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Publisher Spotlight: Backflip Studios

Posted May 29, 2015

Founded in 2009 by Julian Farrior, Dale Thomas, and Tom Blind, Backflip Studios is known for publishing absurdly fun games for iOS and Android devices. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the studio has grown to become one of the most successful developers 100% devoted to mobile games.

Since inception, Backflip has enjoyed a series of success and continued growth. In 2010, the studio was making half a million each month with in-game ads alone. Following this, in 2012, the growth of the team drove them to upgrade to a larger, 13,000 square foot office once occupied by Microsoft.

Indeed, the team has grown quite a bit since 2009.  As Kevin King, Marketing Manager at Backflip Studios describes the crew:

“Backflip spans 100 employees, and we are have published nearly a dozen titles from developers across Europe, Asia, and North America.  We are made up mostly of game industry veterans who wanted to strike a work-life balance in an outdoor friendly community.”

All of this translates into a rather fun and creative group. When the team at Backflip isn’t busy designing dragons or developing new game mechanics, they’re often found in the break room, playing games or tweeting on behalf of their lonely beer fridge. Outside of the studio, you can find them making silly Vines about their love of dragons.

The Games
Backflip has kept busy, publishing 39 games over the last 6 years and driving over 340 million downloads across iOS, Google Play, and Amazon. While they may be best known for their free iOS games PaperToss and NinJump, which have each eclipsed 100 million downloads in their 6 year histories, they are also well known for Dragonvale, which has over 10 million downloads to date. Other popular titles by the studio include Ragdoll Blaster, and Amy of Darkness Defense. While chatting with Kevin about the games, we asked him which were his three favorite, and why. DragonVale, Paper Toss, and NinJump topped his personal lists, with Kevin noting:

“Each have incredible fan communities and have been the backbone of our company.  Paper Toss has been one of Apple’s premiere “Time Wasting” games, NinJump is consistently high on the charts for Google Play despite zero paid user acquisition, and DragonVale has one of the most loyal and active fanbases in mobile.”

Hasbro Partnership
In 2013, Backflip Studios entered a partnership with Hasbro. The toy maker sought to expand their franchises into mobile games, and the consistent success of Backflip titles inspired Hasbro to purchase a majority share in the studio.

Inspiration & Style
So where does the team draw inspiration from when developing new IPs, and how do they take the mobile experience into consideration?

“We are always considering the mobile experience when trying to create a new IP. It’s not just about creating the best looking or most fun game. You are designing for people on the go, and who will play your game possibly for years. We never release a product until there is a huge amount of content, as it’s difficult to recapture players if they’ve exhausted all gameplay paths. While this may go against the rapid release strategy that many studios operate under, we’ve found you only get one chance to make a first impression with a new title.”

While the setting of Backflip games are varied, the styles remain overwhelmingly pleasant and inviting. Of course, this fits in with the founders’ initial goal of forming a studio that made family friendly games.Whether it’s the wide-eyed and smiling characters in Seabeard, the sweeping contours of swords and staves in Epic Island, or the brilliant use of lighting in SpellFall, the characters and settings are smile-inducing.As Kevin describes their “approachable, friendly, and cute” style:

“We’ve made games taking place in Space, on Pirate ships, in Office Buildings, and in Islands in the Sky but we always make it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to a wide audience.”

Artistic Inspiration comes from a myriad of sources. When designing the logo for SpellFall, Backflip artists were inspired by triangles “generated over time with a genetic algorithm,” giving an otherwise harsh and simple shape warmth and depth.The puzzle-like nature of the logo assembly fits with the theme of the game, as well, as Spellfall is a unique tile-matching puzzle game where players cast magical spells to defeat evil monsters.

User Acquisition Strategy
With over 340 million downloads to date, Backflip clearly understands what it takes to acquire quality users and cross-promote their titles. So how are they doing it? The key is mobile video:

“Through video ads, we’ve been able to reduce CPIs by 33% and increase in-game Paid UA ARPUs by over 20%. Video requires less creative iteration and lets us focus on quality over quantity when it comes to campaigns. Finally, as video looks the same in full-screen on most devices, a winning campaign can scale a lot easier in video than in display or social advertising.”

Their strategy is paying off. While other games come and go from the top charts, “DragonVale is the only game in the Apple App Store to be in the Top Worldwide Grossing charts for 4 consecutive years.”


Lessons Learned
Of course, Backflip didn’t always have a well-oiled user acquisition machine driving installs for their addictive titles. When we asked Kevin what the biggest lesson they’ve learned since launching their first title, and how that has affected their subsequent games, he cited the importance of actively pursuing users and not hoping for organic viral growth to save them:

“Waiting for organic growth is a costly mistake.  Always be acquiring, and treat UA as two distinct phases.  The early phase is to assist your designers and producers in getting enough player data in order to create the best product possible once in soft launch.

Once your product reaches all key performance metrics and is in world, UA should be profitable based on LTV projections within a 180 day or longer period.  If you can’t perform profitable UA, you should not launch worldwide hoping that organic growth will save you.  Time is money in mobile and waiting for downloads is a costly mistake.”

Advice to New Devs
So what advice does Backflip have for new studios who are thinking about publishing and monetizing their first game? As Kevin advises, the key is to make sure the gameplay is fun and that the concept can be easily marketed before worrying about IAP and LTV:

“Focus on retention, ad conversion, and the frequency of 1 star reviews. A high ARPDAU or LTV is often sought too early in soft launches or beta. If your game isn’t fun without IAP, it will not stay on the charts for long. Outside of being fun, you need a one sentence high concept you can pitch to the player. If your game doesn’t have this, you need to rethink it’s packaging, as even an amazing core loop won’t find an audience if you need 5 minutes to explain why someone should play your game.”

Follow the Team
To get the latest news from Backflip, follow @BackflipStudios on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and check out their YouTube channel.

Looking Forward
Fans of Backflip Studios have plenty to look forward to in the upcoming months. While they will continue to support their hit title DragonVale for a long time, they’re also working on several new IPs:

“We plan on supporting DragonVale for a long time.  Thanks to our arrangement with Hasbro, we plan on working with smaller but proven studios to bring their IP to life without stretching our core resources that focus on the DragonVale brand.  Expect to see many of Hasbro’s favorite brands in mobile very soon!”

Aside from launching new games, Backflip is excited to revitalize some of their older hits by focusing less on in-app purchases and display ads and instead offering more user-friendly rewarded videos:

“We plan on revitalizing some of our old hits by focusing less on IAP and more on incentivized videos.  We’ve seen a very positive response in focusing less on takeover and banner advertising and more on on-demand watch to earn units. “

Join the Conversation
The AdColony Publisher Spotlight series showcases the finest publishers in mobile gaming. To nominate a publisher to be featured, tweet to . To feature your studio, fill out the Publisher Spotlight Questionnaire. For the latest AdColony mobile news and updates, follow  on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or connect on Linkedin.

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