GamesBeat: I was interested in your analysis of the different aspects of Pirate Kings’s success. Part of it reminds me of a casino game, with the roulette wheel, and then there’s also the asynchronous attack and defend part, which reminds me of Clash of Clans. What are the different pieces that helped your game take off, do you think?
Shani: It’s a hybrid of new game mechanics, a different experience. We took something from games of luck, but it’s not quite the same here. It’s not gambling, because you’re always winning. The other part is strategy games. We’ve always loved strategy. Fighting with your friends was something we wanted to be a part of the “mingling.” It’s extremely easy to learn. It’s very beautiful to look at. We invested a lot in the design and technology and we improved on it as we went through each market.
If I was to give any tips to developers, first of all, think about bringing a new experience with game mechanics and game design. Invest in the first user experience. We put a lot into our first-time user experience. Second, we invested a lot in the brand. Use your community and your social tools. You can look at our Facebook and Twitter and Instagram pages and see how we talk to our community. A new developer has to use the community in order to grow.
We never compromise on quality — all our users can see that – and that comes from having a talented team. Don’t have your art director under user acquisition. Don’t have them under marketing. They shouldn’t be there to design ads. They should be there to build your game, to build something users are willing to pay for.
Another thing that helped for us is that you have to work closely with the platforms, with Google, Apple, and Facebook. You have to think like the platform, like the business managers at those companies. What are the next features that should be there? How can you implement new technologies? You need to show them. That’s hard, because they have millions of developers wanting to work for them. But if you work hard, listen to the platforms, and are patient with the platforms—This goes back to building a technology company. If you lead in technology, if you’re always showing them new technologies and adapting new technologies, you’ll have more chances to get featured.
Again, I’m talking about an early stage company, a developer with about 30 or 40 or 50 people, a developer that doesn’t have a few million dollars a month to spend on marketing and acquisition. You have to invest in more territories to reach more users. If your product is good and you work closely with the platforms, you’ll be able to lower your risks and start to build your community and your brand. That’s what we’re doing now.
GamesBeat: I know Israel is very strong in marketing technology. Did that help you as you were getting off the ground?
Shani: Absolutely. There are very talented people in the marketing area. It’s about performance and acquiring data. You have many different markets of different sizes with tons of competitors. You have to build the best performance according to your data, and Israeli marketers are the best at that. Our head of marketing is running all our strategy for the U.S., Latin America, southeast Asia, and other regions we’re about to enter.
We believe this should all be done in-house. That’s our strategy. It’s what works for us. Whether it’s social media, acquisition, marketing, data, they all sit together. They’re next to the product people. They’re next to the community people. They’re next to the CRM. They understand the product, the messaging, the audience. Everything works much better that way. We’re finding the most performant networks. CPIs are getting better. We’re doing more volume and building more partnerships. We’re focusing our marketing team.
Israel is very strong in areas like data, performance, monetization, and marketing. It’s a very strong card for the industry here to play.
GamesBeat: It’s very promising that you have 50 million downloads without going completely global yet. I know Playtika at some point had to start expanding its business outside Israel. Do you foresee the need for you to do that?
Shani: We really believe, as I said, that designers and developers should sit together and collaborate. We believe in teamwork. Those things are challenging when you’re doing off-site production. I can’t say that we won’t maybe open new studios around the world. We’re definitely considering that. But right now and for the next year, at least, all the teams we’re growing will be located in Israel, and they’ll all be working together in the same offices. That’s worked for us. We’ve seen the results.
GamesBeat: From talking to Startup Nation, I know there are 5,000 startups in Israel and maybe 100 VCs. What was the experience of raising money like for you? Did you have an unusual experience because you’re a pure game company?
Shani: Raising money is challenging for any startup. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of something we talk about frequently in our company, which is belief and trust. If you think back, game companies — especially casual games — weren’t very big around 2011. A lot of investors and VCs didn’t know the industry well. There were a lot of reasons not to invest, a lot of risk. In particular, casual games weren’t big in Israel. They were emerging and getting big elsewhere, but in Israel they weren’t very strong. We had gambling companies, but not so much in casual.
As I said, the important word was trust. We were lucky to find investors who believed in us from the beginning. They saw the team, the vision, the potential. To people who are raising money right now I’d say, just keep on pushing. Find people who trust you and understand your vision, your culture, your strategy. They need to be able to believe in you during harder times. Luckily there’s more openness in the investor and VC community now.
GamesBeat: You have some investors who are game-savvy in Israel now. Do you feel like the ecosystem is strong enough to support game startups, or would you still rather see that grow more?
Shani: The most important people who can help you grow a company, beyond your own team and founders, are people who’ve seen through game companies at a big scale before. More and more people have that experience now. They have the knowledge to help new developers. But our market is still small. You can’t compare it to the U.S. or Europe.
However, we can definitely see some strong investors here seeing more companies on their way to growth. They’re building experience with making games, taking them to market, scaling up technology-wise, recruiting and managing talent. In the next few years we’re going to see more people with experience in the industry having an impact and helping companies build strong games.
GamesBeat: Some companies do dozens of prototypes before they ship a game. What was the development process like for you, the prototyping?
Shani: We believe in small groups of the best people. With our next game, we had five or seven people working on it at first, starting with the prototype and moving into alpha testing. We measure everything. We’re very oriented around KPIs. But before any of that, it has to be fun. Measuring that is a whole different subject. People forget that, in the beginning, you can’t just think about monetization. First, it’s about creating an experience with strong engagement. That’s what our team is focused on.
Later on you have a prototype, and then an alpha, and then you launch it and see how the experience works and continue gathering data. From there it’s just a matter of adding more layers – virality, retention, monetization. It’s an ongoing process.
GamesBeat: It must feel good to have so many people watching your company now.
Shani: We’re working hard. We’re not calling ourselves any kind of success story yet. We still have so much to prove. The team works 12, 14, 16 hours a day to make the next step. This is just the start of our journey. We have a lot of challenges ahead.
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