REACHING AND SUCCEEDING IN MORE MARKETS
Baris Ozistek, CEO of Netmarble EMEA, was the keynote speaker Casual Connect Tel Aviv 2016. In his speech, Baris covered common stats on key Asian markets, along with the major differences between them, and the importance of localization according to target territory. Baris explained that in Asia, “The key issue is the content. The key issue is the quality. Data is not one of the key issues.” Autoplay came from Asia and is growing in popularity. Baris stressed to try Autoplay out if you have not tried it yet. To learn more, listen to the full lecture featured below.
Baris Ozistek, CEO of Netmarble EMEA, was drawn to this career by the challenge of the fast-paced game industry. As Baris says, “You’ve got to keep monitoring the trends, technology and competition everywhere in the world. It’s really fun and exciting if you love challenges.”
Baris decided the internet would be the most promising industry for the future and was searching for a top executive position when he met the president of Joygame and was impressed, not only with the president, but also the company and the vision. Joining the company at an early stage was a radical decision for Baris, but he considered it an amazing opportunity to work for a gaming company in Turkey.
Six years ago, when Baris joined the company, Joygame was one of the largest gaming companies in the Middle East and Turkey and in 2013 it was acquired by Netmarble. Its president, Mr. Bang, a legend in the game and internet industry, developed the free-to-play business model and first licensed game publishing. Mr. Bang has been an inspiration for Baris, who especially appreciates his vision and management style.
Baris especially enjoys the speed of the internet industry; whatever he does the results of his actions come very quickly. Also, being at the heart of the entertainment industry means the products are really fun. “If you love games, this is the best job you can work. Even at the most stressful moments, we’re discussing the games at the end of the day.”
However, the idea that the working day is filled with playing games is far from accurate. Much more often he is doing objective-based planning, analyzing data or evaluating results based on KPI. Baris also maintains that people development and management is an essential aspect of a top level executive position in the game industry. Having experience working with a diversified range of people has been tremendously useful in working with the young, creative people he is working with today.
OVERCOMING A NEGATIVE PERCEPTION
When Baris first joined the game industry in Turkey, there were a number of misconceptions about it. Families did not consider it seriously as an occupation, so it was difficult to find the necessary talents. The general government perception was very negative; they considered gaming a bad habit. Baris, along with others, have been working hard to change the situation. He established the Turkish Digital Games Federation, an NGO reporting to the government. Baris has participated in hundreds of events to let people know what gaming really is and to answer questions. He has also done a lot of PR work with both the government and the public.
The results have been outstanding. Gaming today is considered a valuable industry and is perceived as a clean and safe form of entertainment compared to others.
One of the most exciting events of Baris’s career came when they were selected as one of the top 40 CEOs under 40 in Turkey by Fortune magazine. As they relate, “It was a really nice feeling that shows the appreciation of the public after long years of dedication and hard work.”
INVESTING IN PEOPLE
Finding the right people to hire is a continuing challenge. Baris looks for someone “who will own the product as if it’s her personal product, who will work as if this is the last chance for survival in his life, and who is smart by education experience and family culture.” And he also wants a hard core gamer. “We cannot work with talents who don’t prefer to play games in their social life.”
Netmarble is strongly committed to investing in their people. They have developed a training program called Netmarble Academy that is open to all employees. Baris describes it as an internal MBA program. Any employee can attend and, after completing a certain number of courses, receive the Netmarble Academy Graduation Certificate.
DEVELOPING THE SUCCESSFUL GAME
When Netmarble is developing a game, Baris prefers to test at the alpha stage. They are looking for feedback before the final stage but feel that testing too early may lead to incorrect comments that negatively affect the development strategy.
The play tests on Modoo Marble (Travelling Millionaire) showed some unexpected results. Before launching it in the region, they conducted multiple focus group tests. The first tests were with more than 50 employees in the Istanbul office and the results were horrible; more than 80% disliked the game and didn’t want to continue with it. The next six months were spent redeveloping the game to meet regional expectations. Most of Baris’s colleagues didn’t want to launch the game, expecting it to be a failure. But, in fact, it had a very successful launch in Turkey and the Middle East, becoming one of their most successful titles that year.
Baris attributes this game’s success to the fact that it is fun and delivers a high level of entertainment to players from ages 10 to 70. It reaches a massive number of players and they enjoy playing against each other.
Of course not all of their games have had the same success. A couple of years ago they decided to close one of their PC games. Although it had a fairly good number of users, it simply wasn’t generating revenue and was not on a good trend. But after closing it, Baris discovered the users really loved the game and were very unhappy and even offended about the closing.
This was a very painful experience, and Baris says if he had understood the level of passion the players had for the game, he would have done his best to keep it open even though they were losing money. But it was not possible to reopen the game as a result of technical issues. Baris believes in the power of communication, so they handled the situation by being very open and honest with the players.
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGES
Netmarble also believes in the importance of data analytics so they have developed a very advanced business intelligence tool. One of their principles is that they do not take any action that is not based on data.
Part of Netmarble’s company culture is constantly monitoring changing technology. Every employee is responsible for being aware and applying changes in technology and sharing how they can use it with others. As Baris describes, “Digital transformation is a kind of lifestyle and it’s a never-ending road trip to the future.”
Recently Baris has noticed audiences showing an increased expectation for more advanced online features. The Bluetooth function of Travelling Millionaire is something of a new trend and the audience in Japan is showing a similar trend in the mobile game market.
Auto play function is also becoming a more common feature within most mobile games. At first most Western players criticized this feature, saying there is no point to playing if you are playing in auto play mode. But this year players are becoming more educated about it and it is now becoming something of a trend. Netmarble’s popular games, such as Seven Knights, EvilBane and MARVEL Future Fight have good examples of the auto play feature.
REACHING MORE MARKETS
Travelling Millionaire is a prime example of effectively extending a game’s success to additional geographic markets. This is a fully localized version of Modoo Marble that has reached significant success in Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. There are a number of aspects to localization for this area; art style, UI/UX, local freatures and game/event design are all quite different when compared to Asia. Baris claims, “We’ve proven that with hard work the game can be localized to the West in terms of UI, UX, cultural fit and game mechanics.”
When developers are localizing games for the EMEA region, Baris emphasizes a very important point for them to consider. Although most multinational companies think of EMEA as one region, the different countries show significant variations in terms of gaming habits and player expectations. Developers need to keep these differences in mind when developing the contents, event management systems, campaigns and even user interface.
There is a significant time difference in the region that developers must remember when planning and managing events. As well, special and religious days are different throughout the region and have many sensitive aspects.
In the Middle East, the Arabic language is another key factor to success, but it can be very difficult to integrate because it is written from right to left. Developers need to be aware of this challenge as they are developing the game, rather than trying to do it later.
The Middle East is also highly sensitive to content in terms of nudity, religious marks and story. And Europe has multiple regulations about such things as user rights and protection and storage of private data.
Focus on the good examples, Baris emphasizes, when developing games for specific geographic markets.
HELPING STARTUPS SUCCEED
Baris is a board member of StartersHub, one of the largest incubation centers in Turkey, with emphasis on the Turkey, Middle East and Africa regions. They have established StartersHub with two partners and $10M USD in capital. Their purpose is to invest in startups with good ideas and teams.
StartersHub offers a venture building environment along with office space, equipment and financial investment, but most important is their know-how. Baris describes them as a very qualified group of mentors that provides extensive training and connection to a wide network of business partners and investors.
StartersHub invests in any kind of digital content projects but they also have a dedicated program for gaming called Game Garage. Netmarble also supports these startups with know-how transfer and they have a publishing commitment globally to reach the ultimate goal of helping these small startups reach global success.
Baris’s enjoyment of challenges extends beyond his career into his free time. His preferred hobbies are focused on sports with an element of danger: windsurfing, skiing, paragliding, and his favorite, kiteboarding. Anywhere in the world that you can find a strong wind, you will find Baris on the water with his board.