King: Next Stop, Asia
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't - or doesn't know anyone who has - heard of Candy Crush Saga, or at least one of the other games in the Saga brand. Its developer, King, has become one of the world's premier social and mobile game developers. The company's titles sit on the most-downloaded lists on iOS, Android and Facebook across the United States and much of Europe.
However, global domination doesn't start with California and end in Greenwich Mean Time. There's still at least one region left for Saga games to make their presence known. The Asian continent might not have fallen completely under King's sway just yet, but the publisher hopes to change that.
For Vice President of Growth Lars Jornow, that initiative begins with Kakao Talk.
Kakao Talk is an immensely popular mobile messaging service that essentially replaced traditional texting in Korea. As such, its presence is felt in mobile gaming as well. Some of the biggest games on Google Play come courtesy of Kakao. Some have even drawn comparisons between its place in Korean mobile gaming and Valve's Steam platform on PC.
When the Saga games made it to Korea and the rest of Asia, they did well. According to Jornow, King's games hover around the number six or seven slot for top-grossing apps on iOS and Google Play in the region. However, the numbers still weren't matching up with the West, primarily because King wasn't giving the people what they wanted.
"The players there really told us 'when is the Kakao version coming,'" Jornow said during a presentation at King's Stockholm office. "The players there expect a more localized approach to their own market."
Such was the demand for those localizations that King made its first-ever region exclusive version of a game just to fit the system. Candy Crush Saga - which actually changed its name for the Asian release - plays pretty much the same in Korea as in the West, but there are some subtle differences.
Kakao Talk doesn't feature the same sort of notification systems as most smartphones and social networks in the United States. That's a dilemma for King games, which rely heavily on the social aspect to propagate players.
"Normally we build our games on the Facebook referrals," Jornow said. "But on Kakao, they interact with each other through chat. People have group chats, for example. That's where you want to get in if you're a game maker."
King adapted the social angle to better fit Kakao Talk's way of doing things. One example of how this affects Candy Crush Saga, for instance, is in the way players are awarded lives. They can earn infinite lives for 24 hours just for inviting a certain number of friends through Kakao Talk's chat system. The reward is immediate, rather than dependent on friendly players responding. This reflects Kakao's less notification-dependent ecosystem. However, you can only invite the same user every 30 days to curtail spamming.
King isn't just counting on augmenting existing games to broaden its appeal. The publisher is trying entirely new ideas as well. PaPa Pear Saga was also shown running on Facebook during the presentation. It's the first physics-based game to come from the developer, and it's pretty clear why.
Beyond the inclusion of the standard Saga game trappings (social aspects, a hub world, etc.), it's clearly designed to cash in on the Japanese pachinko craze. The objective is to fire pellets downward at an angle, bouncing through obstacles and finally dunking in pots with specific scores. If you can picture an upside-down Peggle, you've got the idea.
Kalvin Ou, representing the company's Barcelona studio, was quick to point out that this might make it more appealing to Asian territories than some previous King efforts. Jumping into the pachinko genre certainly doesn't hurt their chances, considering how popular the pastime remains in Japan. The game isn't available on mobile devices, but it's clear to see that King is experimenting with new ideas in order to breach the region.
By listening to fans and making the games players want to play, it seems King is well-positioned to enter yet another part of the world as a global contender. Only time will tell just how successful their plans will be in the long run, but it seems as though they have the future well in hand.