Fame From a Game: 5 Game Developers Dealing With Overnight Success

The mobile app market has completely overhauled the video game market. In an industry that once required thousands of dollars and a legion of programmers to produce a product, individuals and small groups of entrepreneurs can now produce games grossing millions of dollars from their bedrooms. However, the success of a #1 selling game does not come easy and sometimes causes more problems for the now wealthy developer. Here are five examples of successful game developers who had to learn how to handle success almost overnight.

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Halfbrick Studios (Fruit Ninja)

Image via Flickr by Rosenfeld Media
Image via Flickr by Rosenfeld Media

Before Fruit Ninja, most people had never heard of Halfbrick Studios. They had worked on a handful of games like Rocket Power: Beach Bandits, Age of Zombies, Monster Dash, and a variety of Avatar — The Last Airbender installments. However, Fruit Ninja had the right combination of addictive and visceral gameplay to make it a virtual overnight success. For others dealing with a windfall of cash, Halfbrick Studio’s story is a good one to follow. Instead of tripping over their own feet after a massive growth spurt, the close-knit group of developers decided to focus on quality over quantity, avoiding the route companies like Zynga took (how many “___-ville” games can you name?). The developers said the success of Fruit Ninja has given them breathing room to perfect games they want to make.

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OMGPop (Draw Something)

Image via Flickr by ljguitar
Image via Flickr by ljguitar

Second in our list of successful game developers comes the OMGPOP team. A mobile gaming take on the classic pen-and-paper game of Pictionary, Draw Something is a study in how persistence can lead to huge success in the app industry. Before their top-selling drawing game took off, developer OMGPop had produced around 30 games that quickly fell into relative obscurity (do you remember Hamster Battle? No? Didn’t think so). A short time after Draw Something started topping charts relatively overnight, Zynga bought OMGPop for roughly $200 million, and the CEO of OMGPOP, Dan Porter, later went on to work for them as the vice president of their mobile division for a little over a year. Porter now continues to climb the corporate ladder and currently serves at the Head of Digital at William Morris Endeavor, the world’s largest diversified talent agency.

.GEARS Studio (Flappy Bird)

Image via Flickr by naka_hide
Image via Flickr by naka_hide

Not all overnight success stories end well as the tale of .GEARS Studio’s Flappy Bird shows us. Dong Nguyen’s creation was pulling in $50,000 a day—a veritable golden goose—making it one of the most popular games for smartphone users. However, a litany of complaints ranging from the game’s addictiveness, difficulty and resemblance to Super Mario 3 was too much for Nguyen to handle. Something about the fame mixed with user criticisms struck a nerve with the overnight app celebrity, who ultimately took down the game from app stores in mid-February 2014 without selling out to another company. It also begs the question—Was success too much for Nguyen, or was it all a stunt to generate interest for his next title?

King Digital Entertainment (Candy Crush Saga)

Image via Flickr by David Guo's Master
Image via Flickr by David Guo’s Master

Candy Crush Saga, produced by King Digital Entertainment, is one of the mobile gaming world’s most addictive releases yet. To capitalize on their virtual overnight success, King decided to try their luck on Wall Street by announcing their intent to file for an IPO, following Twitter’s example.

Rovio Entertainment (Angry Birds)

Image via Flickr by Garrett Heath
Image via Flickr by Garrett Heath

The Angry Birds franchise is the most successful smartphone game the world has ever seen. The series’ multiple installments have garnered over two billion downloads worldwide, but things weren’t always up for Rovio. It took them 51 tries on other apps before Angry Birds came around. Rovio’s strategy to deal with the success was simple—diversify. Expanding beyond the mobile platform, Rovio now produces Angry Birds clothing, books, cartoons, educational materials, movie franchise tie-ins, and more. They’ve even been eyeing the Hello Kitty franchise, looking for some indication in how they can expand their own enterprise.

Overnight success in the gaming industry is happening more and more everyday thanks to mobile technology. However, millions made in a night is no guarantee for smooth sailing. Developers soon discover they need savvy business acumen to stay afloat.

– Joe
Joe Fortunato is a tech writer based out of Tampa, FL. His extensive work for T-Mobile has afforded him the opportunity to explore many different avenues of the mobile world. App development, NFC technology, and new device specs are some of his favorite areas to cover. To get in contact with Joe, give him a shout on Twitter at @joey_fort.

If you are trying to hit the successful game developers list, then you first need to understand the Science of Mobile Game Marketing.

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Flappy Bird vs Angry Birds – a tale of Hobbyists and Hunters

Here are the stories of two successful birds on the app store. See if you can spot the difference.

Angry Birds vs. Flappy Bird_639px

Flappy Bird was a mobile game developed by Dong Nguyen, a Vietnamese indie game developer, in a few evenings after work. He launched the game in May 2013, but only 7 months later (in January) did it unexpectedly gain immense traction. It reached the top of the US charts, and Nguyen was reportedly earning about $50,000 per day from ads. He couldn’t cope with the pressure and abusive comments however, saying it “ruined his simple life”, and removed the game from the app store on February 10th.

Angry Birds was developed by Finnish game maker Rovio Entertainment. It was a runaway success… on the 52nd try! (That’s how many games the good people at Rovio had developed before Angry Birds). Rovio has expanded to be a successful franchise and merchandising business, counting its revenues in the hundreds of millions of Euros. Today, Rovio employs over 700 people according to its website.

Why did Flappy Bird become a flappy Icarus, crashing after flying too close to the sun, and not a new Rovio? In truth, Nguyen and Rovio represent very different groups of developers. Their motivations are not at all alike, and so neither is their behavior.

Developer motivations wildly differ

Dong Nguyen and his indie game studio .Gears sits on the border of a Hobbyist and an Explorer profile in VisionMobile’s developer segmentation model. Hobbyists are motivated by the fun of making an app, and like Nguyen often do it in their spare time after work. They don’t care about success – killing off a successful project that interferes with their sense of fun and peaceful life wouldn’t seem strange to them. Arcade games like Flappy Bird and the other .Gears projects are a typical project for Hobbyists (professional game developers rarely touch the arcade category).

Our Flappy Bird protagonist also shows traits of an Explorer, however. He presents a formal face with the .Gears studio, complete with email address and copyright notice. Put simply, Explorers are “practicing” to become successful app developers (either as contractors or with own apps): their main motivation is learning how to become professionals and they define success by knowledge gained as well as having a lot of fun developing. Some speculate that Nguyen might have tried to artificially boost the app using review bots, which would be more Explorer than Hobbyist behavior. (Nguyen himself denies having done any kind of promotion.)

Whether Hobbyist or Explorer, Nguyen clearly wasn’t in it for the big money. Contrast that with Rovio, a clear Hunter company. Hunters are revenue driven: their goal is to build a successful business and make money from apps. The 50+ games that Rovio built before Angry Birds are a testament to their persistence in achieving that objective. Success is measured strictly in business terms: app revenues (in the case of Rovio enhanced with merchandising) and user reach. Hunters are professionals, out to build real, lasting companies, exactly what Rovio has achieved. The difference couldn’t be clearer.

Understanding the motivations of developers is key to understanding the choices they make. This includes fundamental choices, like the one between lifestyle and business success that Dong Nguyen faced when his project became a huge success overnight. It also includes all the minor and major decisions that app development involves: business models, tools, platform selection, and much more. [tweetable]If you’re working with developers, gaining insights in their motivations is crucial[/tweetable].

— Christina & Stijn