Den finska mobilspelsutvecklaren Next Games är trots sin ringa ålder en av de största utvecklarna av mobilspel i hemlandet. Bolaget grundades av veteraner från branschen med tidigare anställningar på namnkunniga bolag som Rovio och Supercell. Next Games har nyligen lanserat ännu ett spel under The Walking Dead-franchiset vid namn Walking Dead: Our World. Det här är ett spel baserat i augmented reality, som snabbt börjades synas på grossing-listorna. Detta gjordes oss extra nyfikna på att få till en intervju med bolaget. Håll till godo!
Next Games is a fairly young company, can you elaborate on how the company got started and how it has grown into the current state?
Next Games was started in 2013 by four founders who all have a long experience in the games industry, and very soon joined by our CEO Teemu Huuhtanen. In early 2014 we entered into a license agreement under which we’ve got exclusive rights to develop mobile games based on AMCs hit TV series The Walking Dead. In 2014 Next games also successfully completed its first external investment round raising $6 million from a elite list of institutional, strategic and private investors including AMC, Lionsgate, Lowercase and IDG Ventures among others.
Next Games first game, Compass Point: West, was published in March 2015 and The Walking Dead: No Mans Land in October 2015 topping the store charts around the world. In 2016 Next Games raised an additional $10 million from existing investors.
To this day, The Walking Dead: No Mans Land has been downloaded over 20 million times and the critically acclaimed game won the LIMA licensing award and a Peoples Choice Webby Award in 2017.
In March 2017, we were the first game company to do an IPO in Finland and we raised 34 million to back our plans to develop new licensed IP games. Currently Next Games has four new games in development with four different license holders, including an innovative location based AR game The Walking Dead: Our World, which launched this July. We also work on a mobile game based on the Blade Runner movie franchise. We’ve also announced that one of the four games in development is a project with NBC Universal, a company that is known for very successful global movie franchises among other things.
You made an acquisition back in 2014, when you bought GameWorks. What are your growth plans going forward?
We are planning to launch at least one game a year starting this year and we are tracking well towards that as we succeeded in launching The Walking Dead:Our World this July. We also acquired Lume Games in February 2017, a small startup that focused on AR and location based games. The Lume team was a great addition to our existing team to help us develop The Walking Dead: Our World. We are currently exploring different options for entering Asian markets including China, Korea and Japan as well as planning to set up a small office in the US, Los Angeles to help us have an even more continuous contact with our license partners based there.
Next Games has been doing several collaborations with Lionsgate, and the movie industry giant even made an early investment in the company. How does this partnership impact Next Games and what are your thoughts on this going forward?
We have a solid relationship with Lionsgate, who is an early investor in the company. We often collaborate and support each other in different types of entertainment events. For example we’ve shared a space to promote our games at New York Comic Con.
The Walking Dead: No Mans Land, has been a massive hit on the charts over the past years. Recently, Next Games communicated that you have four new games in development. Can you tell us a bit more about your pipeline. Is there anything that you are extra excited about?
Yes, our critically acclaimed The Walking Dead: No Mans Land game has been a great success, with over 20 million downloads. Next Games is working on four new games based on popular entertainment franchises including a mobile game for the popular Blade Runner franchise and a second The Walking Dead title with AMC, a unique location-based AR game, The Walking Dead: Our World. The launch of our second The Walking Dead title went well, but now the actual work is just in the beginning as we develop our games as services, which means they ideally have years of development ahead from launch.
The development of the Blade Runner games is proceeding as planned and we are now in the soft launch stage. We also have a project with NBCUniversal in the works.
We wanted to diversify our games portfolio for different types of players and with the IPs we are currently working on, we believe we have a good potential to do that. We are extremely excited about all the games in development and truly believe we can redefine the way franchise entertainment transforms into highly engaging service-based mobile games.
The Walking Dead: Our World is your first augmented reality game, much like Pokemon Go. What is different developing an AR-game compared to a regular mobile game?
Developing an AR game requires a special kind of know how and is a fun challenge for us. Both the AR and location aspects make it an interesting challenge for us. You have to look at the sessioning and gameplay patterns in a different way with the location aspect as we want to both encourage players to explore their neighbourhood, move around, but also enable couch play, essentially that you can have a meaningful experience without being on the move all the time. The AR aspect also makes the UI design a unique challenge as us developers dont control the player screen fully when players can view the game through their cameras.
We acquired Lume Games in February 2017 and secured superior AR and location-based technology expertise. We have experienced talent working on this game and we believe this innovative game is a great opportunity for Next Games to be one of the pioneers in this category.
Next Games made an IPO in early 2017. What were your thoughts about going public with such a young company?
Definitely one of the most exciting events of 2017 for us was a successful listing on the Nasdaq First North Helsinki marketplace. We were the first mobile gaming company to do so in Finland. The listing has played a key role in supporting our strategy to become an even stronger mobile game company. We are very happy with the decision and are firmly on track with our strategy of publishing at least one game a year starting this year.
The mobile game market is fairly hot with several hundred games released daily. How are you working to stand out and cut through the competition?
Working with the biggest brands in the entertainment world is a huge asset when it comes to discoverability and brand recognition in such a competitive market, in addition to our own marketing toolbox as well. Also, we are not afraid to both innovate and use the best practices of the industry as our latest release The Walking Dead: Our World shows.
In your opinion, what are Next Games biggest risks and what are the biggest possibilities? And finally, why should the readers invest in Next?
The biggest possibilities lie in the cornerstone of our strategy – to develop and publish mobile games based on entertainment franchises, a focused strategy on the growing mobile games market. At the same time games, like many forms of entertainment today, is a very demanding combination of creativity, technology, data, marketing and branding, which is of course not easy to get right. Everyone would be doing this, if it was easy, right?
Next Games has a unique, focused strategy, a diverse, veteran team and for a young company, we have been able to also execute, which of course I’m personally very happy about.