Creative Mobile´s headquarters is in Tallinn, but you also have branch offices in Saint Petersburg, Oxford and Berlin. Especially since you can compare the cities with each other, what are the strengths of Berlin as a games location in your opinion?
Berlin is a very attractive location for any creative business thanks to its rich and diverse talent pool. It’s also very well connected, offering direct flights to most major cities in Europe and some key long-haul destinations. While definitely not on the cheap side of the spectrum, it’s more affordable than some other Western gaming hotspots, such as London or Helsinki. It's also a cool city to work and live in, which is a major consideration for a company that needs top talent.
When Creative Mobile was founded in 2010, mobile games were still at the very beginning. By now, it has become a huge market and you are currently serving over 300 million players. How have you experienced the development? Did you have to face difficulties over time or was it always a smooth development?
Growing a business is always hard, and we had our fair share of ups and downs. Our early Android bet paid off, and we were extremely successful at embracing the free distribution model. As the market matured, however, we needed to compete with much larger publishers now moving into our category. At the same time, we had to innovate and develop new games for the future. These are hard problems for any business, even when approached independently. At that point we knew we needed to expand internationally. Estonia has a strong reputation for IT talent and entrepreneurial spirit, but games were not on anyone's radar a decade ago. Our business model was being mocked by local media, while our products were being copied by big publishers. These were very turbulent times, and we sacrificed a lot, but gained a lot of crucial insight and resilience. Perhaps most importantly, we learned to invest into talent at all stages - from working with the government and the universities to enable professional education and knowledge exchange, to smart hiring and retention. Eventually, game development started appearing on the curriculums, the number of people employed in the industry grew tenfold, and CM earned a spot on the list of Estonia's 30 best employers. Which is no small feat in a country known for its tech startups (Skype, TransferWise and Bolt are the biggest household names).
You are working together with influencers and video bloggers to promote your games. What are the collaborations like and how do they differ from other cooperations, e.g. with newspapers or the like? How is the outcome for the company?
Most streamers and influencers are young entrepreneurs who work extremely hard to break through and stay relevant. They spend a good part of their day on air, and when the cameras are finally off, they must manage their businesses and private lives. Most people severely underestimate the sacrifice required to be a full-time streamer or influencer - the workload, the emotional strain, the complexity of it. If you want to be a good partner, you must help their business grow, you must be easy to deal with and be extra nice. Our relationships are based on us providing good content and a fun experience, and having open two-way conversations about things that work and those that don't. My top advice for anyone approaching an influencer is to think about ways you can help them create unique content and have fun. When we are promoting racing games, we do racetrack events and factory visits, where we take care of logistics and let the creators focus on the job. If we are going to a big game show, we try to think of ways to create a story around our game that is unique and memorable. Thinking outside of the box is a requirement for producing great content, and great content is a requirement for successful partnerships. Viewers don't watch people who sell out, so if you're in for a simple “buyer and seller” type of deal, you might be looking at the wrong channel.
Your games mainly have the focus on motorsports. How did this come about? Are you open to other fields / topics or do you want to stick with your current one?
Our original racing game was conceived when we realized that the category was underserved. We created a product that was free and lightweight, easy to pick up, designed to be enjoyable on a touchscreen and on the go, but complex enough to reward long-term investment and mastery. This is how Drag Racing (2011) was born, and it went on to attract more than 300 million organic downloads and become a template for 1000+ subsequent games from developers of all sizes. This success created a natural force of gravity, and racing games are still a major pillar of our business, but we have found validation in other genres too. We feel strongly that our skills as designers and entertainers can be applied across category borders, and we want to talk to the largest audience possible.
What are you planning for the future of Creative Mobile?
We've been investing relentlessly into our talent, tools and rate of innovation, already resulting in a nice 30% growth of existing portfolio for 3 years in a row. However, our big bets are on brand new games launching between 2019 and 2021. Our ultimate goal is to be one of the leaders of the industry while retaining our agility and a transparent, no-nonsense culture, and we are willing to take risks to get there.
Thank you, Vladimir!