Since Big Fish was founded in 2002, the company based in Seattle, WA, has grown to become one of the world’s leading casual game producer. With five offices located around the globe, Big Fish has gradually built solid relationships with more than 600 partner developers, delivering high-quality games to millions of customers.
Adding to a catalogue of more than 3000 premium downloadable games and more than 300 unique mobile games, a new game is made available every day on multiple devices. Historically known for its hidden object adventure games, Big Fish is constantly evolving and diversifying its offerings, such as Big Fish Unlimited, an interactive streaming game service via the cloud that launched in the summer of 2012. With the acquisition of Self Aware Games in early 2012, the company distributes Big Fish Casino, a top-grossing, mobile-social casino application in the U.S., with real-money betting features in the UK. Today, Big Fish has made its games accessible in 12 languages and has customers in 150 countries, proving that the company is looking to expand its successful gaming
business on every continent.
An interview with Mr. Cory Finnell, CIO of Big Fish Games
How did Big Fish becomea worldwide leader in casual games?
Big Fish was founded in 2002 by Paul Thelen, who started it as a single-person development studio with a passion for delivering great games. For the first few years, he organically built the company by developing his own titles, but also started to cultivate relationships with third-party developers. Big Fish’s core model was “try before you buy”, which meant delivering games via a downloading service where people could browse the catalogue, find the game they might like, and enjoy it before they purchased the title.
Big Fish is continuously expanding its catalogue… How does it work?
Even today, a lot of people still think of Big Fish as a development studio, which in some part we are. We still have an in-house development studio and, in fact, we develop in-house some of the most recognized casual game brands on the market, such as Mystery Case Files, Fairway Solitaire and Big Fish Casino. The Mystery Case Files franchise alone has been downloaded more than 100 million times.
But today, we are much more of a marketplace than just a developer. We partner with over 600 developers worldwide to deliver great games to our customers, which has allowed us to build up a catalogue of more than 3000 titles across a variety of genres. We have high expectations for our developers and only partner with the best. Working with this development community has enabled us to release a new game every single day for more than five years now.
Is this the reason for your success?
This is one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is that we have a strong direct-to-consumer relationship built upon trust. We distribute over one and a half million games every single day. We are constantly trying to figure out how to map the right content to the right person at the right time, i.e. giving our customers games they want to play.
Are these casual games mainly hidden object games?
Historically we were known for hidden object puzzle adventure games, but we have a much more diversified catalogue today. Not just in terms of the content itself, but the business models that are underlying the content. For example, we just recently launched the game Found on the PC, Mac and iPad. It’s a hidden object-style game, but uses a “free-to-play” model: you can play the game for free without spending any money, but if you want to progress faster you can opt to spend a little money to accelerate your adventure.
“We are the world’s largest casual game producer and we have a service that is ubiquitous play any time, anywhere, on any device”
What do you think about mobile gaming opportunities?
We expanded our mobile business greatly in 2012, increasing the number of our unique mobile games to 300+. We expect our mobile business, both iOS and Android, to increase even more in 2013, and have several exciting new products releasing this year that will change the way people look at mobile gaming.
What could be the main trends for 2013 in the gaming industry?
Obviously, mobile is the future and the industry is more dynamic today. We’re going to see again and again a proliferation of tablets and mobile devices over the next couple of years. For developers the challenge remains the same – developing compelling game content. With mobile devices, there are more ways than ever of monetizing content using a variety of business models.
Let’s go back in time. How did your journeyto Europe happen?
If you rewind to a couple of years ago, we had grown our global customer base organically from our headquarters in Seattle, Washington. We launched German, French, Japanese and Spanish language portals, but were accelerating into additional languages. Along the way, we realized that in order to grow internationally, we needed to be closer to the market. Our first step in doing that was to open a customer support and localization office in Cork, Ireland. That has worked out really well for us in terms of giving us around-the-clock customer support and allowing us to accelerate the localization of games that we are currently distributing into as many as
12 different languages.
Our move to Luxembourg happened when we studied our international expansion and saw that our German and French businesses were growing significantly. Luxembourg made sense geographically, being in between our two biggest markets. The country’s government was also very helpful in helping us understand what it takes to open an outpost in Luxembourg, and we worked very closely with authorities to make sure that we understood compliance and bureaucracy requirements. Plus, there were various extra benefits like legal aspects of being in Luxembourg, which also played a factor.
How can you grow in Europe?
If you’re going to grow in any market, you have to ask yourself “can we attract the right talent?” Coming into Luxembourg we wondered if there was a big enough talent pool for the types of jobs that we were looking to fill in Luxembourg. We have been thrilled with what we’ve found so far. There are a number of vacant tenants and there is a lot of momentum building in terms of skills and interest in and around gaming and online marketing. We quickly were comfortable with the idea that we could indeed find the highest caliber of talent in Luxembourg.
Is it helpful for you to have other names from the gaming industry in Luxembourg?
Collectively, Luxembourg becomes more of a draw for people who are focused on the gaming industry, for developers and IT professionals when there are more local players and opportunity. The competition is really healthy for the industry and all the companies that are located in Luxembourg.
What do you think about the available infrastructure?
Today our European transactions are being run through our data center in Luxembourg. We’ve been quite pleased with the infrastructure and we are evaluating our strategy in terms of the next iteration of our build-up to deliver games and services in Europe.
Is it also a matter of distribution models to the European market?
Initially, yes. But since that time, we’ve launched an interactive game service called Big Fish Unlimited that runs in the cloud. Now, we are in the process of evaluating our IT strategy in Europe to bring that service to Europe. Today, Big Fish Unlimited is only available in the US and is scaling very well.
Are you changing the IT and business models with your Unlimited offering?
On the IT side, there are definitely different infrastructure requirements to power a cloud gaming service than powering a download game model. We have some unique advantages over some of the other companies that have focused more on core games, i.e. we don’t have the same latency requirements nor need the same broadband speed. For instance, in games like first-person shooters, if you have a high latency, then you get killed in the game.
How big is your Unlimited catalogue?
Today we have more than 130 games in the service, and that’s growing every day. There is typically no work required on the developers’ side to get the games to work in the cloud, which is a huge benefit to both Big Fish and developers.
In terms of mobility, could you have more opportunities with this Unlimited offering?
Yes, we are the world’s largest casual game producer and we have a service that is ubiquitous – play any time, anywhere, on any device. We can take a PC title and get it to work on tablet devices, mobile phones, Macs and soon connected TVs with Big Fish Unlimited. Earlier this year we announced that Unlimited will be published by Microsoft on Windows 8 devices.
What are the main challenges or difficulties of this model?
Despite what I said about us having a distinct cost advantage, the interactive streaming model is different and it does require a different infrastructure. It’s about building up that infrastructure and making sure that customers understand the value proposition, and the technology. Big Fish Unlimited strips out a lot of the complexity that exists in the download model. With the cloud, you don’t have to chunk up space on a user’s device, they don’t have to fight with their graphics card, etc., and they can play any time, anywhere on any device.