War Robots Developer Pixonic On Maintaining Its Quality-First Ethos After the $30 Million Acquisition By the Russian Internet Giant Mail.Ru

In this article we will have a look at one of Rebound Mobile’s top clients, Russian based studio Pixonic, their approach to quality-first, player friendly philosophy and their biggest acquisition so far. During October 2016, Pixonic signed an acquisition deal for its top and flagship game War Robots with Mail.Ru, one of Russia’s top biggest internet companies. Mail.Ru acquired War Robots game developer Pixonic under a $30 million deal; Mail.Ru CEO, Dmitry Grishin, has expressed his views on the acquisition as a “strategic fit and a future cooperation to strengthen both companies’ international mobile games development and publishing, bringing the company’s games towards further success”.

Pixonic studio’s strategy game featuring combat vehicles for mobile platforms Android and iOS is a global smashing hit, especially in U.S. where the game generates most revenue. The all-cash deal will see Mail.Ru paying $20 million upfront, with the rest $10 million to be paid when certain performance goals have been achieved. The acquisition was completed when Mail.Ru fully consolidated Pixonic during the beginning of last financial quarter of 2016.

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War Robots has generated $2 million revenue on both Android and iOS in February 2017 (Image Credit: Pixonic)

Pixonic started its operations in 2009 as a publisher for social networks, shifting to mobile games in 2011 with their first casual game Robinson Island, an island builder. The game had a modest success and has users mostly from Russia and U.S. The company decided then to try something that was closer to their experience as players: “we went to hardcore-midcore PvP”, as Pixonic Chief Operating Officer Igor Klykin told PocketGamer.biz at White Nights Prague. Igor took over the Moscow-based studio in 2013 together with Pixonic CEO Philipp Gladkov, and the pair subsequently supervised the launch of War Robots in 2014.

Pixonic really caught the eye of the top internet company when War Robots passed 20 million installs over just three months in September 2016, after its previous milestone of 15 million installs (7 million on iOS and 13 million on Android). The game has an average of 500.000 daily users, being mostly popular in U.S., Japan, China, Korea, Germany and Russia. The game has enjoyed revenues of $1 million per month during late 2016, and after the acquisition Mail.Ru has gained the competitive advantage of accessing a major new audience that is spending money on freemium apps within an industry that has generated $36.9 billion in 2016. While Pixonic has continued the development of War Robots, Mail.Ru has been marketing the game to its huge Russian user base.

Let’s look at the game’s ranking and revenue for this month. According to Appannie, War Robots ranks at place 117th as per 28 March on U.S. top grossing games, and at 89 top free games for iOS. On Android, it ranks at 98th top free, and 91 at top grossing.

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War Robots ranked at 91 in Top Grossing in U.S. for Android (Source: Appannie)

In Russia, the game ranks at 29th top grossing for Android, and 45th in iOS. The game has generated a revenue of $2m in February in iOS and $2m in Android in February 2017, with 1 million downloads on iOS and 2 million downloads on Android. U.S. players are still the biggest spender in both platforms, with a total average spending of 45% if compared to other countries.

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War Robots ranked at 29 in Top Grossing in Russia for Android (Source: Appannie)

However, Pixonic’s War Robots was not a story of immediate success, as other popular game developers might witness when launching a game that becomes suddenly explosive in the market in terms of both downloads and revenue, getting instant traction. For the first half year, the game had not been as profitable“, Klyukin explains. While the Pixonic developer team was able to read the trends on online PvP “midcore, effective visual effects and 3D”, the company did not focus extensively at marketing first, but rather on the game quality, thereafter promoting its growth over time by increasing and boosting the marketing strategy. Therefore, game quality first, marketing second.

Now that the company’s flagship game has increased in popularity and has benefited of the marketing scalability after Mail.Ru’s acquisition, Igor still insists on quality first, and he explains the cycle quality-marketing-quality: “by making the game more interesting, challenging and engaging, the retention of players increases and their willingness to spend money on the game increases, so that we can invest more and boost our marketing.” As the gameplay is priority, Pixonic has only introduced in-game events less than one year ago, rather than in-game offers as other gaming companies do. “We didn’t want to lose the focus, whereas other companies don’t think about re-balancing the game in terms of content in case there is an issue; they only think about making a greater discount, or put a banner’s in front of the users more frequently”. He explains how any game developer who puts monetization before gameplay enjoyment is creating a situation of rivalry with the player in a zero-sum game. Instead of seeing each other as partners, developers see players almost as opponents. “The developer wins when they get users to spend, and users lose.” A classic zero-sum game.

A $30 million acquisition has not changed the company’s friendly’s philosophy towards War Robots, even with the increased possibility of monetising on a larger scale: “quality first, make your players happy and they will pay”.

Sources: Matt Suckley for PocketGamer.biz

Jeff Grubb for VentureBeat

Chris Kerr for Gamasutra

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