Game Garden’s Yury Pomortsev
Talks on Fairies, Blockchain and Card Duels
Hi everyone! In early September, we announced a partnership with Game Garden Studio, who are shortly to release a new game called Crypto Card Duels on the Expload platform. We had a long conversation with the studio’s Founder and CEO Yury Pomortsev about his professional journey, the game industry in general and future prospects for crypto games. In this article, we have picked out the most interesting parts of the interview.
What triggered the idea of launching a game studio?
I have somehow been intensively involved in games for as long as 20–25 years. During my initial years at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, I was vigorously monetizing my passion for staying up all night or even two in a row, immersed in HoMM, Jagged Alliance, Baldur’s Gate or Rainbow Six. Alongside this, I was writing articles for Strana Igr, Game World Navigator and other publishers. Pretty soon, this turned into my vocation — I spent a few years as a gaming editor with the GameLand publishing house.
In 2005, together with my friend and colleague Maxim Bakanovich, I founded Creatent, a video production company. The bulk of our work consisted in making programs about video games for MTV Russia.
After the 2008 downturn, Max and I realized that our business needed to be somehow diversified. I had always leaned toward games, while he was well versed in television. To that end, we decided to leverage on our strengths: Max would be running the television related line of business, while I would launch a gaming line. This is how Game Garden (to be more precise, what is now known as Game Garden) came to be in September 2009.
A while back, you changed the target platform. What made you switch from social to mobile games?
Nine years ago, the game industry’s landscape looked totally different. We started by adopting the peak trend, that is, with social media games. The logic was simple — moderate production costs (at that time, one needed $15–20k to develop a game) and a small or zero marketing budget due to the inflow of organics.
It took us less than a year and a half to firmly establish ourselves on the Russian social media, and in 2011 we released our first mobile game, having ported Fairy Farm to iOS.
That was an experiment — we made the release to see ‘what happens next’ and immediately realized a need for readjustment and redirected all of our efforts toward mobile platforms, as they proved to be a high-potential market.
Today, we focus on mobile developments and ports for the most successful games on Facebook. Multi- and cross-platformity has long ceased to be a competitive edge. Now, there are plenty of tools available to adapt your development to any set of platforms. First and foremost, you need to make a cool project, have a thorough knowledge of your audience and be marketing-savvy.
How did you stumble into blockchain and decide that your new projects need this digital economy’s technology?
Like many of us, by way of natural curiosity :) We’d been observing and watching, until the last year’s boom encouraged us to make games with crypto tokens and blockchain.
I am particularly fascinated by the possibility to earn in such games if playing smart. I don’t allude to casinos or purely games of speculation and collection such as CryptoKitties. I am talking about skill games, where the outcome depends on one’s skills and selected strategy, rather than just chance or luck. Think, for instance, of e-sport, which is basically a large professional sport, where people exert themselves by mastering and perfecting their reactions and skills to an incredible degree and receive cash rewards at championships and tournaments. But, while it sounds great — play and earn — the entrance barrier here is extremely steep. I have always wanted it to be more of a hobby. For example, you are playing Hearthstone — you have contributed a couple of hundred dollars and in a few months you are fed up… and that’s it? Essentially, this is a classic Free2Play model, where blockchain can add a completely new mechanism and fun.
Imagine now that you can play not just for hard currency, but for tokens as well, which can be both purchased or sold at a set rate. Besides this, your unique cards become a digital asset (same as ERC-721 tokens in CryptoKitties) to remain truly your own forever. You have had enough of playing and you decide to sell your collection. Or you keep it aside and sell later — it may well grow in value. Greatly inspired by this idea, we plunged ourselves into devising the architecture of a blockchain-powered game. We opted for the CCG genre — collectible card games, that ideally fits into this concept.
Is the adoption of blockchain as significant to you as the shift from web to mobile?
I am highly enthusiastic about the crypto games market, which is currently gaining remarkable traction. However, I would refrain from saying that this is our focus right now. Given that the cryptocurrency market is still rather volatile and immature, this inevitably impacts crypto games. As for your question — we are optimistic, however, are prone currently to treat this as an experiment. Crypto games are unlikely to become a truly mass product (at least, not in the next 2–3 years), but will enjoy a stable audience with a relatively high ARPPU (hundreds of dollars).
At a certain point, you pivoted from social/browser games to mobile. Wouldn’t the return to desktop (or web) games like Crypto Card Duels be a step back? I mean, if desktop and web are still ‘profitable’ nowadays?
No, this is definitely not a step back. For us, it’s the audience that matters, rather than technical nuances. The crypto community is an audience of its own kind and despite being far less numerous as compared to the ‘real’ gaming folks, it’s much more capable of paying. It’s more compact too, meaning that information spreads quicker and, unlike in the mobile segment, making a top-notch product is associated with less marketing costs. Likewise, the competition is as yet (I would underline ‘yet’) less aggressive, since the market isn’t oversupplied.
We are happy to be among the first to tap into crypto games. How fast the market will be saturated, whether and when it will see tough competition and how rapidly it’s going to grow, are still open questions.
Will Crypto Card Duels utilize somewhat different monetization techniques than the rest of your games?
Hard currency in F2P games and crypto tokens are very similar notions. Therefore, the majority of monetization techniques perfectly suit crypto games. However, there are nuances.
The so-called gems (that is, hard currency) in F2P games can be generated at any time and in any quantity, while this won’t work with crypto tokens. They must be either secured by fiat (a stablecoin) or emitted in strictly limited amounts. Therefore, before you start distributing tokens (for instance, through airdrop), calculate scrupulously what it will ultimately cost the entire economy of your project.
What are the benefits? For example, you have come into the possession of the unique card (gun, skin, artefact, etc.). It won’t be just a server record that can be lost once the server crashes or the game is no longer supported. This is going to be the unique token in the blockchain network, remaining your property for as long as this network exists. You can swap it, present as a gift or sell. Moreover, there are instances of crypto games where the circulation of tokens is not constrained within the original game — they can be used in other projects as well. In Ether Kingdoms, one can equip the protagonist with a kitten from CryptoKitties — it will enhance certain attributes.
In Crypto Card Duels, we will use the tokens circulated on the Expload platform (temporary name — GameToken). This is going to be a fixed-rate stablecoin, which is convenient and easy for players. In exchange for GameToken, one can acquire unique card boosters. Further down the road, players will enjoy competing in tournaments (entry fee payable), where the winner is awarded with GameToken. Finally, the unique cards will serve as individual crypto assets in analogy with ERC-721 tokens. They can be sold or exchanged inside Expload’s ecosystem — we will charge a small fee for this.
Your portfolio is currently comprised of 7 running games. Were there projects that you had to close, and why?
Of course, there were. Over 9 years, we have released more than a dozen projects and, as you see, less than half of them are alive. Moreover, we don’t actively support all of the 7 projects. We presently have two headliners and three projects that are being developed intensively, two of which are scheduled for release in 2019, while the third — Crypto Card Duels — will be launched on your platform.
Any project implies risks. There’s not a single company that would hit ten out of ten. I wouldn’t be largely mistaken to say that 10% of games more or less make their way to the market, with only 10% going on to achieve commercial success. That’s why project closure as a potential scenario is duly considered at the earliest budgeting stage.
Were there any games that wouldn’t work as expected?
More than once. And it had more to do with disappointment, rather than a striking success :) Of course, there are instances (and I am genuinely happy for such teams) when a project skyrocketed at a breathtaking speed and scale. However, these are the exceptions. To crack the market is always a tough challenge. On the one hand, you need to roll out a playable build in less than no time. On the other hand, it should be completed to the maximum extent possible, to enable the relevant result. This is quite a task.
Why fairies? Was the theme dictated by your personal preferences or demand?
Our maiden game was Fairy Farm. Back at that time, we witnessed a boom of farming games, while there seemed to be nothing like a fairy and magical one. So, we grabbed the opportunity to use the setting. As a result, the game brought us several millions dollars without any marketing spendings and served as our brand identity for a long time.
We decided not to spread ourselves too thin and remained in the current setting, concentrated on magic and family projects. However, it didn’t prevent us from experimenting a lot. We even had a PvP featuring vampires and werewolves, you can’t avoid it.
What is the target audience of your games? Are there overlapping audiences across games?
Our audience is primarily comprised of females aged 18 to 45. However, we are not going to be constrained within the genre of family fairy games. We are happy to be currently exploring the opportunities for a PvP targeted at the male audience and as soon as next year we are planning to embark on such a project — the ideas and concepts are there. The team will be delighted with such a prospect :)
Crypto Card Duels stands apart from the rest of your game projects. Are you targeted at a whole new audience or looking to engage the existing pool of players?
This project is definitely meant for the male audience. However, which is more important, it is meant for the crypto audience. We are scrambling to attract casual gamers to this project, who aren’t supposed to be crypto and token experts (as far as I understand, Expload adheres to the same ideology). It’s going to be a gradual and smooth immersion — we want the project to draw the largest possible audience. We aspire that our idea of crypto games being more than just having fun for money, but an opportunity to earn by playing smart, becomes a reality.
Crypto Card Duels will be soon released on the Expload platform. We are going to announce the CBT launch shortly. Stay tuned to become the first beta-testers!