Gamerizon is an iOS game development company, with a popular “Chop Chop” franchise of games. There are 6 games currently in the franchise. In January, 2011 their games hit a total of over 8 million downloads. Their first game, Chop Chop Ninja, was released in February 2010.
The company was founded in 2009 by console game development veterans (and brothers) Martin and Robert Lizee, and digital media entrepreneur Dominique Belanger (he’s no longer with the company). Alex Sakiz joined in 2010 and is now CEO and President of the company. Martin and Robert have diverse educational backgrounds (Martin has a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Artificial Intelligence, while Robert has a Law degree), but they were building games together at an early age. They started a game company called Digital Fiction and worked on numerous projects for the PS2, Game Cube, Gameboy Advanced and other console devices. Alex was previously co-founder of Tam Tam/TBWA and Executive Vice President of Cossette Communications.
Currently, Gamerizon is profitable and employs 13 people. They expect to continue growing the size of the company in the coming months.
I’m fascinated by the mobile game space. It’s huge, but getting bigger. And that means more competition and more innovation. Alex does a great job in this interview of explaining how they started building the Chop Chop franchise, their goal for becoming a huge player in the space, and some tactical things they do to succeed.
NextMontreal: What made you decide to start Gamerizon and get into mobile games?
Alex: Digital distribution and the App Store brought us into mobile game. It became possible to develop our own game franchise and have an incredible distribution channel, while maintaining complete control over our pricing and over our intellectual property.
NextMontreal: Chop Chop is a franchise at this point – but how did it start? Where did you get the inspiration?
Alex: We felt that while Nintendo had its Mario, the App Store had no such hero and so we came up with our own little character with the big head, small body and a bit of attitude. The name Chop Chop came to us because it kind of meant “fast, fast” and was very much in synch with the growing popularity of 3 minutes-playing-time games on the Apple platform.
NextMontreal: At what point did you know it was a success and it was time to make another Chop Chop game?
Alex: After we launched our first game, we realized within a couple of weeks that both our unique one-finger game mechanics as well as the graphic signature we had developed were resonating extremely well with both consumers and professional reviewers. We were thrilled and feverishly started working on the second game!
NextMontreal: What’s unique about the one-finger game mechanics?
Alex: We maximize the information value we get from the positioning and swiping on screen. This allows us to create the proper algorithms to adapt to each game’s mechanics and eliminate the need for a virtual d-pad.
We came up with these mechanics as we realized that the unique touch sensitive nature of the iPod Touch/iPhone required the development of specific game mechanics. They’re not as unique anymore as other developers have also followed in our path but the mechanics kind of represent the little contribution we brought to the iPhone universe and are also our “trademark” or “signature” which helped us create and gain awareness for our Chop Chop franchise.
NextMontreal: How long does it take to launch a Chop Chop game? And how many more should we expect?
Alex: A Chop Chop game takes about 3 months to develop from beginning to end. We currently have 6 games and you can expect 3 new ones in February and March, each one exploring a different game genre. We’ll have Chop Chop Kicker, Chop Chop Rocket and Chop Chop Alien. After that, we’ll probably develop 2-3 games per quarter until we have a catalogue of 16-20 games.
NextMontreal: How much of your revenue comes from app purchases vs. in-app purchases?
Alex: We currently have in-app purchases for only one of our games, Chop Chop Soccer. So most of our revenue clearly comes from app purchases. That’s going to change, though, as we plan on developing in-app purchases for our entire catalogue and, more importantly, develop all upcoming games with the concept of in-app purchases holistically integrated in the game at its design stage.
Why did you only put in-app purchases into Chop Chop soccer?
Alex: We wanted to test the waters of in-app purchases and evaluate both the good and the bad and so decided to put it in one game only to begin with. We thus put it in Chop Chop Soccer and tested reactions to various price points for a 6 month period (CC Soccer was launched in August 2010). The learning we obtained will be applied to both new games and catalogue games, and all our games within a few months should have in-app purchases.
NextMontreal: How have in-app purchases resonated with people? Do you think that implementing in-app purchases moves you to offer the games for free?
Alex: It’s nothing new really, but we were able to confirm that the principle of in-app purchases should be strongly linked to either the notion of “caring” or the notion of “performance”. In an action or sports game, enhanced performance will matter. In a social game, pride of building something over time – or caring about something you build – will matter. And so, in order to have a successful in-app strategy, the game should really be built from the ground up with those parameters in mind, which is what we’ll do for our upcoming games in Q2 and Q3. From a marketing perspective, both a pure freemium model (game for free) and a conventional model (paid game) have merits.
NextMontreal: What’s the long term goal for Gamerizon? Keep building games? Growing into a large studio? Selling the company?
Alex: To be honest, we feel that the entire mobile app universe has been created and has evolved in such a short timeframe that the notion of time has been dramatically compressed. Who had heard of Angry Birds a year ago? As such, we tend to think of the long term as anything over 6 months and in that respect, what we want to achieve first and foremost within the next 12 months is to become one of the world’s best known mobile games franchises. To achieve that, we’ll need to generate around 40-60 million downloads, which will require us to develop an additional 8-10 games. Once that’s done and we have a true world-class brand, we’ll see. At the very least, we’ll have more options.
NextMontreal: Any chance we’ll see Chop Chop toys and other real-world items?
Alex: Yes. We can’t say too much about this yet at this stage, but it’s presently in the works.
NextMontreal: How important is it to get featured by Apple?
Alex: As being discovered is by far the number one issue to solve for any app, being featured by Apple obviously helps a lot. It never lasts though. Probably more important is the ability for a developer to have his/her app discovered by the community from a viral perspective, climb up the charts and have enough stickiness to stay there as long as possible. If you can achieve this, being featured by Apple then becomes icing on the cake as opposed to being the only way to stand out amongst 400,000 competitors. And actually, Apple tends to feature apps that have already proven they could achieve something by themselves.
NextMontreal: How much marketing (other than promoting new games to your existing customers) do you do? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
Alex: Well, for one thing, we don’t advertise our games. Not that we wouldn’t like to, but as a startup that wouldn’t be realistic given that our geographic scope is pretty much every country in the world. What we do instead is try to maximize viral and social activities to generate pre-launch buzz (game trailers, press releases, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and have various co-marketing activities with complementary third parties. It’s hard to isolate which element works best, but their combination is pretty good. Mind you, the whole viral area is one where you can always do better.
NextMontreal: What are some startup lessons learned for you?
Alex: There are quite a few. I’d say that having a single minded aspirational goal and sticking to it no matter what is probably the most important. I remember that only a few months ago, people would laugh at me when I’d tell them we wanted to become one of the premiere mobile gaming franchises in the world. Today, we’re not there yet, but nobody’s laughing anymore. And this unique and somewhat simplistic goal always kept us focused. The second thing I’d say is that you want to give your staff one thing that transcends the business aspect and that everyone will find cool day in and day out. Something better than what they’d get working somewhere else. In our case, I think it would be our offices. It’s nothing fancy nor expensive, but we’ve got a phenomenal view on Mont Royal at one end and on the Olympic stadium at the other. I guess that can go a long way to compensate for all the stuff you’d like to do but can’t when you’re a startup. And thirdly, I would say that reaching an operational break-even point really soon is very important. It shows everyone who works in the company that the business is viable and can stand on its own two feet.