Turkey has become a productive hub for games studios with companies like Gram Games and Peak Games. And now Instabul-based Recontact wants to put the place further on the map as the producer of cinematic mobile games — which Recontact calls its “cinematographic” style.
I sat down recently with Simay Dinc, cofounder and producer at Recontact, at the Devcom game developer event in Cologne, Germany. We talked about the growth of game companies in Turkey, the rise of female game developers there, and the success of Recontact’s titular franchise.
Dinc and her brother Eray formed the company in 2015. As former filmmakers, they decided to make a video-based mystery game, Recontact: Istanbul, about a cybercriminal group’s exploits. And now they are launching Recontact: London. That game will come out on mobile devices in November.
The title stars actor Ross Mullan, who was a White Walker in the world-famous Game of Thrones series, and he also played roles in Doctor Who and Clash of Titans. With Recontact: London, players will solve video puzzles and solve hidden object mysteries with CCTV cameras. It also uses augmented reality technology to bring a new perspective to investigation scenes.
Eray Dinc directed the new game, Simay Dinc is the producer, and Can Aksoy is head of the development team. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Simay Dinc: My first job was as an intern at Universal Studios, when I was at university. I was a tour guide and customer relations. It was my job to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Universal Studios.” Every day, about 10 times, reading off that script. [laughs]
I was studying business administration, but I focused very much on art and technology. I had a chance to travel all around the world, to more than 30 countries. Six or seven years ago, when I was in New York, I got to visit the Museum of Modern Art, and they’d just opened up an exhibition for games, showing games as if they were art pieces. I came back to Turkey and I told my brother, “Okay, now it’s official. Games are art now. We need to do this.” That really affected me.
Last year, with Women in Games, we organized an exhibition at a museum at Istanbul. Women from all over Turkey brought their art pieces. I really believe in this. Games are part of the art and culture of the 21st century. They have an amazing power. We need to use that power in a good way. Turkey gives us the chance to be really effective, with 30 million gamers.
Five years ago we started in the gaming industry. We’d like to make a beautiful blend of the cinema and mobile games. My brother was a film director, and he was a crazy gamer. Our first launch was Recontact: Istanbul. Apple chose it as the best mobile game coming out of Turkey, and they launched us in 110 countries. We were featured globally. After that we decided to go bigger and produce a sequel, Eyes of Sky. It starred one of Turkey’s most famous actors. We got some amazing feedback from gamers all around the world. Two years ago we won an award from the Los Angeles New Media Film Festival.
Now we’re excited to work on Recontact: London. Recontact is a cybersecurity team that can invade security cameras across the world. A couple of days ago we launched the first teaser for Recontact: London. We’re working with actors from Game of Thrones, among others, and using real locations. We were able to film in places like the British Museum, and other locations all over London. It’s like interactive mobile cinema, like a playable art piece.
We’re going to launch the game in November in London. We’re super excited about that.
GamesBeat: Is it like an augmented reality game?
Dinc: Some of our puzzles are AR games. We also have some elements that are location-based around London. It’s like having multiple games inside one larger game. We have six major puzzles altogether.
GamesBeat: Are you looking around for ghosts in London, then?
Dinc: There’s a section in one puzzle that’s like that. The other five are different puzzles.
GamesBeat: How popular has the series been so far?
Dinc: Our first Recontact game, Recontact: Istanbul, was chosen as Turkey’s best mobile game by Apple. We had an amazing response from gamers in China and Russia. We reached a global audience and had more than one million downloads for our first two games. We started with just three people, and now we’re eight. With outsourcing it comes to about 30 people. We have a film production team with about 15 outsourced people in London and a game production team with about 10 outsourced people in Turkey. It’s taken one and a half years to make this one game.
GamesBeat: Is it free-to-play?
Dinc: Our first game was premium, and after that we decided to turn to freemium. We have a new style of in-app purchases. Also, because it’s like the cinema, we can do product placement.
GamesBeat: Is it pretty non-linear, the way the story unfolds? Are there branches in the story?
Dinc: In our story there are many different threads, but it leads to one ending. You can reach the ending by playing the puzzles differently.
GamesBeat: I’ve written about a couple of other Turkish game companies. Who are the biggest companies there right now?
Dinc: PeakGames and Gram Games.
GamesBeat: Yeah, I’ve written about them.
Dinc: Mehmet Ecevit, the CEO of Gram Games, is a friend of mine. They sold their company to Zynga for $250 million last year. PeakGames, their CEO Sidar Sahin is another friend. They’ve just reached $1.4 billion in revenue. The Turkish game industry is booming. We have 30 million gamers and 14 million people spending money in games. There’s a huge opportunity. People have a lot of support if they want to produce their own games.
GamesBeat: Do you know how many game companies there are in Turkey now?
Dinc: It’s almost 200. And you have more than 1,000 indie developers. We’ve loved working with our artists. We’re trying to push the art side of the gaming industry. Five years ago, when I entered the game industry, I asked myself, “Where are the women?” I’m a founder of Women in Games Turkey, to support more women in the industry and support women in the field. We’ve opened a free co-working space for the gaming industry. Artists and musicians have come and joined us. It’s in an old abandoned village in Turkey. We’re supporting artists and engineers, because it’s a multidisciplinary field. We’ve enjoyed working with different creative minds.
Women are coming along. [laughs] Five years ago we started our group with three women, and now we have 1,300 women all around Turkey. I’m really excited about that. We also now have a collaboration with Women in Games U.K., Women in Games France, and Women in Games Italy. We were able to meet with Kate Edwards in Istanbul, and she became a connection. She’s a great role model. It all becomes one mission. Being a woman or a man isn’t important. It’s about creative minds. But we need to build awareness.
Have you ever been to Istanbul? It’s a huge city, but a really authentic city. The gaming industry and the creative industries are growing day by day. I think you’d like it. If you ever have time, we’re organizing some very big events with Women in Games and the Turkish Game Association.
GamesBeat: At least in the U.S., the ratio of women to men is about one to five, about 20 percent?
Dinc: That sounds about right. It’s about the same for us. But in Turkey right now we have five universities with game design and game programming classes, and about 30 percent of students there are women. It’s a good ratio.
GamesBeat: This style of game, what would you call it?
Dinc: We say “cinematographic mobile game.” It’s also a detective simulation. We’re trying to bring a new genre into mobile gaming. We don’t use animation. We just use video and art.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else out there that’s similar?
Dinc: After us there was a Swedish company that launched their own game. I don’t recall their name. But they weren’t sustainable. They just had the one release. Five years ago we actually launched our first game on the same day as Her Story, which is something similar, but they’re on PC, while we’re focusing on mobile.
GamesBeat: I just finished playing Telling Lies, their new game. I think that one is going to iOS.
Dinc: What did you think?
GamesBeat: It’s very different. I like how you have to search for a linear story in a non-linear way. You can find the ending a lot faster than you normally would. But it’s a very interesting mystery. It’s interesting to see how they use video instead of animation.
Dinc: As I say, our background is in the film industry. We really love both film and games, so we wanted to make a blend of those two media. Working in transmedia draws attention from all over the world. We’re self-publishing as well. We haven’t worked with a publisher. But even so, Apple has featured us, and we’ve found a lot of support in the industry. We’re coming with something new and authentic, something original. Our stories are original and our designs are original. We don’t want to copy anyone. We want to bring something new into the game industry.
GamesBeat: Did your earlier games have the ghost theme as well?
Dinc: No, every one of our games has a different story. I can’t give away everything about the game, but I can say that what you’re seeing in the teaser isn’t a ghost.
GamesBeat: Is it more like a mystery story than a horror story?
Dinc: Yeah, it’s a mystery story. The teaser might give you the idea that it’s a horror story, but it’s more of a mystery.
GamesBeat: What kind of themes did you start out with your first game?
Dinc: It was also a detective story. The basics of the story are the same. Recontact is a cybersecurity team, and they have the ability to manipulate security cameras, all the security cameras in the world, as well as webcams and phone cameras. That’s the main mechanic. But we use that to tell different stories. After Recontact: London we’d like to produce Recontact: Tokyo.
GamesBeat: You can keep rotating locations and finding fresh things to explore.
Dinc: Right. We love using emerging technologies in our games and stories, too. In Recontact: Instanbul we used VR. In one section you can use your VR glasses as part of the story, and as I said, in this one we have a puzzle using AR. In Recontact: Tokyo we’re going to use something new as well.
GamesBeat: Is your team all in Istanbul right now?
Dinc: We’re in Istanbul and London. We’ve really liked that. In Istanbul the game industry is booming, but in London the industry still has so much potential. They can support us in many ways. I’ve liked being in London. Filming in London, we got a lot of experience out of coming in touch with the creative industries and the film industry. Film London in the U.K. really helped us to develop our game. If other indie game developers want to make games there, London is very welcoming.
GamesBeat: Do you plan to do a game set in the U.S.?
Dinc: Definitely! After Tokyo. I’d really like to do a Recontact: L.A., after having my first job in Los Angeles. In Recontact: London we’ve worked with British actors and actresses. All the crew was British. In Recontact: Tokyo we’d like to work with Japanese actors and build around the local culture. We’re working step by step. I don’t have a lot of experience working in the U.S., but I think L.A. will be welcoming as well, with such a huge industry.
When we started the first Recontact, we had the ideas for Recontact: London and Recontact: Tokyo already, but it takes time to learn from your mistakes, to learn about the dynamics of the game industry. We’ve learned by doing. It’s a precious experience, to learn as we go along. I’m really excited to keep sharing what I’ve learned. I’m still attending classes at university and speaking around the world to share our experiences. In a few years I think we’ll be seeing more cinematographic mobile games.
GamesBeat: The ones we’ve seen already are pretty good. It’s interesting to compare to mocap games. There, the artists can still change things to be more surreal or animated. But real life has its own quality.
Dinc: God of War was one of my favorite games. I was able to meet the actors at the BAFTA Game Awards. I was really excited to see them. It’s like seeing the same person as in the game, almost. When I met the actor who played the Stranger, Baldur, I said, “It was so hard to kill you!” And he said, “It was a pleasure to be killed by you.” [laughs] It was so exciting to meet him.
We’re doing something totally different, though. It’s like shooting a long movie, about nine hours of content. The first six months are the game design process, and then we go on to shooting all the film. After that we add the game dynamics and the rest of the development side. It takes about a year and a half altogether.
Disclosure: The organizers of Devcom paid my way to Cologne. Our coverage remains objective.