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SuperScale: Big data phenomenon in the gaming industry

MatFyz's graduate Ivan Trančík was able to create a company that pioneered data analysis for gaming studios. In an interview with Ivan you will learn more about SuperScale business, its beginnings, and business-related matters of interest.

by Alexandra Krchnavá 10.7.2019  |  12 min read Members
SuperScale: Big data phenomenon in the gaming industry

MatFyz’s graduate Ivan Trančík was able to create a company that pioneered data analysis for gaming studios. In an interview with Ivan, who is a member of the Forbes 30under30 ranking, you will learn more about SuperScale business, its beginnings, and business-related matters of interest.

Currently, Ivan’s first startup, Infinario, is a mega successful company dealing with business data analysis – Exponea. Ivan saw the potential of gaming studios and games there that produce a much larger amount of data than the B2B sector. SuperScale has been on the market for only a few years, but it already has the largest analytical team dedicated exclusively to the mobile games of prestigious clients around the world. SuperScale is based in our HubHub Bratislava, as well as in HubHubs in our other locations.

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What is SuperScale’s primary goal?

We help top game publishers to make games more successful and better with analytics. We are not a company that produces or publishes games. Our business is built on improving game monetization and marketing optimization. For this we take the agreed percentage of the extra revenue we add to the game.

Who are your clients?

Our clients are gaming studios and publishers that usually earn more than 10 million. Because our work is built on data, it is ideal when the game has had some success. One game we do, Fingersoft, has over 50 million active players and earns about a million a month. We raised its earnings by 56%. Now we have a number of those that are not yet released and we are helping to put them on the market in a more optimal way. However, it is a well-established successful gaming studio with lots of data. Most of our clients are from Finland, Sweden, Poland, we have one from the US and we are also starting with the UK. It is a thing that cannot be done very well in Slovakia. When we started, Finland had a turnover of around 3 and a half billion a year, in Slovakia it was a maximum of dozens of millions. But as far as the population is concerned, the numbers are similar, so it was a huge difference in turnover.

How did you verify that such a solution on the market is missing?

I realized that such a solution is absent on the market when founding Infinario, which is now Exponea. At that time, we used big data with Jožo Kováč to help any B2C business. I was most interested in our first game client Pixel Federation. They grew very fast and already had 40 million players. When I compared it to the most successful banks with 3 million customers, it was an interesting finding for me. Games are global and digital, so they have disproportionately more data points. There is nothing better than more data for an analyst. 🙂 That was my primary intention – to use analytical techniques for gaming studios that we had previously applied in e-shops, e-commerce, and banking.

Since Exponea wanted to deal more with e‑commerce, 3 years ago I left not only the company but also Slovakia. I wanted to be close to the best game developers to understand their problems.

In principle, it turned out to be a good market feed because we didn’t need any investment at any time. Three years ago, I was a “one man army”, myself in the living room – and now our team has 55 members.

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When did the turning point come when you felt you were doing well?

I met it head on. I didn’t even have a website when I started. From my personal e-mail, I started writing to the directors of gaming companies stating that I can help them raise their turnover with data analysis and they started to write me back :).

Next, I tried to speak at as many conferences as possible, as it is an ideal marketing channel. I simply present the case on a real game, how we helped it, what we did and then then people contact me on their own. One can build trust this way.

Since 2017 I didn’t even have to sell actively. The turning point was when Fingersoft, the most profitable gaming company in Finland, approached us. They had a game with over half a billion downloads and came to us to see if we could help them release a sequel. Launch was as successful as it could be. In 2016, the game became so much as a phenomenon. Not only was it the number one in the game downloads but also between the apps. This is how we broke through in our region. We did a good job for a reputable studio and they sold us to everyone else.

Do you have any advice for new startups in this regard?

I’m trying to explain to new businessmen and startups that they don’t need any “fancy“ branding, that it just unnecessarily distracts them from what’s important. If you have something that has value, even if you send it from Gmail to the right person who understands it would help him, it’s all you need.

Many people underestimate the research to see whether they will be successful on the market. Many startups are trying to get money to start with, but it can just be a distraction. They have a lot of salespeople, focus on marketing and try to push their product – but just having a service that solves a problem of the company is enough. We have launched a website with a turnover of 380,000 EUR per year, due to one conference we attended.

Is it possible to work with clients remotely, or your work requires personal contact?

From the beginning, I wanted to build the whole company “remote”, so it doesn’t matter where I, our guys or clients are sitting. It turned out to be easy to do remotely. I meet key clients on a regular basis, but this means every 3 months. We also have many clients we’ve never met. We avoid contracts where we have to be on the spot because it’s poorly scalable.

What does the process of working with a client look like?

It all starts with the so-called scalability audit. We ask for access to all the data sources, what KPI the game has, for example, how many percent of the players who install the game will play it the next day, in 7 days, in a month. Then we look at the monetization data, i. e. how much a player spends on average over a period of time, marketing data, whether they buy players via FB and for how much. In general, we are trying to improve monetization and marketing to increase profitability. We will make a business model based on the data from the game, out of which we get the potential to use our techniques. For example, we can better assess what the player’s payment potential is, what he or she would be willing to buy, and so on. Thanks to our optimization techniques, we can bring an extra 30, 50, 70 percent of earnings, for which we will take some of it.

Since millions of players are at different stages of play with different needs, their behavior can be quantified and evaluated. We are focusing on dividing players into groups and trying to calculate what they want in which part of the game. Most developers offer new deals to all players at the same price and we try to optimize this.

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Gaming studios are not able to analyze the data themselves in such a way?

It’s not so easy to read from data and get relevant information from them. I would say there is a great lack of people who can do this. We are one of the largest analytical teams in this segment in the world. Even companies that earn billions do not have as large analytical teams as we do. This business is very new when we talk about mobile “free to play“ games, which now make up most of the game world. They practically did not exist before the iPhone. This entire mobile world of games did not exist 10 years ago. We are de facto pioneers in this process by doing this for 5 years.

What programs do you use to analyze the data?

Gaming is special in this regard. We need to use other tools and literature than in other industries because there is so much data. We collect more than a terabyte a day on one game, which we analyze. You cannot do this in Excel or in most of the available solutions. We also use Exponea for PC games, but only for the smaller ones. Games are x-times larger in impact than e‑commerce solutions. We use our own infrastructure built over Google Bigquery, where the database is very well scalable even for the biggest games. We always try to put together the structure and analytical system of the best components that will bring us the desired result. So, it’s not one blackbox, because most of the ready-made solutions don’t go in such a depth as the games need.

What are the biggest mistakes that gaming studios are making?

Clearly the worst mistakes are those that can’t be fixed. They develop a game, pour money into it for x years and then find out that no one in the world cares. They misjudged the market or players, and they must write off the investment. The mistake is when a person is blinded by his own idea and does not check whether anybody else would want to play the game.

Can I find out if the game will be successful before I create it?

There are many techniques that developers use to create a game. They choose a genre – it can be a puzzle, a racing game, a shooting game, then a theme – such as zombies, realistic action or pirates. Then they combine, for example, a puzzle game with pirates. First, they need to find out if anyone in the world would be interested. For example, they can observe a Facebook audience, what are the fans of these genres – pirates or films with pirates, whether they also play mobile games and puzzles. They get the number 5 000 people in the world. That means it’s not going to be a good business. It is a different story, when there are 150 million players. Of course, potential players still don’t guarantee that the game will be successful, but at least it gives a good indication that it can be a good “market fit“.

When talking about potential players, what’s important to observe?

It is necessary to find out what is the profile of the players that will actually play the game. Many games can be extremely popular, but their players are children between 10 and 15 years of age. You must remember that this is not a segment of players that is well monetized because they do not have their own income. On the other hand, the best segment to monetize is women of 40 and more, which is interesting because games were a male domain once. Mobile gaming has brought a huge market where women spend more. Both demography and geography monitoring are important. Women are not driven by competition, but other things like collecting, performing tasks. Players in China or Japan expect something different from games than in Europe and something else is present in America. RPG games are popular in Asia, where the player improves his attributes. Strategic games are more successful in Europe, hunting games are popular in the US and Canada.

In one survey, we found that darts are a sport in the gaming industry that is worthwhile because they are popular in countries where rich people live – the US, UK, Germany. There is a good reach for people who are willing to pay. The fact that there was no good dart game on the market was also a plus. As a result, we have worked with the Darts Club on the world’s best dart game. Of course, the game must primarily be good. If not, no analyst will help.

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What would you advise to new game developers?

To find out if their base is big enough and whether there is a lot of competition from top-of-the-line games in their segment. It would be very difficult in such a case. You need to be very agile. It is no longer the case that you must develop a game for a year or two and only then find out, if it is successful. Now, should make a prototype and test it on the market.

How can a developer verify that his game will be successful on the market?

Google offers a number of ways to do this – Google Open Beta or Google Open Access. Thus, we will find out if the game’s prototype has potential. So, it’s definitely a good idea to do marketing research, competition research, and measure all the stages of development.

How to come up with the idea of a successful game? Should we get inspired by what already works?

What I like about gaming is collaboration between science and art. Yes, there are examples of games when you look at the two most successful games and combine some parts together to create the top 3. But copying 1: 1 doesn’t work anymore. But it’s certainly good to be inspired to some extent by proven mechanics and techniques. I think that’s the right way. It is very difficult to invent something really experimental, which will also be fun and have a monetizing potential. It’s not impossible, there are examples of very successful games that have come up with an innovation, but I would recommend keeping a healthy balance. However, few studies rely on only one game. Mostly they try 6‑8 games and expect at least one of them to be successful. No one can tell you if the game is going to be a hit. Some things are worth risking.

Do you think it is worth it to enter the game segment?

I’m fascinated by the fact that everyone has a cell phone today. Console games had basically only teenagers at home, but everyone can have mobile games. It’s a very fast segment. When we look at the mobile market, almost 80% of the earnings of all apps are games. We see that all people want to play and it is not so difficult to find their players among the billions of people. Even a small studion can break into this market.

When a company in the gaming industry grows 20% per year, it is an average. In other sectors, it is a strong growth. Mobile games are extremely new and dynamic business. It’s a Wild West with huge potential. Games are global and well scalable right from the starting point. For example, Hillclimb Series has over 1 billion downloads and the original game has been programmed by one person in 3 months. All games started on prototypes with a few people. It’s fascinating for me that I can have such a huge impact with such a small team.

How is it possible that some games can afford to be paid and others not?

The whole market today is just “free to play” games. There were also premium games like Angry Birds, when it started, it cost 90 cents and 2 billion people bought it. When iPhones with premium games emerged, people bought them for a while, but it was quickly discovered that it was a big barrier for entry.

“Free to play“ means that anyone can install the game for free. You can play it, spend x hours in it without paying, and in reality, most people never even pay. Successful free to play games have about 5% of paying players. Some ads may appear to the non-payers.

For example, in games, players can exchange time for money. There are players who do not have so much time but want to play the game, so they can have certain things instantly, unlike non-paying players. In the first place, however, the game must be good, it must entertain people so that they are willing to pay for it.

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What trends can we expect in gaming?

This changes all the time. Something new comes every day. Nobody expected such a simple game as Angry Birds could earn such big money when it costs only 90 cents. The whole business previously worked on disproportionately expensive console games. There were games where hundreds of developers spent years working on them and suddenly there is Angry Birds made by one person. Then there was, for example, Pokemon GO, which included geolocation and became a mega phenomenon. And now there is a craze about Battle Royale, an innovative Hunger Games game. One hundred players find themselves on an island, and the circle in which they can live is gradually diminishing, leaving only one alive. There is room for creativity in this market. Every year something completely new comes that one could have imagined before.

A popular trend in games is monetization through advertising. When a player does not want to pay for playing the game, he sometimes watches an ad and both sides are satisfied. This has also become extremely interesting for large brands that have begun to develop simple so-called toilet or train games where they advertise their products. They can get it into the world naturally and have over millions of downloads.

How many of you are currently in the team and where do you work?

There are 55 of us and we are in HubHub coworking center at CBC where we have 4 offices, then we are based in Prague, London and Warsaw – in HubHub as well. HubHub is ideal for us, so we look for it everywhere we go.

What is the biggest benefit to you from working at HubHub?

You don’t have to worry about anything, you pay monthly for a person and everything is taken care of. As a result, we do not have to address the issue whether there is enough coffee in the coffee machine, whether the internet works, which by the way works great. Another added value is that there are lectures, events and a community of interesting companies.

With HubHub having offices in key European cities where we are as well, we do not have to look for a new partner for different countries and the premises are at the top of the game.

 

Article in cooperation with Daily Upgrade.

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