This story is part of a new series profiling indie mobile game developers around the world who’ve turned their passion for mobile games into a profession.
For years, mobile gaming was nothing more than a thriving local industry to Finnish developers Alexey Zerkin and Teemu Korhonen. The two met while working together as software developers at Nokia in Oulu, Finland, and it wasn’t until three years ago that they turned their focus to mobile games.
The switch from working on mobile apps for Nokia to developing mobile games on their own happened, basically, on a whim. Zerkin and Korhonen decided they wanted to start their own company, and mobile gaming was big in their community (still is, actually). Neither of them had experience in the industry, but they were inspired by the breakthrough successes of local studios like Rovio (Angry Birds) and Supercell (Clash of Clans). How hard could it be to follow in their footsteps?
Pretty hard, as Zerkin and Korhonen soon realized. “We didn’t expect the challenges we encountered in the beginning,” says Zerkin. “It was a surprise when we realized how difficult it was to produce quality games.”
The initial challenges didn’t discourage them, however. Their studio, Creeng, has since released four games — mostly in the sports genre — and is currently working towards the soft launch of its fifth title. We talked with Zerkin and Korhonen about their three year transformation from industry newbies to veritable vets.
On game innovation: Zerkin and Korhonen are far from shy when it comes to admitting their naivety about the mobile gaming market. “It’s extremely difficult if you’re not an experienced game developer to know which platforms [to use] or genres [to develop for],” says Zerkin. “Our first game was a surprise success.”
Their debut title, a high-scorer sports game called Hockey MVP, was indeed a shocking hit: In its first week, it received about 10,000 downloads a day across the App Store and Google Play. The game now has more than 4 million downloads.
But after their initial success, the duo had difficulty replicating their download numbers with different genres. Soon, they decided to simplify their strategy. “We tried many types of games and now we’ve realized that we’ll concentrate on sports games,” says Korhonen. “That’s the area we know best, and I think it’s good to concentrate on one small area.”
On monetization: When Zerkin and Korhonen first launched Hockey MVP, monetization didn’t cross their mind. “We were mostly focused on just trying to publish our first game,” says Zerkin. It wasn’t until the second update of the game that Zerkin and Korhonen began to think about profit. They experimented with different free-to-play models, including video and banner ads and IAPs, and have found that video ads are the most lucrative. “We use [videos] to advertise the in-app purchases and reward players with soft currency for watching them,” says Zerkin.
Monetization is now front and center for the Creeng team, and they advise other indie developers to approach game development the same way. “Monetization and your business model need to be thought about straight from the start of your game,” says Korhonen. “It’s very hard to add it afterwards.”
On advice for fellow indies: Life as an indie game developer is fun, but it’s certainly not without stress. During the tough times, Zerkin and Korhonen look back on what they have accomplished since they started Creeng; it’s their progress that keeps them going.
“It’s fun to [make] games, but from time to time you wonder if it’s worth it,” says Zerkin. “What’s motivating is that we still believe in success. Slowly but surely we are improving — if we compare our new products with our old products, we’ve improved our quality and our games.”