With the recent success of their newest title Nonstop Knight, we had the chance to sit down with CEO and founder Klaas Kersting to talk about everything from how Flaregames started to his opinions on virtual reality.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the industry.
Me getting in the industry basically started as me being a gamer my entire life. I played games as long as i can remember, at home and with friends. I actually ruined two of my three university studies playing too much games (laughs), my parents weren’t too happy about that. Out of curiousity with a few friends, I developed a web-based strategy game and that turned into GameForge. I had a co-founder there who was 10 years older, we started the company as the two of us. It was a wild ride, the company grew to 650 employees and 150 million annual turnover in just five years. We did plenty right and we made mistakes. In 2010 I realised that the company wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore due to size reasons. It’s a totally different job running a 650 person company. I stepped down as GameForge CEO in 2010 with no idea what to do next, I even contemplated a Frozen Yoghurt franchise (laughs). Then in 2011 I basically turned around and set up Flaregames.
Was it always your intention to set up a mobile gaming studio or did it come from nowhere?
We started out with a vision of creating mobile reality games that wove into the real world. So things like weather and location, but that didn’t work. We ended up converting the company to a mobile studio and started working together with another studio that we were good friends with at the time. We realised that we can contribute most of our value there and add monetisation expertise, design feedback, marketing and infrastructure. Publishing a game requires so much infrastructure that it’s tough to build this up alone; it’s completely different to building a development organisation. There’s developers out there who are great at building games but they need help publishing it. When I talk about publishing I mean the co-development approach, so we really go into the details of the games to tweak and tune them for best results. We leverage our own infrastructure to achieve things that developers could never do on their own.
Do you think mobile gaming is more lucrative for smaller companies and indie developers with regards to turnover and profit?
It’s a matter of team size and investment to a certain extent. If you want to build a game for a console it takes time and money. You rarely find anything in the one digit million budget anymore. There are exceptions but you don’t want to build a company on the basis of getting lucky shots. In mobile you can still do amazing things with 1 million to 5 million bucks but it’s a matter of doing what you can with the budget and resources available. I think mobile is still an amazing opportunity, even though it’s got tougher in the past few years. It’s still the biggest gaming platform that’s ever existed and I don’t see a new technology coming that will overtake it. When you develop a mobile game that’s tailored right, it can become part of their lives.
You mentioned that the market is getting harder. Do you think the mobile gaming market has become oversatured?
Oversaturated I don’t think so. It’s getting harder because of the same thing that happens to all maturing industries. Big players are coming in and flooding the market with their apps driving up the Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) for everybody because they can afford to do that. Production budgets are rising, production risks go up… but this is what happens to all maturing markets. We saw it on consoles and on PC, now the same thing is happening to mobile. It’s not something to be scared of but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
Say that I was thinking of going into mobile game development and wanted to start a company. What advice would you give?
Don’t think about yourself as the average player because you’re not. The percentage of female people, significantly younger people and those who want an immersive gaming experience but not an interfering one are all big factors. The time the player needs to interact with a game without it interfering with their lives is important. People need to be able to play in between experiences that happen in their lives; preferably with one hand. They need to be able to interact with it seamlessly and it needs to appeal to varying grades of attention span. I think our latest game Nonstop Knight is a great example of how that can be executed close to perfection.
BraveSmart was the first game you ever developed. Why did you choose this as your first title?
We had a few developers who were big fans of match-three games and we tried a nice twist on it. When I look at it from today’s perspective, it’s hard to niche and I would probably choose another gameplay style as it doesn’t tie in well with free-to-play. That was exactly the time when we shifted the company from location-based games to mobile gaming, so it was more about getting a game out there than trying for immediate success. We didn’t really have the pressure of quick success at that point due to the success of GameForge, and our previous experience in the area meant we knew exactly what to do and how to execute it. So the first thing we had to do was focus on shipping a few things and learning quickly. Don’t get me wrong, BraveSmart is a great game and I love it. It achieved the goals that the company had at that time.
What would you say has been your most successful game to date?
If you would’ve asked me five days ago I would’ve said Royal Revolt 2. The Royal Revolt franchise has 30 million downloads worldwide and was our main revenue contributor. Today, I can’really tell you yet. Nonstop Knight has a really big shot of being our biggest game yet but obviously it’s only been out five days. Ask me again in three weeks (laughs).
Royal Revolt 2 was very popular in Asian markets, especially South Korea. Are these areas a big part of your business goals?
They definitely are. When you look at the market division revenue-wise, Asia is roughly 50% and that’s a really huge portion. We don’t really know enough about the Asian markets to create something that’s tailored to them, but what we try to focus on is building games that from a gameplay and franchise perspective work with Asian audiences as well as the west. Royal Revolt 2 was a great example because the countries with biggest audience were U.S.A, Thailand and South Korea. Completely different audience with different cultural backgrounds but it worked. With Nonstop Knight it’s the same, it’s been very successful in western markets and we’re in the top download charts everywhere including South Korea. It’s important to build games that have those capabilities.
How would you target a game at the Asian market? Did you intentionally try to do that with Royal Revolt 2?
It was to a certain degree on purpose. In particular when you look at the design of the troops and the hero character, we tested those things to make sure they work well with an Asian audience. What we knew is that one-handed games already work well in Asia so the core gameplay should be compatible with that market.
More recently, you partnered with Emerald City Games. Do you plan on doing more of these collaborations in the future?
It’s actually our main focus right now. Nonstop Knight was not developed by ourselves but by Kopla Games, a studio in Tampere, Finland. Royal Revolt 2 was developed in Frankfurt by a studio that we now own. When we first developed it, the game was part of a joint venture between the two companies; that was the start of our co-development publishing model for third parties. We’re building a portfolio of games that we develop either with external parties or the in-house studios that we now have.
Virtual Reality (VR) is billed as the next big platform for mobile gaming, do you think it will have that much of an impact?
I don’t believe in VR to be honest. The idea of putting something on your head… it just makes the gaming experience too intrusive. When I think about our preferred business model which is free-to-play, a mass market audience is really necessary for it to work. For the small percentage of players who will actually pay, you need an average install base of about 50 to 100 million for the market to be interesting. I just don’t see that happening with VR, it’s clunky and the experience is not perfect yet. It’s getting better and the technology is advancing but I don’t feel there’s enough to warrant entertainment application development yet. 3D movies that are really immersive maybe, but 3DTVs never really worked either because you had to put something on your head. People want to relax on the couch, not run around with three extra kilograms on their head.
The other thing is that gaming more and more is a social experience. When I’m playing on a console, I invite my friends over and we play together. This is all something that isn’t possible with VR because you need to wear a f*****g VR device on your face! (laughs) The entire social interaction is taken away apart from in this virtual world. There will be an audience for this but I think that the people who will use it persistently and long-term will be rare.
So I’m presuming from all this that you guys have no plans for VR?
(Laughs) No, we have no plans for VR.
So what are your plans for the future then?
Shipping lots of mobile games. We have plenty of studios on our contract. We’re aiming to ship six games per year and we are seeing great progress on all fronts. We will be shipping some amazing games in the future and we want to establish Flaregames as a ‘co-developer of choice’ for third party studios.
A funny question to end then. What is your favourite game of all time?
Alpha Centauri on PC. It’s this game in the Civilisation series that took about one year of my life. It basically starts after the ship to Alpha Centauri is launched and the ship breaks up in the atmosphere. People are divided by factions, not by nationality. It’s more about ideology and how you develop your civilisation based on this ideology. I’m getting too old for shooters unfortunately, I’m getting too slow (laughs). I’m also a big fan of role-playing games and turn-based games… Tactical combat like XCOM. A wide variety of games really.
Thank you Klaas, it’s been great talking to you! Please keep in touch!
No problem, it’s been great talking to you! Enjoy the rest of your day!
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