Today at the Game Developers Conference, German social/mobile game developer and publisher Wooga has announced the formation of a new studio at its Berlin headquarters, which CEO Jens Begemann tells Gamasutra he hopes will take the company in new directions.
He describes it as "a new entity where we are now starting to look for a head of studio, who would have a lot of freedom to enter new genres that we haven't been before." The remit is making games that "were not possible before" touch devices -- "designing for mobile from the ground up," says Begemann.
The Recipe for Making Hits at Wooga
The company found major success in 2013 with Jelly Splash and Pearl's Peril, and Begemann says that developer has adopted a new workflow that is designed to result in two hits a year.
"For me the question is how you can repeatedly create hits," says Begemann. He thinks his company has found the answer: Wooga prototypes 40 games a year to a playable state, and then takes 10 of them into prouction. About seven make it to soft launch in a single territory. Three then go into wide release with full marketing support, with the goal to have two hits a year.
"It has been a big, big change internally," says Wooga. Like many studios, the company used to settle on an idea in the prototype phase and polish it -- those days are over now. Now, Wooga isn't afraid to abandon a game mid-development: "Instead of being a catastrophe, it's about, 'Okay, good, we've stopped this. What can we learn from that?" The entire company gathers together for lessons on everything from art to design and engineering -- to find out where things went wrong and what the developers learned.
Begemann says that he gives his teams lots of autonomy to make their own decisions. "If I think in the wrong direction, we would fail, if everything would depend on a single person making decision."
"Wooga is organized in such a way we have 20 game teams in parallel," he says. "They exchange knowledge, and they talk to each other, but the decision-making is distributed... because you can't predict the future."
The game business "changes so fast," says Begemann, that "if you rely too much on a proven formula that has worked in the past, that is not a good strategy for the next years... We constantly question ourselves and change, and that's very important to me."
Part of that change is an upcoming move into mid-core games with two in-development titles, which are "still accessible... still colorful, and have a great user interface, but they are quite core." Currently, Wooga's audience is 70 percent female, and totally casual. He hopes to see these games flip that "the other way around."
He also is planning to take the company into Asian markets, with top priority on Japan -- no surprise, as the country has become the world's biggest spender
on mobile apps. Begemann is currently recruiting someone with biz dev/marketing expertise, with an eye to cracking that insular but lucrative market.
While the company plans to continue the publishing business it launched last year
, Begemann doesn't seem to see it as a big priority for the company in the future.
"We haven't published anything in the last few months, but we're constantly talking to companies," says Begemann. "We apply the same standards to any game we publish to our own standards," he explains. "The potential to be a hit is as high as it is to our internal games -- that's a pretty tough filter."
The good news: If you're interested in working with Wooga, you can still contact them. "We wouldn't make any false promises," says Begemann. If the game gets to soft launch but doesn't make it past that point, "we'd give it back to the developer, and they can launch on their own," he says. "Long-term, publishing would only be successful if we're a fair partner with the developer."