MegaZebra On Ad Spend, Localization and Facebook-Only Development

MegaZebraTwo weeks ago, German social game developer MegaZebra announced a second “multi-million Euro” round of funding to put toward hiring more staff and development on new games. Inside Social Games follows up with CEO Henning Kosmack on how MegaZebra’s strategy will evolve in 2011.

Inside Social Games: In addition to launching a new game this summer, we understand that you’re using this second round of funding to tweak your existing games Nuzzle Puzzle and Magic Islands. What do you plan to do for those games in the coming months?

Henning Kosmack: Moving forward, we always want to, on the one hand, take things that have proven successful in the past and do more of that, but we also like to venture into slightly new areas. So we will continue to further develop Mahjong Trails and bring out new features. We have a whole bunch of ideas we’re going to be working on with the new guys we are hiring.

Nuzzle Puzzle, that is something [where] a lot of the elements of the core engine are kind of the same as Mahjong Trails, so we’re trying to build on something that proved successful. And we are taking a concept, a genre that actually draws inspiration from the Nintendo DS, and putting out a game we haven’t seen on Facebook yet. Trying new stuff.

On Magic Island, when we started with that game, Kingdoms of Camelot wasn’t out yet. We thought that, given the browser gaming background that Germany has, we wanted to see if some of those elements could be transported into Facebook. Because obviously all the big browser game companies here [in Europe] have tried. Bigpoint tried, Gameforge tried, Ubisoft tried. So we thought, OK, let’s give it a try and see if we can’t be more successful given the learning we have. While we were working on [Magic Islands], Kingdoms of Camelot came out and some other titles, proving that there is sort of a demand for more traditional gaming genres on Facebook. And that’s why we think we want to continue and explore that genre.

I think in 2008 or 2009, when we [released] out our first mahjong game, I think it was the first mahjong game on Facebook at that time. So we are always trying to do something, push the industry a little bit further. Sometimes we have been successful. Sometimes not so much.

ISG: What can you tell us about your new game, due out in summer?

Kosmack: Not so much yet. Again, this is something that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been done on Facebook yet, but we are super excited about it. It will mix some known Facebook elements but brings something to Facebook that isn’t there yet.

ISG: Since 2008, you’ve transitioned all your game development to Facebook alone. Can you walk us through that process?

Kosmack: When we started in 2008, we spoke to all the social networks in Europe and the [initial] plan was “OK, let’s get onto all of these and Facebook.” Then, as we started doing that, we realized very early on that the kind of game experience and gameplay that we have as our goal would require a whole lot of work [to make it cross-platform for all the networks]. Then we thought we either had to compromise gameplay and user experience, or we had to have a lot of people and a lot of resources to adapt each game to individual networks. Because we didn’t want to compromise the user experience and at that time we weren’t in the position to hire four times as many people, we decided to focus everything on Facebook. If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.

Looking back, this has been a good strategy for us. Since then, Facebook has kind of taken over not only the whole world, but the continent here in Europe.

ISG:Facebook has changed since then. Do you think you’ve grown your network of users large enough to support cross-promotion within your user base for the new game? Or will you have to invest in advertising?

Kosmack: So far, I think we have done quite well. Until this year, we hadn’t spent anything on marketing. We reached 4.4 million MAU at [our peak]. We reached that without any spending, just through viral and cross-promotion. Now we are going to make some changes because I have the feeling that Facebook has changed their algorithms, so we are going to bring out some more [viral type] features.

Going forward, we are definitely going to have to commence marketing for the games to make them bigger and that’s also one of the things we want to do with this financing round. But still I think if you really have a good game and you’re smart with how you develop your viral channels, Facebook still offers a lot of value that you can actually build upon.

ISG: Your viral growth seems particularly successful across various regions. We were surprised to see how big your French audience is.

North AmericaKosmack: So were we. [Laughs] Since we grew completely through viral measures, I think that’s why we’re so very big in western Europe, Turkey, and North America because that’s where our friends worked and we sent the games to them and the [audience grew]. Mahjong seems to be extremely popular among French women. We didn’t know that beforehand but, quite frankly, this is obviously good. We do love our user base. And we do like the fact that we have users from Western Europe and North America, which allows us to monetize [effectively]. I think there are other developers with more monthly active users, but since we don’t have so many users in countries that are more difficult to monetize, I think that’s an advantage that we have.

ISG: You also seem to have the upper hand on localization. How did you get ahead of other games so quickly?

Kosmack: When we started in 2008, we had our games live in multiple languages. I’m not aware of any Facebook developer that had something like that [at launch]. From the very beginning, we developed an in-house tool that we use for all our games that’s very efficient to localize the games. Then we have native speakers for the games we have going — for English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish — that we focus on. If you start out of Europe, you focus on localization from day one because it’s a big topic here in Europe.