Amplifying the studios’ efforts of AppLovin

Keith Kawahata, Head of Games, AppLovin

Keith Kawahata came to Berlin a few years ago for his position as Head of Mobile at Wargaming. He fell in love with the city and decided to stay here. He recently started his current position as Head of Games at AppLovin, where Keith is responsible for extending the legacy beyond AppLovin’s advertising focus and platform history to now include amplification on the game development and product side. His previous roles next to Wargaming included owner of ZeroTheory Inc., Vice President of Product/General Manager, LTV Group for GREE International, and Vice President, Revenue Group at Kabam.

First, congratulations to your new position as Head of Games at AppLovin. Can you tell us a bit about the company and your role?

Thanks! I’ve had the honor to work with and for many great leaders in the games industry throughout my career. AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi is an exceptionally inspiring leader, and I’m humbled and honored to work for him and be a part of the highly talented leadership team.

AppLovin is a mobile app technology company that has built the industry’s largest mobile platform to acquire, analyze, monetize and entertain a global audience. My role is focused on working with the studios to help create popular, immersive mobile games. AppLovin is headquartered in Palo Alto, California with several offices globally, including one here in Berlin.

I’m the Head of Games here at AppLovin and my focus is all about helping our studios succeed. All our studios manage their business and remain independent, which means that instead of reviewing financials and managing studio CEOs and GMs, I am focused on supporting and amplifying our studios’ efforts. Much of what I do is listen to our studios, turn their needs into solutions and connect them to each other to share, learn and collaborate together. By working with each studio independently and as a whole, we are able to save our studios development time by providing everything from valuable consumer insights and services to enabling better product decision making and much more. One of if not the most valuable assets we have is our studios themselves, the learnings they discover and their leadership. 

The Berlin office was established already in 2014. What are the goals with this location and which departments are based in Berlin?

While we often establish a new location with a narrow purpose, we allow that purpose to evolve over time to meet the needs of our business, studios and customers. Since opening in 2014, the Berlin office has evolved to be a cross functional hub for our European operations with everything from game development, business development, and publishing happening in the office today. As a result, our Berlin office is very diverse with an international team. We have many exciting roles at the AppLovin Berlin office as well as our partner studios across EMEA.

"We are seeing a new genre emerge called “hybrid-casual” games."

The market for mobile games is growing constantly and there is no end in sight. What trends in mobile gaming do you see for the future?

The lines between different game genres and mechanics are becoming more blurred. I already see the growing popularity and evolution within the hyper-casual segment. Games in this genre are quick to develop, iterate, and are easy and fun for consumers to play. As a result, the market is extremely competitive and challenges developers to find new ideas and creatives to stand out. As a result, we are seeing a new genre emerge called “hybrid-casual” games. This genre combines mechanics from multiple genres to create a unique, engaging and immersive experience for players. These games are easy to understand initially, but have deeper mechanics throughout the game. Our very own Lion Studios recently published its first hybrid-casual game called Ancient Battle.

When looking historically and across genres within the in-app purchasing (IAP) side of mobile gaming, I expect there to be continued adoption of features, UX and systems across genres. We’ve seen the adoption of what were traditionally considered core RPG mechanics and systems in PC and console gaming -- such as skills, inventory/loot, character progression to name a few -- now incorporated in everything from fishing, to football to puzzle games. Similarly, I see what are often considered casual genres translating systems from 4x, RPG and other mid- and hard-core genres into their products specifically competitive and social systems. Likewise, the core genres are adopting increasingly mass market UX and short session gameplay from the casual genres.

Finally, global distributed development is becoming increasingly critical for publishers, studios and products. The ability to recruit, retain and inspire the best talent from around the world is something many companies talk about but few are able to execute because of resources. 

After you left your job at Wargaming you have decided to stay in Berlin. What is so special about the city that you wanted to stay here?

I love Berlin, it is home for me. Berlin is fantastic from the affordable cost of living to the highly creative and talented people. I’ve helped establish offices here in Berlin at four different companies prior to moving here myself and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

"Berlin is a favored location for innovative start-ups because of its central location to other European cities and countries and it has a vibrant and prosperous indie scene."

What are the strengths for Berlin as a location for gaming companies and what is missing in your opinion?

Berlin is a favored location for innovative start-ups because of its central location to other European cities and countries and it has a vibrant and prosperous indie scene. The German government also has a major funding programme for the national game industry that allows companies to claim back as much as 50% of development costs -- which is huge for smaller companies. There are also a number of colleges and international tech/gaming companies that are based in Berlin, making it a great place to find talent.

What is next for AppLovin?

Our goal is to support game studios via our industry leading platform and services. We recently announced new games from Belka Games and Lion Studios, and are working on many more exciting things. I could spend hours describing all the things going on inside our company, but you’ll just have to wait and see!

Thank you very much Keith and all the best for your future!