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An Interview with Miniclip CEO Saad Choudri

Miniclip has become one of the giants of mobile gaming over recent years. The company’s games have been downloaded over 4bn times and the company has recently announced a merger with SYBO, best known for their popular Subway Surfers game. Peter Franks, Partner with the mobile games specialist headhunting firm Neon River caught up with Saad Choudri, CEO of Miniclip, to find out more;

For people who aren’t familiar with Miniclip, how would you describe the company?

Miniclip is a constantly evolving company, but our ethos at the heart of it has stayed the same for the last twenty years. Our purpose and vision is to be the world’s most popular games company because we want to unleash the gamer in everyone, and for our games to appeal to a broad audience around the world. To make our goal a reality, we need to reach as large an audience as possible, so key metric for us is DAU [Daily Active Users]. It’s motivating to have a goal that you can track; as our player count increases, we step closer and closer to reaching that goal.

Why everyone you might ask; surely it makes more sense to narrow our focus to established audiences, as is very common in the wider industry? I disagree with this assumption on a fundamental level, and think it misses the goal of games entirely. I genuinely believe that whether you are eighty or eight years old, you may have an interest in gaming. That’s what we are tapping into and what drives us to keep experimenting and growing. That’s what I see Miniclip’s role as, an entry point for gaming. All of our games are designed to be accessible, and people should be able to pick up and play them without having any previous experience.

How has Miniclip changed over the time you’ve been with the company?

Hugely. We started off developing and publishing games on our own website before transitioning to making free to play mobile games, and now we have sixteen different studios around the world, in 10 different countries. It’s a dramatic shift, and one I’ve been lucky enough to witness first-hand. We have 20-30 live games at any one point in time, which doesn’t even include those in production.

You have recently stepped up to the CEO role within the business; how did you find the transition?

As CEO I have to take care of the whole business, which is a major change in perspective.  You have to adjust to entirely new way of thinking. As CEO you’re not the sector expert, you’re the overall business expert of and have to approach every situation with this in mindset. If one your team, like the GC or the CMO, comes to you and says “this is what we should do”, all you can do is trust their recommendation and respect their aptitude with that subject.

What you’re really doing is empowering those specialists to get on with it, whilst making sure they aren’t stepping out of bounds or putting the company into the wrong sort of risk profile. I had the mantra when I started that I didn’t want the company to feel that they were working for me, but rather, I work for them. I want to be a CEO that works for the people in the organisation first.

How is Miniclip performing at the moment?

We’ve done really well over the last couple of quarters – we’ve been growing whilst there’s been a macro-decline in the industry. I think that’s in part down to the fact that we have this wide portfolio of titles, so we don’t just appeal to a small audience. That makes us better able to respond to market changes. Many of our games use a combination of advertising and in-app purchases to monetise, whilst some are entirely focussed on IAP (In-App-Purchases) with no ads. Some rely mostly on advertising revenues. Because we have that broader spectrum of monetization, and therefore strategies that need to be deployed in terms of how you position those games, it allows us to buck the trend. Whilst the cost of acquisition is going up, we’ve seen the CPM (Cost-Per-Million) for ad supported games going up too, and that helps to balance out the higher acquisition costs for IAP funded titles.

Miniclip recently announced a merger with SYBO. What opportunities do you think that creates for the merged entity?

SYBO have one of the most engaged audiences in mobile through Subway Surfers, there’s a huge opportunity to introduce Miniclip’s portfolio of games to their users and vice versa. Both teams have a huge amount of knowledge and experience that they can share, which makes us much stronger overall. We can get a much deeper understanding of our customers and how to make the right games for them. Both businesses will still run pretty autonomously, but we’ll be helping each other and working together where it makes sense.

Miniclip has had a lot of success in publishing third party titles as well as developing its own games. Do you think it is increasingly necessary for smaller games studios in the mobile games sector to work with larger publishers?

I think it’s almost crucial. It’s a sometimes-insurmountable challenge to survive the market if you don’t have the experience or substantial financial resources to publish games yourself. It’s much harder to get the attention of the app stores and users if you don’t have a big platform that you can leverage.

Launching new games is tougher than it has ever been. That’s not to say it was ever easy, it’s an extremely competitive and fast-moving market. However, because of the IDFA deprecation, user acquisition has become harder and mobile games companies are having to figure out this new dynamic. We’ve observed that the process of building an audience is much slower than it has been, and is a far more involved process.

If you’re a smaller developer and you need to keep the door opens, you need a partner who can support you through that process. A smaller studio making a smaller game might be able to manage independently. But if your goal is to create a game that can last five or ten years as a service, I personally feel that would be extremely difficult without a partner with capital and experience to support that.

One of the things I love about mobile gaming is that someone can come up with an idea that goes viral and completely changes the market. The possibilities are endless, agility and curiosity are very important. At Miniclip, we want to be continually exploring and testing new ideas as that’s what will allow us to keep on making an impact.