Ask the Developer: How PocApp Studios evolved from a university project to a viable business
AppLovin is a global brand and platform, which means we have the opportunity to work with developers from different markets all around the world. In our Ask the Developer series, we speak with developers to learn their strategies, best practices, and expert insights.
PocApp Studios was one of the winners of the Indie Dev Prize at Casual Connect Europe 2018. The PocApp team was selected for an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco, where they participated in a workshop at our office. Our team of experts trained them on monetization, app optimization, and how to grow their business.
One of the best parts about working with indie game developers is seeing the diverse backgrounds and hearing the unique stories of each studio. For PocApp Studios, what started as a university project has turned into a legitimate business. The team met while they were studying game development at the University of Skövde, which is located four hours outside of Stockholm.
While in school, the PocApp team joined incubator Gothia Science Park (GSP), as well as Microsoft’s Game Camp, which helped them get their first game, Carpet Kitty, off the ground. The game featured simple mechanics and rough design, but it resonated with players. “When we went to Comic Con in Stockholm, teenage boys were cheering each other on playing it,” recalls PocApp Studios CEO and Producer Dilaram Massimova. “They were so excited about the high score that they would walk around the event and come back to see if anyone beat their high score.”
The team went on to release Sling a Kitty (Android | iOS) but it wasn’t until the release of Castle Cats (Android | iOS) that they saw their university project turn into a viable business. Comparing Castle Cats to PocApp’s earlier games is like night and day. While the art style and cat obsession remain, the game mechanics, writing, and monetization have improved vastly. Castle Cats, an idle RPG, has a distinct style in its writing, humor, and art.
“I think you have a lot of social safety nets. You can take more risks, and our education was free.”
None of this would be possible for PocApp Studios if it wasn’t for the GSP incubator, Microsoft Game Camp, and the support of the Swedish government. “I think you have a lot of social safety nets,” says PocApp Studios Co-Producer and Community/Business Manager Tim Holmboe about Sweden. “You can take more risks, and our education was free.”
Jonas Hansson, Composer and Sound Designer for PocApp Studios, agreed. “You can put 50,000 Swedish krona (around $4,600 USD) to fail and you’ll be fine. The only thing you lose is time,” he says. PocApp Studios cites the policies of the local government in Skövde in helping the team qualify to open up its office.
Turning a university project into a successful business wasn’t exactly easy. Each team member eventually had to learn and assume roles they previously had no experience in. For example, Massimova started off wanting to do art, but she quickly learned she wanted to give direction more than she wanted to take it, which is how she got into her current position. “We started assigning roles at the company and it was a good experience,” says Hansson. “We didn’t think about assigning roles in the beginning because we just wanted to make games.”
Simply taking time to talk to people gave PocApp Studios an edge in starting their business. Since there aren’t many mobile game developers in Skövde, the team set their sights internationally by attending the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where they took the opportunity to network with and learn from industry insiders. The incubator at GSP also helped introduce the team to the right people to help them get started.
“Swedish was one of the last languages we translated to because we needed to translate to tier-one countries first.”
As the studio grows, so do its strategies. Since Sweden is home to only 10 million people, PocApp must have a global approach. “We wouldn’t create a game just for Sweden,” says Holmboe. According to Hansson, 70-80% of the studio’s revenue comes from the United States. “Swedish was one of the last languages we translated to because we needed to translate to tier-one countries first,” says Holmboe. “It doesn’t even matter because most people in Sweden speak English.”
When I asked the PocApp team what knowledge they had to share with other indie devs, Hansson warned about taking investments too early. “I think it’s a mistake for a small studio to go out there looking for huge investments in the beginning,” he says. Hansson says pressure to perform and make money is a reason not to take investment too early. Instead, studios should focus on making a good game first.
PocApp originally took a small investment in the beginning to get off the ground, but they bought back the shares of the company to ensure the team had 100% control over its future. Obviously, there’s also the factor of how hands-on or hands-off your investor is. If you can find an investor who believes in your vision and is hands-off, it could prove valuable to take their investment to help grow the company.
“With countries like India coming out with more advanced phones that can play mid-core games, there’s a huge audience.”
Now that the PocApp Studios team have found their stride, they’re looking toward the future and the mobile game trends that are emerging. PocApp plans to keep making mid-core and “hyper-mid” games like Castle Cats, even as the buzz continues around the hyper-casual genre. “With countries like India coming out with more advanced phones that can play mid-core games, there’s a huge audience,” says Hansson. “They may start with more casual games but jump into mid-core.”
The team said they were excited to learn from the experts in our workshop how to improve their creatives and scale their business. Though they haven’t experimented with video or playable ads yet, a lot of opportunity lies ahead for PocApp Studios.