Finnish online game company Sulake has found enduring success among the global teen audience with its Habbo Hotel virtual world, but under new CEO Paul LaFontaine, who joined the company from Playdom in September 2011, Sulake is expanding into mobile markets -- with an eye on growing its player base through new cross-platform initiatives.
LaFontaine says that moving from Silicon Valley to a company with longevity in the rapidly-evolving social space has been a pleasant change: "Here, there's more of a sense of craftsmanship... to create products for a little bit longer," he explains. "We've been looking at taking our products for the teen market and being more flexible, to be where teens are."
That's where smartphone gaming apps can help, and Sulake has been developing discrete, freemium mobile gaming products that aren't based in the Habbo universe but nonetheless correspond with and benefit those who play there. It started with a game called Lost Monkey for iOS, and now it's joined by Niko, a platform and action game that just released this week.
Sulake worked with Fabrication Games to create Niko; as part of its strategy it'll do some mobile development in-house and some work with other studios. Players can display rewards and other unlockables earned in the mobile game in their Habbo world, LaFontaine explains.
"The goals were very specifically to appeal to our demographic; to have a tie-in to Habbo Hotel, and also to make gameplay that is fun -- and also with people that weren't immediately associated with Habbo Hotel... so that the gameplay could stand alone," he says.
"Our mission is to move audiences from online to mobile and then back again," LaFontaine states. "The Habbo Hotel player will be able to go to [the iOS games], collect prizes and get reputation and status as a result of making the journey out of the hotel and back. You can play Niko levels and then bring your experiences and points back."
The thinking behind the strategy is that cross-platform gameplay increases retention in the high-stakes, fast-paced online universe. "The longer you keep a player in your game, over time, the more they will spend," he explains. "There's an absolute connection between the lifetime value of the player... and giving them more to do."
And keeping the mobile games not necessarily associated with the Habbo world can help broaden the audience and give players new ways to discover it, while Habbo players aren't bothered by the different universes. "Players are very flexible around the fiction of a game," LaFontaine says. "They'll go from Habbo to Niko and back again, and they understand they're going to earn points in a completely different world. There has not been a lot of resistance about that part."
So long as the players have one clear location -- their Habbo home space -- to display their accomplishments and to gather their achievements, Sulake's demographic is happy, LaFontaine says. "They want to bring their points back and show they have completed the adventures... we have to be diligent to ensure they've got a place to show their rewards."
The positive effect of this strategy for Sulake so far has interesting takeaways about mobile uptake among teens and young adults; LaFontaine says that adoption has been higher in countries where an iPhone is offered free with a mobile plan. "It does vary by country, so we make sure we do our marketing planning accordingly," he says.
Users will "definitely" see more apps from Sulake along this strategy line in the future, according to LaFontaine. "You'll see us building some, and us actually partnering with some well-known brands," he explains. "You'll see Habbo Hotel as a vehicle to move audiences from online to mobile... we'll work that audience-moving loop into their gaming, and it's an incredible lifetime value both for us and for partners. So you'll see more partner relationships going forward."
"Mobile is a place where teens are; we want to get more skilled and have greater ability to move audiences from online to mobile," he concludes. "We think that's the name of the game."