India’s Nukebox Studios is aiming for another global hit with the home design game Room Flip. The creator of Food Truck Chef and Sponge Bob: Krusty Cook-Off has launched a new game targeted at the underserved demographic of older women and others who enjoy home decoration.
Inspired by the likes of Glu’s Design Home, the Nukebox game lets you pretend you’re on a TV show, traveling the world to help your clients renovate their rooms. Your job is to transform ordinary rooms into extraordinary spaces, said CEO Amit Hardi in an interview with GamesBeat.
Since the launch in November on iOS and Google Play, the game has had nearly 500,000 downloads. It has also had 7,000 reviews, with the average score at 4.8-out-of-5 on iOS and 4.5 on Android. The retention is good, with 30% more of first-day players coming back compared to the soft launch. Average engagement is 45 minutes per day, up 50% from soft launch numbers. And the average revenue per paying user is up 75% since the soft launch, Hardi said.
“There’s so much interest in fixer-uppers, remodeling, and makeovers,” Hardi said. “We are going after a lifestyle category of games, specifically the female audience between 25 to 45. They have a strong affinity for this category. It appeals to the higher aesthetics of transforming something.”
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Those are good initial results for Nukebox’s biggest launch since Sponge Bob debuted in May with the help of publisher Tilting Point. That game has had more than 20 million downloads. Room Flip is the second game to launch during the pandemic when engagement with mobile games has risen thanks to people sheltering in place. The game spent nine months in beta testing, and Nukebox decided to self-publish the title and do its own user acquisition internally this time as it fulfills the goal of being a full-stack mobile game publisher. One reason is that performance marketing is becoming more automated.
That’s a step up for the Bangalore-based studio, and it will help put India on the map of game development ecosystems around the world. Recently, Lumikai formed started as a new venture capital firm to invest in India-based game companies. India has had some pioneering game companies, like Dhruva Interactive, an art-focused company Rajesh Rao started in 1997. He sold that company to Sweden’s Starbreeze in 2016 for $8.5 million in cash and stock. Starbreeze then sold it to Rockstar Games in 2019. Other Indian game companies include Nazara Technologies, Reliance Games, Dream11, and the recently funded Bombay Play. Ten years ago, India had only about 25 game companies, market researcher Newzoo said. Now the country has over 300.
But while other studios focus on games for India, Nukebox has always targeted the larger global market. Hardi said the team worked on Room Flip for 2.5 years. Once the key performance indicators looked good, they decided to release the game. One of the advantages is that the game is designed to never get old, as you travel to different locations and every room is different.
“You meet interesting people and learn stories behind each clan or celebrity client,” Hardi said. “You could transform a bed-and-breakfast for a couple in Marrakesh and help them make a living out of it. You can do an apartment for a celebrity in New York. There is extreme diversity in terms of the taste and the design experience. But at the core, you’re flipping rooms for clients.”
Players don’t have to painstakingly design rooms. “Flipping” means that the game automatically transforms a room, and the player chooses from multiple-choice options. You pick things such as the colors of the walls, the floors, or the rugs. Then flips the room again to see what works. During the holidays, Nukebox added Christmas-themed rooms, adding a live operations component to the game where updating is constant in order to hang on to users. Players also design your avatar as the central character of the show, and that adds a fashion element to the game. If you travel to new destinations, you can also wear exclusive new clothes.
Hardi said the team has learned how to approach each game as a separate project from what it’s done before.
“We want to get each game right and do justice to its audience,” Hardi said.
While Nukebox’s previous games have been casual titles, this is the first time the company has gone after women as a target audience. The team of 80 people recruited more women as a result, mostly in Bangalore. Roughly 30% of the Room Flip team was female. During the pandemic, the company has been hiring people around the world. The company has been profitable since its first game launched in 2017, and so it hasn’t raised any money.
Managing director Subir Agrawa said in an interview with GamesBeat that India has definite cost advantages compared to places like San Francisco. Bangalore also has a growing talent pool of engineers and data scientists.
“Gaming is a different beast altogether, as it’s a tough nut to crack,” Agrawal said. “The barrier to entry is more difficult than other tech industries. The overall success of games in India is helping us with hiring and attracting talent.”
Going forward, Hardi acknowledged that game user acquisition will get more cloudy as Apple changes opt-in rules for its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which is a move to preserve privacy over targeted advertising. It may get harder to target audiences with ads.
“Everyone is on the edge trying to figure it out,” Hardi said. “It will obviously change a lot of things.”
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