Former hypercasual specialist Kwalee continues to transform itself from quickfire hit-maker into multifaceted, multiplatform publisher.
The UK developer and publisher seems to be hiring folks constantly, but arguably its most notable recent appointment is new VP of mobile publishing John Wright. He’s a former leader at Unity/IronSource and was part of the small team that took Luna Labs from zero to getting acquired by IronSource in 2021.
Wright tells us Kwalee has a three-point plan to grow its mobile business. First, it’s about building out its existing publishing platform.
“We’re going to become a much more platform-first publishing house,” Wright tells us. “If you look at Voodoo, Supersonic, Homa…all of these companies have these really good internal systems and publishing platforms where people can sign up. But ultimately, the strategy should never be platform-only – publishing doesn’t actually work like that, it’s only part of the puzzle.”
“We want to build a place where developers can frequent where there’s information on everything, not just around us, but also advising them on what to do to be successful if they were going to self-publish,” continues Wright. “We want to coach developers – we want to be the nice guy of publishing.”
Next, it’s about seeking out the right games to publish. “You need to make sure there’s a balance between developers coming to you and you coming to them,” says Wright. Then there’s what Wright calls “diamond mining”.
“That’s going after the best studios out there,” says Wright. “We want to go out there with maybe not M&A proposals, but looking to invest in the right people. We hope that we will have one or two a year where we will put a lot of money into them.”
And as you might expect post-IDFA, having made its name in hypercasual Kwalee is now “obviously moving more towards casual,” says Wright.
“The hypercasual boom was one thing, but we know the burn rate of these games. Unless it’s something super iconic, like Helix Jump or Plank, these games last a couple of months then there’s pressure to get more of them out because you have to have something to take over that revenue. You can be dead in the water in six months.”
“People are taking all of the knowledge they got from quick ideation and fun quick mechanics and this whole one click, one thumb approach and then they’re just making the games deeper and longer and more sustainable and giving enough variety for people to come back time and time again. With hypercasual, if you kept someone for seven days or 10 days, you’re like, wow, this is amazing – that’s all you needed to hit your LTV.”
Kwalee has around a dozen games in development that it is confident of launching, which are “either hybrid or above”, says Wright. Around half of those are developed in-house, and half are developed externally.
“We are really really diversifying the portfolio – and by the way, everyone is: Voodoo, Homa, Rollic…let’s be straight – a lot of studios have gone out of business in the last six months. For a lot of people in hypercasual their runway, their cost, their op-ex is just unsustainable now.”
“I think this is why there’s going to be a big revitalisation of publishers,” Wright continues. “Because the smaller companies that were able to be successful before won’t be because the game has changed – it’s too aggressive. The marketing needs to be more on point and you need to have much more publishing expertise.”
That experience in the market – of not just publishing games but making them internally as well – puts Kwalee at an advantage over its rivals, says Wright.
“You could argue that Voodoo does develop their own games, but they’ve done it through acquisitions…you know, Rollic, Homa, to my knowledge, don’t have internal game teams, which is actually something I think strategically they’ll have to change soon,” he adds.
“We know how to approach things from the studio’s perspective, because we are a studio. So it just gives us that more empathy. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about being the nice guy of publishing – we’re empathetic because of our own journey and our own understanding of internal development.”