Insider Q&A: Kiwi CEO, Omar Siddiqui

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By Jon Robinson Comments

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After finishing 2013 with $9M in funding and three games in Google Play’s Top Grossing Charts –Shipwrecked: Lost Island (5M+ downloads), Hidden Object: Mystery Estate (1M+ downloads), Westbound (1M+ downloads) – Android-first mobile game developer Kiwi is looking for even bigger things in 2014.

Inside Mobile Apps caught up with CEO Omar Siddiui to get his thought on Android development, what it takes to stand out in the crowded app market, and why his company decided to focus on Android over iOS.

Here’s what Siddiqui had to say from his company’s Palo Alto office.

Inside Mobile Apps: Why did Kiwi decide to become an Android-first developer?

Omar Siddiqui: We saw the potential for growth that Android offered us at the time, and it was also the earlier days of Android, so it was less crowded. Another factor that became more significant over time is the pace at which you can release games on Android. It’s a huge advantage in terms of tuning your game, fine-tuning it, and making it the best you can for consumers. That really attracted us as a way of rolling out our products and making them compelling. We’re also releasing our top products on iOS, so we’re not planning on being an Android-only shop, but we found Android to be a great place to launch our products and then rapidly iterate them as we try to make them more compelling for consumers.

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IMA: What are some of the challenges developing for Android that maybe you didn’t anticipate when Kiwi first started out?

OS: Every platform presents its own challenges, but Android has actually gotten a lot better and a lot easier over the last couple of years. The developer tools have really improved. The biggest issue we face is the diversity of devices and the wide range of devices that we have to support. So for Android, if you’re going to bring your games to market, even today, we support everything from Android 2.3 and on, which means that there’s a range of devices that are running your game. This means that you need to make sure when you’re designing your game, you’re providing a good experience to people who are running it on an old device, while at the same time, you’re still taking advantage of the richness the new devices can offer. That’s definitely something you need to account for and design to right from the get go.

IMA: How difficult is it these days to just get your game noticed in such a crowded marketplace?

OS: Both iOS and Android have over 800,000 apps, so there’s no two ways about it, you need to make a great product if you want to breakthrough. At the end of the day, making a high quality product is what’s necessary if you want to get noticed on either platform. With Android, we’re really seeing a phenomenal growth both domestically and internationally, but domestically we’re not seeing as much of the volume in Android tablets in the U.S., so you’re not able to take advantage of that platform like you can on iOS with the iPad. On a relative basis, I’d say if you have a more tablet-oriented game and you’re optimizing for that type of device, the volume just isn’t there in the U.S. for Android like it is for the iPad, but that represents a huge area of opportunity and growth for Android in 2014 and on.

IMA: Kiwi is one of the few companies to have multiple products in Google Play’s Top 100 Grossing Games at the same time. Are you surprised by your company’s success with games like Shipwrecked: Lost Island and Westbound?

OS: Every game you make, you try and make sure that there’s enough stuff in it that’s special that you’ll be rewarded for it in the market. So it’s absolutely something that we planned for and it’s something that we try to hold ourselves up to a standard of. I think, obviously, being able to achieve this type of success comes from our methodology that works, and that’s what sets you up for success. This is a creative business, and there are risks with every game you launch, but the way we’ve been able to keep to our standard of launching only those games that we feel are among the best games of Android, have really led to our success. We also have all the analytics and support structure behind all of our games so that once the games are out in the market, we’re able to customize our games to the widest possible audience. You never know what people will find fun or not, but hopefully make great products and are able to get it out in front of enough people that the game is successful.

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IMA: You received $9M in funding last year. How do you plan to use the money to grow Kiwi in 2014?

OS: We’re going to continue to double down on what we’ve learned through the years. We’re developing story-driven games with strong characters and mechanics that are really fun for people. So in 2014, we’re looking to continue to evolve our games while continuing to hold ourselves up to a higher standard in creating immersive worlds within our games. So expect deeper stories and deeper mechanics so that even two years in, the game still feels fresh to players.

IMA: How many new titles will you launch in 2014?

OS: It’s hard for us to project because we only really launch once we are excited about a game and we’re seeing data metrics that we like, so it’s hard to hold us to a launched title number. We have the capability to build and launch four to six titles if we wanted to, but I think our focus is very much on high-quality and making sure anything we launch is held up to our standard.

IMA: When you look at mobile gaming as a whole, what trends are you seeing for 2014?

OS: I think the requirements consumers require from mobile games in order to remain loyal is going to continue to go up, so we can expect to see both deeper and higher production value games. I think we’ll also see the emergence of different types of genres and different types of games that will start to exploit mobile in ways that we haven’t seen yet. A lot of the games that have emerged have taken mechanics that have evolved on PC or in the Facebook ecosystem and applied them to mobile, and I think in the next few years, we’re going to see more and more games that are built with a mobile platform in mind … not just games applied to mobile, but games developed for mobile.

IMA: So if I’m a new developer trying to break into the Android market, what advice do you have for someone starting a new studio?

OS: Focus on finding a voice that you believe that is distinctive to you. There is a lot of cluttered product out there, but there is always room for excellence. I think it’s really important to bet on games that are not only distinctive, but are a really good reflection of what that studio wants to be amazing at. I think with that formula, anyone has the chance to breakthrough.