By Arturas Rumiancevas, Business Development Manager at Pepi Play
This story begins in an open world, back in the spring of 2019, when our studio visited sunny Bologna during the annual Children’s Book Faire. We are not the outgoing type and we visit events rarely. Our boutique sized studio goes by the name of Pepi Play, was established, and is still managed within a family. As such, we always focused on producing new apps and toys, rarely dedicating time to anything else. Such was our approach developed in the old days of premium products.
Times are changing quickly, however. Back in 2019 we faced multiple difficult issues. Premium segment went into decline and in children space freemium is tricky to navigate and not necessarily working. Especially in cases like ours, when we are not willing to adjust our game design philosophy to exploit the freemium space fully. That spring, developers of apps for kids faced numerous challenges, not only those concerning business models or monetization, but also changes within App Stores and COPPA, and GDPR-K both going into effect.
We faced the dilemma of staying true to our core values or re-thinking our business approach completely. That spring, one of our apps suffered poor launch. We were running out of ideas and cash, so we needed fresh air quickly! As mentioned above, even though we have free to download games on Google Play, our design philosophy remains focused on a premium segment. This means we depend on launching new toys and failures during launch has a long-lasting and demoralising effect. Thus, we were visiting Bologna in hopes to meet other developers just like us and figure out how they survive in ever changing markets (and we found quite a few, with same problems and looking how to tackle them). In our search, we met someone from Hatch Entertainment (Hatch). He was introducing Hatch Kids to the audience on stage.
Again, as a small studio we have considered publishing our games on other platforms in the past, but our previous experiences signalled, that it is a time-consuming process with little to no benefits.
Fortunately, this Hatch thing felt different…
What captivated our attention was a technological solution, that we thought, could add a multiplayer element to our titles. Something we thought would be a nice touch. We already had a multitouch implemented, which allowed our games to be played by a few players at the same time, provided they’ve got a screen big enough to accommodate all those fingers. Therefore, after the presentation we asked Hatch if they thought that it would be possible to use Hatch Kids and run the same game session on multiple devices. The answer was “yes, of course“, so we decided to sit down and figure out what Hatch Kids is and if we want to be on this platform. It was an hour-long conversation about modern day challenges and possibilities of cloud gaming – highly informative and inspiring. We practically shook hands then and there by agreeing to resume this conversation as soon as we get home. For our studio this was a bold step because we never did anything like this, we had no idea what to expect, how much of our resources will be pulled into process and what outcome can be expected? Nevertheless, we were hyped on the idea, that some kids will be able to experience new kind of multiplayer in our games.
What followed was a quick exchange of emails and a remarkably simple, fluent, and speedy publishing process. We signed a partnership agreement in a month and after a few weeks of dealing with the QA team, we finally had our first game on Hatch Kids with a “multiplayer” that worked splendidly. Even then, we had no idea how much value it created for our studio and our mindsets.
Everything changed in 2020. Early in this year, when the world was still a simpler place, we got a report from Hatch that celebrated our first results. We found out that our flagship game Pepi Wonder World ranked 5th among all other games in session count and 13th in unique player count. But most importantly, it dominated the “Total Game Session Duration” category by claiming the 1st spot! All of this, by competing with top line games from other famous game developers and studios! It was a reason to celebrate, but even more so – a reason to act.
Besides, as I have mentioned before, we’re a small studio struggling with big problems. We wish to retain premium business model if possible, because we see it as a best fit for kids’ game segment. At the same time, we wish to remain discoverable and quite often these goals contradict one another. We never explored other ways to do business because we make digital toys. Our core game design loop is quite simple, our goal is to provide kids with toys for them to play. Not give them games that actively tries to hook players for more. Thus, in our view, we had no chance on subscription-based platforms, because we have no daily quests, no dynamic content, no core loop that leaves people craving for more minutes with a game. Luckily, Hatch clearly showed us how wrong we were. Not just about this, but many things, listing them would be the best way to wrap up this story.
Our studio understood that it is relatively easy to distribute or publish games on third party platforms and services. We also received clear indication, that our games perform well even while competing with other apps from top brands. We understood that it is easier to be spotted in a collection of 200 apps, compared to major app stores. This alone boosted our self-esteem and sent us on a journey to find more partners like Hatch, which is exactly what we did in 2020! We expanded our partnerships by signing half a dozen of other partners, catering to various geographical areas all around the world. This also created a new revenue stream, allowing us to bolster our team and expand our business without really giving in to the latest trends. Meaning, that a chat we had with Hatch a year ago not just opened a hatch for us. That hatch was big enough for an avalanche of actions, that transformed our company entirely. In every way, save for one: we did not have to change the most important and precious thing – our design philosophy.
Pepi Play is a boutique sized studio dedicated to apps for families and kids. From day one we are focused on creating safe, responsible and rich interactive experiences for little players and their parents.