sion­ate about de­sign, gam­ing and online mar­ket­ing. So this seemed like a nat­u­ral op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue, with one dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tic that would set it apart from what we do in our day jobs – no clients. We con­ceive, an­i­mate and pro­duce the game, which is then put on the app store and mar­keted di­rectly to the gam­ing mar­ket. Of course, this brings a fur­ther chal­lenge in that we can’t fund the op­er­a­tion through a steady trickle of typ­i­cal com­mer­cial work. We are pur­su­ing a par­tic­u­lar cul­ture at Thoopid, which is all rooted in a pure gam­ing men­tal­ity – have fun, be cre­ative – and hope­fully crack the next big game,” says Mof­fatt.

The game hit al­most 40 000 in­stalls in its first week, al­though Mof­fatt said that it is wait­ing for a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion from Ap­ple that ac­counts for in­evitable piracy that takes place. It made it on to the top 10 of ‘Best New Games’ in the App Store for China, the USA, Rus­sia and South Africa. And it’s not avail­able for An­droid yet.

“The An­droid ver­sion will be re­leased im­mi­nently, which will dou­ble our po­ten­tial mar­ket. We were thrilled that Ap­ple fea­tured Snailboy in their best new games Top 20. At this stage we have not in­vested in any bought me­dia at all, but have rather led with in­flu­encers within the gam­ing mar­ket. The first week fea­tured promis­ing sales, but since then a f lood of new games have ar­rived and as such the hard work is only just start­ing,” says Mof­fatt.

The big­gest busi­ness chal­lenge, says Mof­fatt, is in ac­cu­rately pre­dict­ing costs.

“De­spite sto­ry­board­ing the game ex­ten­sively we found the fi­nal 10% to be fairly oner­ous to com­plete. When the de­vel­op­ment cy­cle to pro­duce a game pro­tracts the costs stack up quickly. There is also a lengthy process to ob­tain ac­cred­i­ta­tion with Ap­ple. So pro­ject­ing ones to­tal cost and cor­re­spond­ing break even point can be quite a chal­lenge,” he says.

The pay-off can be mas­sive, how­ever. Rovio is es­ti­mated to have gen­er­ated €152m in 2012 from An­gry Birds, in­clud­ing mer­chan­dise and toys based on the games. Its f lag­ship game has been down­loaded over 1bn times.

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