Nival Invests in HTML5 Proficient Bytex to Fuel Pivot into Mobile, Social Gaming

Russian developer and publisher Nival is deepening its commitment to social and mobile gaming with an investment in Russian independent studio Bytex.

Nival, most famous for developing PC games and running the Russian free-to-play MMO portal zzima.com, is teaming with Bytex to help the smaller company co-publish a new HTML5-based collectible card game (CCG) on Facebook called Berzerk: The Cataclysm. While CCGs are typically played in real time, Berzerk: The Cataclysm is asynchronous, and has social features that allow players to showcase their card collections according to Bytex’s founder and CEO Dmitri Karasev.

What makes Berzerk: The Cataclysm and Bytex most attractive to Nival is that the game is built in HTML5, meaning it’s naturally cross platform on Facebook and mobile. This aligns with Nival’s long term game development goals and puts the developer in a space currently occupied by Zynga, Wooga and OMGPOP, which each have HTML5 games running on Facebook’s mobile platform.

“We’re focusing on cross-platform social strategy games,” Nival’s president Sergey Orlovskiy (pictured) tells us. “When we found out that [Bytex] wanted to go to the direction of making social CCGs, because of their experience we decided to invest. All of the games we’re doing right now — and we’re doing a bunch — all of them are socially connected and most of them will be cross platform.”

The partnership with Bytex is Nival’s second foray into Facebook games. Earlier this year Nival teamed with another independent Russian developer, KranX to publish Kings Bounty: Legions, a turn-based strategy game targeting hardcore gamers. While Nival is proud of the game, it has yet to hit its stride in terms of traffic. Since its release, King’s Bounty: Legions has risen to 20,000 MAU and 4,000 DAU according to AppData, but even Orlovskiy admits that the game performed below expectations initially.

“In terms of monetization, the [average revenue per user] is very good, but I would say that we’ve underestimated several things, and we’ve spent a lot of time improving the social and viral features of the game,” he explains. “We believed that the rarity of the deep, hardcore experience plus the quality of the game would create viral buzz even with a small audience, and that would make the game grow. Frankly, that didn’t happen. What we can see is that the combination of good viral mechanics built into the game, plus high quality gameplay, plus hardcore appeal works much, much better than [a game] without the viral mechanics.”

Orlovskiy is happy to use Kings Bounty: Legions as a learning experience, and it hasn’t reduced his confidence that social games will be an important part of Nival’s offerings in the future. Facebook-only development, however, is not a viable strategy for Nival as user acquisition and marketing costs are far higher on the platform for new companies. Orlovskiy says that the amount of advertising and filtering required to create a dedicated player base of hardcore users would be unfeasible, even though these players tend to produce much higher APRU than casual ones.

Orlovskiy goes on to say that the still-emerging mobile platform presents more opportunity and a more natural platform for strategy games thanks to touch interfaces. Mobile development is also being pushed forward as developers find better ways to incorporate social features thanks to Facebook Connect and the emergence of true mobile social gaming networks.

“Since the whole industry is moving from web to mobile, the same needs to happen to us,” Orlovskiy says. “It’s inevitable that evolution will take us in this direction, the same way that games evolved from an offline to an online experience.”

Nival opened a studio in Kiev specializing in social and mobile development this September.