Gamevil’s Kyu Lee weighs in on publishing, niche markets and international success

Judging by track record alone, South Korean publisher and developer Gamevil seems to make releasing hit mobile games look easy. The first half of the company’s fiscal year was the best it had ever recorded, with $28.1 million in sales and $9.8 million in profits. The company is not only doing well in the lucrative South Korean market, it’s been able to establish itself in the far more competitive international arena, where sales have increased by 161 percent year-over-year.

Inside Mobile Apps recently had a chance to talk to Gamevil vice president and head of Gamevil USA Kyu Lee about how his company’s turn to publishing has enabled it to increase revenues, rack up more than 150 million downloads and translate its domestic success to the international market.

Inside Mobile Apps: Gamevil has seen its business grow quite substantially recently. What do you attribute your success to?

Kyu Lee, head of Gamevil USA: I think on a macro level we’re growing because the whole market is growing. We [were a] feature phone game company for a long time and now more than 97 percent of our revenue comes from smartphones. We’ve also been switching from paid apps to free to play, ever since we’ve been doing that our revenue’s been growing significantly. More than 90 percent of our revenue comes from in-app purchases. The third thing is publishing third party titles. Traditionally we did like 12 games a year, most of them internally developed. Since we launched our game developer fund last year we’ve been publishing a lot of titles. This year we plan to publish 45 titles — we’re still signing up titles every month, so that 45 number could actually increase.

IMA:  A lot of companies are coming over from Asia but are having trouble replicating their success internationally. That hasn’t been a problem for you. Why do you think that is?

Lee: I think our titles are high quality. The budgets are even higher than the regular titles that are published in the west. That’s one of the reasons. Another reason is we’re very targeted in terms of the audience. We’ve been known for our role-playing games, our action RPGS in the Western market. It’s kind of a niche market, but it’s a also a category that very easily translates. The Zelda fans here are the same Zelda fans in Korea and in Japan. It’s niche but it translates very well around the world.

IMA: When you say a niche market, do you find you also have niche audiences? The kind that are small, but also more engaged, and likely to generate higher average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU)?

Lee: I think that’s been the overall direction of the company. We’ve been positioning ourselves like that early on. Those are the types of games we’ve been doing internally. [For the] games that we’re publishing, I think we’re becoming more diverse there. Air Penguin got more than a million downloads in its first month — it beat Angry Birds for a week in more than 25 countries. It did very well on Android too, I think it was a top five game. That game was one of our big successes on the casual front. We also acquired another IP called Cartoon Wars, that we share with the developer. That game is still doing amazing for us. It’s a tower defense game but it’s more casual than the games we traditionally produce. We’ve been trying to broaden our fanbase from our existing sports and RPG strengths.

IMA: Can you disclose any specifics about what your games earn?