Secrets to indie success: a conversation with Alex Willink, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Gram Games
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Gram Games is one of the most successful indie studios out there. Its casual games 1010!, Merged!, and Six! have been worldwide hits to the tune of a collective 100 million downloads. I recently sat down with Alexander Willink, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Gram, to talk about the company’s monetization strategy, VR, and forward thinking strategies the company has deployed to cultivate the developer community.
In terms of monetization, most of your revenues comes from ads. What do you think the tricks are to pulling off a successful campaign that relies exclusively on ads?
The majority of our revenue comes from a mix of interstitials and standard banner ads. To get this right, you need to pace the volume of ads displayed to the users. Too many ads, and the retention will drop off a cliff, not enough and you won’t be monetising at the optimum rate. For casual games, the formula is pretty simple: portrait games can easily justify a banner during gameplay on larger devices and there should be an interstitial at the end of a game. A great trick is to pace interstitials on newly found users to slowly introduce the interstitials, so as to not overwhelm or agitate the user.
What is the most important tip you would share with indie devs just starting out?
Build monetisation into your core game loop. Understand how to make it a part of the user experience. When it comes down to it, in-gaming monetisation is a relationship and understanding you have with your users. If they feel the game is fun, they will appreciate a certain level of in-game advertising. We are passionate about making games and love to offer them free, but there needs to be some form of monetisation for us to continue producing world class games.
With VR now starting to creep into some mobile experiences, do you consider working on that medium? Do you think it has great potential for monetization with games?
VR is an extremely exciting platform that presents incredible new ways to add to the gaming experience. However, as it is a new platform, it’s risky to place your bets on one particular device and so it doesn’t make sense for us to focus on now, but that could change. Monetisation can be built into anything that grabs a user’s attention -- VR certainly does that. It has great potential but first we need to see user adoption.
Gram Games has a great reputation for giving back to the dev community and fostering local talent, as with hackathons and 2Tons Accelerator Program. What are some of the results you’ve seen from that priority?
Gram Games is a studio that prides itself on having grown out of indie development, and so we feel a certain responsibility to continue to foster that sort of development. Our 2Tons Program continues to be a huge success. For those who haven’t heard of it - the 2Tons is Gram Games’ support and development program for indie game developers (in England and Turkey, for now). We want to provide support to those who, like us, want to make a mark in the mobile gaming world.
Participation in the 2Tons gives indie gamers access to the full range of services and support Gram Games can provide, as well as to our incredible team’s expertise. We try to be there alongside these indie developers, from solving base-level technical problems, all the way through the design and development process. And the best part? We don’t expect any financial commitment -- all we hope for is the success of the indie gamers around us.
We also recently launched a program called The 22% Project, aimed at getting more women into game development. The workshop will bring in over sixty women to our Istanbul office, and will engage them in topic specific workshops and chats over the course of the day. As with 2Tons, we really hope that this will help encourage a segment of gamers or game producers that would perhaps feel otherwise disenfranchised to succeed in the gaming industry.