Filipinos are known in the global scene to be resourceful and talented. A lot of Filipinos can claim to be world-class champions in a lot of fields, and now we can add game development to that list.
In October, the game Flippy Bottle Extreme became a global hit. It went up to “Number One in Google Play” in countries like the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Ireland, Latvia, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Estonia. In the United States, it even beat popular games such as Temple Run 2, Pokemon Go and Color Switch. It got two million downloads in just 10 days and attained the top spots in both the action and arcade categories, and top two in the games overall category.
This is no easy feat. What’s even more impressive is that a Filipino game developer, who is halfway around the world, was the one who created the game.
Listed as the developer of Flippy Bottle Extreme is Most Played Games, owned by 29-year-old Derrick Alain M. Mapagu, who is also its founder, CEO and all-around developer.
For Derrick, the key to Flippy Bottle Extreme’s success, despite its lack of marketing, is that it is specifically made for the target market.
“I believe it was more of knowing the market than anything else. We have [a] well-versed understanding of the market we are targeting. Knowing your market like you know yourself, knowing what makes them tick, what excites them, what makes them buy,” he said. “I believe good products market themselves and it was the case in Flippy.”
Man of many talents
Derrick said that he knew that game development was his thing, even when he was in grade school.
“I love games, grew up with them and dreamt to do the next Starcraft... [It] was my main inspiration and even up to now I dream of working with Blizzard,” he said.
He started coding young and he was already making games when he was a grade six student at Don Bosco Technical Institute Makati.
Growing up, Derrick also honed many talents. He became a musician, composer, programmer, artist, photographer, gamer and graphic artist. He said he is thankful to his parents who supported him in his many creative ventures.
“Game development was naturally the culmination of everything I have learned. I'd say I was probably born for game development,” he said.
Before he founded Most Played Games, he was a creative director at Synergy88Digital and Orangenose Studios. He also became senior producer at Gameloft and an instructor at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde.
Even when working in corporate game development, Derrick said that he really wanted to make his own games and apps. After reaching and being in top management positions in game development firms, he felt that there was no other way but to pursue his dream of creating his own games. His career goal is to create a game that everyone knows, with one billion downloads or more.
“This is when I started Most Played Games with the vision to create the next one billion download game, 'the next big hit'. I started the company on my own, creating games from end-to-end – from art to programming,” Derrick narrated.
He eventually grew his team to three with an artist and marketing staff helping them.
“We are a pretty small startup but with big goals,” he said.
Part of his dream of creating a startup is to also celebrate the success as a purely Filipino company. He plans to put Philippines in the map of game development, with the hopes of inspiring other developers to pursue their dreams.
“I am happy now that I was able to deliver and I hope this success will inspire other developers too,” he said.
Despite Derrick’s experience in production and being a creative director, producer and programmer, he has little knowledge in setting up a company.
“Of course, the main difficulties is making sure that our company is profitable. This entails making wise business decisions,” he said.
They’ve had early roadblocks and they’ve also been faced with decisions regarding investors and office space.
“I got advise from those who are well versed in business and we ended up self-funding first, just sharing office, and having a mix of home and office-based [employees] which I’d say are very good decisions for us,” he said.
Derrick said that as a startup, these may seem like small decisions but he found it to be critical to make his company profitable.
Most Played Games is mainly focused on creating and publishing their own games. Currently, they already have nine games out in the market. Aside from the widely popular Flippy Bottle Extreme, these include No Bad Selfies, Make Pana Blue Eagle, Make Tuka Green Archer, Make Tusok The Fishball and Trump Hair Matters, a fast game about the US elections.
Most of these games were made in just a matter of hours or just a few days. No Bad Selfies was a coffee shop experiment, created in four hours. Make Pana Blue Eagle and Make Tuka Green Archer were instant hits with college students and both made it to the Top 8 and 13 of the App Stores in the Philippines, respectively. On the other hand, Make Tusok The Fishball made it to Top 1 in the Philippines. It was popular with the AlDub Nation and it was also featured on several local Facebook pages.
According to Derrick, the biggest challenge that every game company faces is landing a hit game. This is basically the goal of all game developers and it’s not an easy thing to do especially when you are starting without an audience and a following.
“Without a hit game, it is hard to make the company profitable. We made around nine games to be able to land a hit, it was not an easy journey,” he said. “It was painstaking grind for us to continue even if we are not gaining much attention on our first few games. It’s perseverance and stubbornness that pushed us through.”
Opportunity for Filipinos
Derrick believes that this is one of the best times to establish a game company. For one, the market is still rising and two, there is a surge of talent from the schools, since more and more schools are offering game development. The fact that technology is more widespread than ever and smartphone penetration is getting higher each day are also factors to consider.
“I would definitely advise other developers to set up their own company. Game development is a tough business. It takes real skill, hard work and some luck with timing,” he said.
It takes real skill to compete worldwide and Derrick spent a lot of time honing his skills over many years. He spent countless hours of practicing and failing before success came.
“Before setting up your own, assess yourself versus the current market and be humble. If you think you can already match the current market, then go. If not, get more experience and practice more. Learn from people with experience, and be smart with your decisions,” Derrick advised.
Derrick, reluctant to ride on trends, believes there is a good mix of popular games these days. He cannot say that there a single trend going on. One popular pattern he is seeing, however, is of the visual novel genre and games with multiplayer roles. Visual novels are quite new in the top charts in the US for 2016.
Even if Most Played Games has already proven themselves worthy of competing in the global field, Derrick and his team continue to strive for more bestselling games. They are currently working on four games, plus an update of Flippy Bottle Extreme.
Five years from now, Derrick envisions Most Played Games as a globally renowned brand and one of the most influential Philippine companies on game development. To make this happen, Derrick always bears in mind the words of Steve Jobs to stay hungry and foolish.
“Aim high and follow your heart. Find your niche, and work hard to hone your skill and be really, really good at making your type of games. Be true to yourself. Persevere, continue doing your own games and eventually you'll make it,” Derrick advised young game developers. “Filipinos are world class talents. You are a world class talent. Believe in yourself and make a difference.”
Nicai de Guzman is the marketing head of Rising Tide, a technology solutions company. She is also the Manila bureau manager of Probe Media Foundation's Mulat Pinoy-Kabataan News Network and a regular contributor for SPOT.ph. Follow her on Twitter, @nicaideguzman, and LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicaideguzman.