Australia has seen a boom in high-quality mobile app development in recent years, and one of the studios leading the charge is Mighty Kingdom, purveyor of some of the cutest, most colorful properties on the app store. With games for Disney and the successful Shopkins license, under their belt, Mighty Kingdom has ridden the mobile app wave to the top of the app store charts to more than 20 million downloads.
What does it take to be one of the most successful mobile app developers down under? We asked the team to find out.
Founding a Kingdom
“I could see consumer habits shifting towards mobile engagement,” said Philip Mayes, founder and Director of Mighty Kingdom, “I was attracted by the short iterative dev cycles of mobile, after working in AAA console games for a while.”
The attractiveness of mobile’s rapid development cycle and ease of access is a common draw for those moving from the traditional big screen console space (something Australia also has a strong history in) to the world of app stores and small screens.
“I liked that the market wasn’t gated by a publisher and that developers could have direct access to an audience which would allow us to be adaptive and responsive,” Mayes said.
After a career in some of Australia’s gaming heavy hitters such as Ratbag Games, and Krome Studios, Mayes branched out on his own and Mighty Kingdom in 2010.
From a small team, the Adelaide-based studio now boasts 25 talented and hardworking employees.
Mighty Kingdom’s hottest titles are from the Shopkins line. Shopkins are a range small collectable toys by Australian toy manufacturer Moose Toys. Based on grocery store items, each plastic figure has a cute face and unique name.
When Moose wanted fans to engage with the adorable Shopkins characters outside of the toys themselves, they turned to their fellow Australians at Mighty Kingdom.
“It’s our job to bring the world of Shopkins to life on mobile,” Mayes said, “and it’s one that we take very seriously.” With the success of Shopkins as a toy line, there are tons of Shopkins super fans out there, Mayes explained, and Mighty Kingdom sees it as their mission to deliver the most authentic experience possible.
“Working with licensed characters means there is a strong style guide to follow with a specific look and feel,” Mayes explained. Turning a physical, solid toy into an animated, interactive game character takes some thought, though.
“When we started there were no digital 3D representations of the characters, so we had to answer a lot of questions very quickly,” he explained. The team had to figure out how does a shopkin walk? How does it jump? “The brand has evolved a lot since then, and we have evolved our style with it,” Mayes added.
That expansion of the brand also included Shoppies, spin-off doll line that was originally released in October 2015, and tied to the Shopkins as shopkeepers. Mighty Kingdom was ready with Shoppies on mobile.
Rather than make a simple kids game, or skin an existing type of game for children, Mighty Kingdom looked at what made Shopkins so successful in the first place. “Our goal is always to replicate the feeling of the physical products in digital form, and then breathe life into them with animation,” Mayes said.
“Kid’s are an interesting audience because they’re young, but surprisingly sophisticated,” he continued. “They’ve grown up playing tablet games and demand high-quality experiences. The Shopkins brand elevates our games, but they need to be good in their own right.”
Maye’s said that Mighty Kingdom’s biggest lesson came early on. “Shortly after launching our first game, we realised kids are way more sophisticated than we gave them credit for,” he explained. “Our first experiences were far too shallow and simple. We’ve since addressed that, and now we are always thinking about depth and complexity.”
Mighty Kingdom also does plenty of research to ensure they’re delivering the best experience possible for their target audience, playing a lot of the titles aimed at the same demographic Shopkins aims for. “We also play games in the wider mobile market to keep on top of what the market is responding to,” Mayes added.
Shopkins has been a boon for Mighty Kingdom. Before Moose approached the team about Shopkins, Mighty Kingdom had eight employees and has now grown to 25.
Culture of the Kingdom
Adelaide is one of Australia’s smaller major cities, on the East edge of the Great Australian Bight. Despite its size, the city and its location has not only influenced the team but also how they work.
“Adelaide is a great city to raise kids,” Mayes explained. The office has its fair share of parents of young children, including Mayes.
This is led to a deep respect and drive for a healthy work/life balance. “We are very flexible when it comes to time off to attend to family emergencies,” but being situated on the coast has also let the team relax as well. “There is no point being based in Australia if you can’t enjoy the good weather occasionally!”
“Creatives in Adelaide often have a diverse skillset, and that is reflected in our team,” Mayes said. “Many of them have a background in film or TV production, and several have console game development experience.” The team even boasts a former comic book editor to round out its bona fides.
Across their titles, Mighty Kingdom says 60% of their revenue comes from ads, and working closely with Moose Toys has helped propel their growth in a purely organic fashion.
The team partners closely with Moose Toys to add call-outs on their packages and in advertising. “Many of our games have features that tie-in to physical features on the toys, so when kids get the toy, they’re motivated to download the game too,” said Ella Macintyre, who ran Mighty Kingdom’s marketing and social media from 2013 to 2015 during a huge growth period.
“We also work with toy influencers across social media and YouTube, and with Shopkins being such a hot toy brand, kids will search for our games on the app store,” Macintyre said, “All this provides us with massive amounts of organic traffic.”
That organic traffic doesn’t go to waste. Mighty Kingdom cross-promotes within their own apps, ensuring users always have a welcome place to go when the desire to interact with Shopkins strikes.
“We’re in such a competitive market,” Macintyre added. “Engagement and retention is always a challenge.”
To keep their audience engaged, Mighty Kingdom updates regularly with new content. “There’s lots of brands fighting for their attention, and we try to give them something new to engage with every 6 weeks,” she concluded.
“We’re very conscious of our responsibility to kids,” Mayes said. “When it comes to paying customers, brand loyalty only gets you so far,” he explained.
Mayes explained that sometimes the studio gets feedback that some parents feel they’re being asked to pay twice for the toy, so there is a lot of pressure to demonstrate value for the digital product, whilst still balancing the need to run a business.
For Mighty Kingdom, ads have provided a fertile middle ground, where the company can still monetize and reward players at the same time.
“As our players are primarily children, we know many of them are at the mercy of their parents’ wallet when it comes to IAP or paid mobile games,” Mayes added. “We try to give away a lot via engagement rewards, and our rewarded video ads are opt-in.”
A lot has happened since Mayes founded Mighty Kingdom in 2010, but the lessons of the past seven years still inform how the company acts today. Unsurprisingly, his words of wisdom are invaluable for developers and publishers looking into mobile, and the younger demographics in particular.
“You learn so much by shipping a game,” Mayes said. “If you’re going after the kid’s market, make sure you’re giving value, as it can be very tough and competitive.”
Licensing can be a strong ally in the fight for the small screen. “Try and secure a brand partner to overcome the issue of visibility so you are not lost in the noise,” Mayes added.
Connect with Mighty Kingdom
If you’d like to hang out with the Mighty Kingdom team on social media, they maintain an active Twitter @MightyKingdom showcasing office culture, industry events, and sharing news on their latest projects. Their Facebook can be found at Mighty Kingdom.
Founder Philip Mayes tweets from the gloriously short handle @pjm where he shares his thoughts on a wide range of topics.
Keeping things fresh is always a priority for the Mighty Kingdom team. “We’re always adding new content to our existing games and we’re always working on new product as well,” Mayes said. “We work closely with the toy company to get new content out there when new toys hit the shelves. If there’s a new toy out, you can expect to see a new game on mobile devices too.”
All that synchronization ensures Mighty Kingdom is always working on something, but behind the scenes, they’re also working on something new, Mayes teased.
As the company has grown thanks to the success of the Shopkins license, so too have its aspirations. Mayes said the company is experimenting with an original IP that will be unveiled later in 2017.
We’ll be keeping an eye out.
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