Interview: Wooga’s New Studio Lead, Henric Suuronen

Personnel battles are becoming increasingly important for social gaming companies. As the industry becomes larger and more distinct, the pool of potential hires has shrunk, especially among executives.

European publisher Wooga’s latest hire, which a source recently tipped us off about, is thus something of a coup: Henric Suuronen, the now-former head of Digital Chocolate’s Barcelona office [correction: Suuronen was director of product, not studio head, according to Digital Chocolate], which developed the company’s most popular social titles to date including Millionaire City and MMA Pro Fighter.

As a product lead moving from one key mid-sized developer to another — not to mention one in Europe — we were interested to hear what Suuronen had to say. We got him on the phone for a short interview from Berlin, where he now heads up one of Wooga’s development studios.

Inside Social Games: What are you planning to do at Wooga?

Henric Suuronen: Wooga has always been about doing games that create emotion, and that’s how I see what’s important in games too. In Millionaire City for example, when you level up, there’s a torch in the air and an airplane flying with your name. If you’re not able to create emotion, you won’t be able to create a game with good retention.

I heard a pretty good quote when we were doing Millionaire City and there were four or five other city builders coming out at the same time. There was a girl who said she was playing [Playdom’s] Social City for two hours and felt nothing, but Millionaire City after five minutes made her feel smart. Other comments were that it was like Sim City, but so much more fun.

You want to beat your friends, show off to your friends, instead of just mindless clicking and decoration. In the next generation of games there will be a lot of animation, you’ll feel attached to the characters, the game will creates a sense of competitiveness, make you feel smart and give you status among your friends.

ISG: Do you think that European developers are different from their American counterparts?

HS: They usually understand the importance of localization, because we’re working in a market where some people don’t speak English. Not just localization for the game, but for the ads, fanpage, community.

There’s another perspective coming from Europe, that you can develop for the world and not just the US. There are a lot of countries growing very quickly, with new users coming into the game, so those people invite more friends, share more feeds, and so forth. The European and Asian developers are aware of the importance of being outside of the US.

ISG: Both Digital Chocolate and Wooga have relatively unusual games. What makes them different?

HS: Millionaire City builds on the basic premise of making money. Cafe World and Restaurant City are about having a cafe, FarmVille is about having a farm, but a lot of people in those games still play primarily to make money. In Millionaire City, that’s the game.

The Wooga portfolio builds strongly around people who are already playing games on Facebook, and they don’t play games on consoles. There’s a large female crowd that’s very viral, and very possible to monetize. So we’re building characters that customers can relate to, a bit like Super Mario, which is probably my all-time favorite game. You know what Super Mario stands for, you can take him from one game to another. So Wooga is going with their portfolio in that direction, creating strong IP that you can take across games to create emotion and gives a distinguishing look and feel to the games.

ISG: So how do games like Bubble Island fit in?

HS: Traditionally on Facebook people say it’s impossible to monetize an arcade game. [Digital Chocolate’s] Tower Bloxx, Brain Buddies and Bubble Island are all examples.

Going forward, it’s not about just delivering one game to a customer, but a portfolio of games that keeps a player entertained. Sometimes a player wants to play a management game, but sometimes they just want to shoot some bubbles, and get a quick fix from an arcade game. The Wooga portfolio is well suited to that, creating a customer who plays a portfolio for as long as possible and as frequently as possible. I think the arcade games are one cornerstone in creating a portfolio that caters to all needs of the customer.

ISG: How do you think mid-sized developers like Digital Chocolate and Wooga will do in the future?

HS: Obviously with all the changes on Facebook, virality has gone down, but still you see games like Millionaire City and Monster World growing. The focus has gone from purely spammy games to being smart in the games, making the customer enjoy the game with their friends and also giving them incentives to share and collaborate with their friends. It’s tricky to get a game that grows purely from virality, but still possible.

Midsized companies can do collaboration and better exchanges between apps. Say one company has a one million DAU game and another has a two million DAU game. I see no reason they can’t help each other out, especially if they have similar demographics. You see that happening a lot the past few months, as well as initiatives like Applifier [ed.: More on Applifier here] that offer banner space across games.

Going forward, it’s a tough business but definitely not impossible… I think it’s about releasing more games, but also cross-linking the games better. There’s a lot of effort to connect similar  games and get people into a gaming network. I see Mindjolt doing a bit of that with their arcade games, getting a portfolio and keeping the customer there. If they get tired of one game, they just switch to another. You can already see Wooga doing smarter cross-promotion between games than other companies.