Insider Q&A: Kixeye’s Brandon Barber
When you need an armed guard signing in guests at the door (real fatigues, real gun), you know your company has some hardcore fans.
More like millions of hardcore fanatics as Kixeye’s engagement numbers are pretty eye-popping, with the average gamer playing more than 2 sessions per day, accounting for over 1 hour and 30 minutes of browser-based gameplay. Add in the fact that the company has been able to monetize at a rate 20x higher than competitors, with gamers playing at rates 5x longer than other popular social games, and there’s no debate that you’re looking at one of the hottest and most successful gaming companies on the planet.
It’s what’s next for Kixeye that should have competitors nervous, however, as the San Francisco developer is going all-in on mobile with the release of Backyard Monsters Unleashed next Wednesday (October 30).
“It’s a first step, as we haven’t been in the mobile space in any way before this,” says Brandon Barber, Kixeye’s CMO, as he sits down with Inside Mobile Apps for an exclusive interview. “This will be a good entry point for us so we can learn about what works on that platform, for those users, and for this kind of game. We’re looking to optimize our game teams to work in these live environments, and we know we have a lot of learning to do, but we’re really excited to get into mobile.”Inside Mobile Apps: Why do you think now is the perfect time for Kixeye to jump into mobile?
Brandon Barber: We’ve been looking at the space for a long time, just looking at the right combination of things to enter the space, both in terms of our own internal resources to make the game, but also what was going on in consumer markets. We saw some things that we do very well being able to translate really well into mobile. If you look at some of the more popular RTS, tower-defense style games out there, a lot of them owe a lot to Backyard Monsters. Backyard Monsters was the progenitor to a lot of the games that are highly successful right now on iOS, so part of it for us was taking that back and showing that Backyard Monsters translates super well to smaller devices. Same game, different platform with some new additions, so this is just something we got excited about, and that’s usually how we make decisions. We sit around and talk about things that we’d like to see, then we go after it, and mobile just happened to fall in that schedule.
IMA: It’s funny, because when I heard Backyard Monsters was coming to mobile, I saw people online complaining that it looked like a rip-off of Clash of Clans, even though Backyard Monsters obviously debuted much earlier.
BB: I saw one the other day too, and I think somebody in one post went back and wrote something like, “Know your history you idiot, Backyard Monsters came first.” [laughs] There’s always going to be back and forth there, and I can only speak personally, but I think Clash of Clans is a great game. I’ve really enjoyed playing it, and I was a pretty hardcore Backyard Monsters player as well. I think Backyard Monsters for mobile, Backyard Monsters Unleashed, is every bit as fun as Clash of Clans, and we’ll see. We’re not really doing this to compete with anybody, we just want to learn, and we think it will be fun to play this game on a different device and platform. It’s also about building our relationship with Apple and start heading down that road. Mobile development has a lot of benefits since you can build games with slightly smaller teams, there’s less cost building the games, and it’s obviously a growing market. Mobile is something we need to get into, it’s something we need to invest in, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’ve got Backyard Monsters Unleashed, then we have War Commander coming out shortly after that, and we also have a couple of other mobile games also in development. We’re stoked.
IMA: So moving forward, do you see Kixeye more focused on creating mobile or browser-based games?
BB: It will be a combination. We’re just a game developer, and we don’t really look at any one game platform as better than another. We’re very platform agnostic. We’ll build a game wherever there’s meaningful user growth, that’s just our DNA, and we’ll use whatever technology we need to get there. So whether it’s Unity or Flash or Unreal … you name it and we’ll make it and put the game where the users are. For us, having our games on mobile is important because we need to experiment and learn there, but that doesn’t mean that we’re moving in any dramatically new direction and leaving things behind. It just means that we’re adding to our arsenal.
IMA: Is there anything about Backyard Monsters that translates better to the mobile experience than it did on a browser?
BB: They are very similar games, and we haven’t changed that much. Backyard Monsters on browser still is a really fun game to play and it works very well. The design is super solid. With mobile, you obviously have much smaller real estate to operate in, so there are some U.I. changes, and there are certain things that we’ve tuned, in terms of session length, just making sure you can have a really fun experience in a tighter window of time. There’s a social feature, called tribes, that will enable you to build deeper relationships with people who are playing the game, kind of like clans in Clash of Clans, and that’s a little different than the browser game, but everything else is pretty consistent. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to bring that same level of fun to a different platform.
IMA: How many mobile products will Kixeye have in 2014?
BB: We have three that are going to be launching in the next couple of quarters, and we have two more in development. From there, a lot of it will depend on how those games perform. For us, we’re really iterative in the way we develop our products, and the same thing for our strategy. So when we launch Backyard Monsters and War Commander and other games in this coming year, we’re going to figure out what’s working and what’s not, and that’s going to drive the road map. We are deeply invested in mobile now. We have mobile teams and we have these products coming out, so we’re in it to win it, and I’d say in 2014, we’ll probably have three to four mobile products on the market.