Magmic emerged from Ottawa, Canada in 2002, well ahead of the curve of mobile gaming as we know it today. They’ve continued to innovate and ride the wave of smartphones, to over 500 million installs and have a storied history of developing content for leading publishers and brands.
Back in Blackberry
While Magmic is currently known for its titles on iOS and Android, it began making mobile apps for BlackBerry devices. Founded by John Criswick and Joshua Ostrowalker in Ottawa, Canada, The pair started Magmic after a successful exit out of another mobile venture.
Looking at the state of smartphone games at the time, the two saw a need and built a company to fill that need, creating some of the very first games on BlackBerry and other Java handsets in the early days of mobile. In 2003 the studio shifted its focus to mobile games, and by 2009 it began producing titles for the Apple App Store.
“Our founders’ goal was to use mobile gaming to place a spotlight on Ottawa,” said Jonathan Simon, Magmic’s Director of Marketing. “Being one of the first publishers in the industry allowed us to create strategic partnerships with brands who wanted us to take their licenses to mobile,” Simon said.
Over the years, Magmic has worked with Disney, EA, The New York Times, and more. “We also created hundreds of original games. Almost anyone who owned a BlackBerry has played one of our games, most likely Texas Hold’em Poker King or Ka-Glom.”
In the days of Android and iPhone, the company still builds for many different platforms, though they do focus on the elephants in the room. “Our focus has never changed and we still continue to build relationships with brands like Mattel, Hasbro, and Rubik’s Cube,” Simon said.
Innovative from the Start
From the start, Magmic leaned into filling the niches cofounders Criswick and Ostrowalker saw in the nascent smartphone space.
The word “app” hadn’t even been coined yet, but Magmic developed its own mobile connected gaming platform, allowing users to post scores, download daily puzzles, and play head-to-head. Early Magmic titles such as Blackjack Highroller (2002) allowed the player to submit their scores to a centralized server and view high score leaderboards in real-time.
All of that functionality might be familiar to app developers today, with a bevy of products and services from companies, including Apple and Google, allowing those features to be integrated into new apps and titles. Magmic did it from scratch, efore practically anyone else had thought to bring the concept to phones.
In 2004, Magmic expanded the technology to include the downloading of content to the device with games such as Sudoku and Ka-Glom! Younger readers may recognize this concept as DLC – a first of its kind on phones.
Magmic launched true head-to-head mobile connected player-versus-player with the launch of Medieval Kings Chess II and Texas Hold’em King 2 in 2004. The latter featured a mixture of live players and AI “bots” playing Texas Hold’em for play money at a virtual table. Texas Hold’em King 2 was so popular Research in Motion, Blackberry’s manufacturer, began to pre-load the game on several BlackBerry handsets.
Though Magmic has built of 15 years of success, they still welcome competition and have some sage words of wisdom for other developers who are where they were a decade and a half ago. “Mobile games is a very competitive space,” Simon said. “There’s still room for other innovative players. If you think of your users first when making every decision about your game, you can’t go wrong,” he said.
“The user is never wrong,” Simon insists.
Keeping it Light
After years of Blackberry games and even the most popular Blackberry theme to date (Aqua), Magmic entered the Apple App Store with The New York Times Crossword and Phase 10.
Throughout it all, Magmic leveraged its rapid development cycles and keen eye for detail with a multitude of high-profile licensed titles, focusing on the demographic that would grow to be the core of the mobile game ecosystem — casual gamers.
“Since we work with partners like Mattel, Hasbro, and Rubik’s Cube we make sure that their brands are represented properly in the mobile space,” Simon said. “Many partners have strict branding guidelines which we have to adhere too,” he explained.
“We know our audience and tend to create art which is perfect for the casual mobile gamer; light, fun, and engaging,” Simon smiled.
That makes the creative process for Magmic research heavy. “We gather inspiration from the needs in the market and our brand partners,” Simon explained. The results are mobile titles that closely match their licensed property to a T, and leverage well-known brands’ cache for great organic growth, resonating strongly with fans of the property.
Engaging with Experience
“The user experience must come first,” said Simon. “This is important to our users and also the brands we work with.”
That said Magmic recognizes the need to monetize and stay in business, but they don’t have carte blanche to try whatever they want to keep users engaged and monetizing. “We need to respect the brands we work with,” explained Simon. “We use a number of different tactics like multiplayer, in-game rewards, achievements, new features and tournaments.”
“Ultimately it’s about giving the user a fun experience and we are constantly trying to find ways to do this by not interrupting or blocking their play,” he explained.
“Rewarded ads are a perfect example. We find our users are happy to watch ads if they are going to receive a reward and since they are initializing the action, it’s not an interruption,” Simon continued.
Magmic are also experimenting with native ads in some titles.
Magmic is a team of just over 50 hard-working and fun loving people. “We pride ourselves on working with big licensors and partners,” Simon said.
“We like to get things done fast. Depending on the project and platform, we can have dev cycles as short as 4 months for concept to completion,” he said. It’s a testament to Magmic’s excellent team that this quick turnaround results in high-quality games that keep the Canadian mobile developer’s clients coming back.
Magmic’s work has also garnered them industry attention as well as professional. Last year they were nominated for Best Educational Game Canadian Video Game Awards.
“We are working on some other exciting titles this year but we aren’t quite ready to talk about them yet,” said Simon. “We’re partnering with licensors to bring their brand to mobile and fitting into our niche of causal card and board games.”
We’re excited about whatever the Magmic team has up their sleeves.
Stay in Touch with Magmic
Magmic maintains a robust and active social media presence, as befits a company focused on casual, easy to access games. You can follow them on Twitter @Magmic, Facebook, and Instagram.
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