For the team at Lucky Kat Studios, the decision to develop for mobile was as clear as their desire to create games enjoyable in any setting. As Herdjie Zhou, Co-Founder of Lucky Kat Studios described it when we sat down with him:
“We love the idea of having a device where you can play simple, challenging pixel art games any time, any where you want.”
With over a million downloads to date and titles that make it easy to sneak in a session while waiting for an elevator, Uber, or a computer to boot up, Lucky Kat has definitely found a niche in the mobile gaming market.
About the Team
Interestingly, Lucky Kat has been able to do this with a rather small team of only four. While Herdjie runs the business side and loves organizing and talking to people to create value for the studio, Hernan is the resident master in code and pixel-art working alongside Jasper, their young and talented pixel artist. Meanwhile, Li Dong helps out with marketing efforts.
While they’re typically found working on updates for their games and gathering feedback from their fans, Lucky Kat recently took time away from their desks to promote their title Nom Cat at an indie event. The smiles of the team (shown above) were a result of interesting timing: their game was featured on the App Store the day before the photo was taken. As Herdjie recalls the event:
“The day after we got featured at Apple, we went to an indie event to show Nom Cat. We were so excited the day before, and almost did not sleep at all. You get so much adrenaline and positive energy from being featured, that we went to the office to work a little bit more after the event.”
While other teams might have gone out to celebrate, the Lucky Kat crew channeled their energy back into the game, a testament to their dedication and mission.
On a Mission
So what’s driving the Lucky Kat team back to their desks when others would be out celebrating? Their site lists their core principles as passion for their products, user-centricity, and a belief in working with the right partners. But what does this mean, exactly? We sat down with Herdjie to find out:
“We really believe in working with some core principles. Product is always number one. Take Nom Cat for an example. People have been asking us if we were thinking about getting celebrity internet cats from the start. The answer is NO. We focused on core elements first: gameplay, visuals, UI etc. If your product is not good, people are not willing to work with you.”
Clearly, the owners of the celebrity cats featured in Nom Cat are in agreement: Lucky Kat knows how to create a good product.
Super Bunny Land & World
While the current buzz around Lucky Kat Studios centers around Nom Kat, it’s important to take a look back at their first IPs created while founder Hernan was operating as Hei Games: Super Bunny Land and Super Bunny World. The classic platformer meets endless runner Super Bunny World was the sequel to Super Bunny Land and introduced new gameplay controls. The retro 16 bit music and graphics add a pleasant layer of nostalgia while playing through the endless, procedurally generated levels.
As Pocketgamer describes it, “this is a game that seamlessly combines various retro games with contemporary smartphone gameplay styles to create something new, and flirtatiously fun.”
Nom Cat is an endless arcade mobile game that features two hungry cats and a never ending wave of flying fish and bombs. Users must tap to keep cats’ mouths open to catch fish, but quickly release to avoid eating a bomb. While the cat should simply be happy with a few fish and not dying, the cats in Nom Cat are insatiable: if a single fish hits the ground, the cats cry, and the turn ends. (Or does it? Lucky Kat utilizes value exchange videos to keep the game going, but more on that later.)
Golden fish serve as the game’s currency, and can be earned by catching them, watching a video, or successfully matching animal parts in the NomSlots mini game. Since the game has launched, the creators have released several new cats to unlock, including internet favorites Nala Cat, Luna the Fashion Kitty, Cooper the Photographer Cat, Venus, Oskar & Klaus, and many more. (I’m a personal fan of Cat in Boots and Murdock the Magical Blind Cat.)
Style and Inspiration
In case it isn’t readily apparent: Lucky Kat has an affinity for retro pixel art that’s heavily influenced by Japanese games. As Herdjie confesses:
“We mostly draw inspiration from our childhood memories of NES and SNES games. You could say Nintendo is our biggest inspiration.”
Lucky Kat monetizes Nom Cat in a few ways. First, while many of the cats can be unlocked by earning golden fish in the game, others are available only via an in-app purchase.
Once a user’s favorite cat is selected and the action begins, Lucky Kat uses strategic value exchange videos to keep the fun going.
When a bomb goes off or a fish is missed, the user is often given a chance to continue their gameplay by watching a short video ad. Likewise, at periodic intervals, users will have a chance to earn in-game currency (golden fish) by watching a video or successfully completing a NomSlots mini game.
So why did Lucky Kat opt for value exchange video in lieu of interstitials, banners, or other monetization options? As Herdjie attests, it comes down to the user experience:
“With Nom Cat we decided not to push advertisement in people’s faces. Instead, the user can choose whether or not to look at a video ad. It has been working out very well. We really believe in ‘fair’ monetization.”
So what advice does Lucky Kat have for new studios who are thinking about publishing and monetizing their first game? Given that one of their core principles is to be selective and strategic with their partnerships, it wasn’t surprising to hear Herdjie recommend getting to know the people behind the ad networks:
“Talk to people behind ad networks and get to know each other. See if you think alike when it comes to monetizing your game. Go with the party who you feel comfortable with.”
Of course, before talking about monetization, it’s important to get the gameplay right. We asked Lucky Kat about the biggest lesson they’ve learned thus far and what advice they would give to other young studios in their shoes. Herdjie stressed the importance of nailing the gameplay:
“Think about the user experience. Do a lot of beta testing with friends and family. Be sure users like the game.”
So what’s next for Lucky Kat Studios? While they are working on a new game that will release later this year, they’re also continuing to roll out updates for Nom Cat. The next update hits June 18th and will feature a few famous cats, including Grumpy Cat®, Nyan Cat® and Keyboard Cat® . The update will also feature new animated backgrounds and several other features. (Until then, feel free to get this song stuck in your head in anticipation.)
So what’s the team most excited about? Eager to travel and meet more like-minded people, Herdjie noted, “We are really excited to go to China Joy 2015 and Casual Connect 2015 this year to meet people in the mobile business.”
- Herdjie Zhou, Co-Founder & Producer – @herdjiezhou
- Hernan Zhou, Founder & Developer – @hernanzh
- Jasper Boerstra, Genius Pixel Artist – @Gruthix
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