Monkeybin started in 2010 when two Norwegians working in Oslo ran into each other while working as independent contractors on a large software project.
Those guys were Haakon Langaas Lageng and Kim Ruben Vatnehagen, who remain the linchpins of the company today.
They started out with the general objective of developing and publishing games for mobile devices and consoles.
There was no targeted “niche” at that time; the objective was left suitably vague because they wanted to dip their feet into the mobile games market and see how it felt, what it looked like and how it behaved.
The best strategy for this, they considered, was to release a couple of mediocre games and meanwhile cast plans for making a “killer”one.
Making Ends Meet and Growing the Team
You don’t make a million dollars on your first game.
To make ends meet Haakon and Kim decided to take some contractor work, while still spending as much time as possible working on their first games and understanding more about the mobile gaming market.
It wasn’t possible to cover all the ground that needed to be covered by themselves. With the advent of freelancing sites like oDesk, it was possible to hire quality independent contractors at a fraction of the rates you would ordinarily pay in Norway.
So they originally hired Andre Biasi, to help them out with programming games when they were involved with contracts; this kept things moving forward even while they were away from Monkeybin.
Andre proved to be a valuable, dedicated and professional employee, who is still very much a part of the Monkeybin team. He is now one of 7 full time employees/owners at Monkeybin, covering server programming, games programming, design, writing, marketing, accounting and more.
From Jumpship Thrust Control to MindFeud
Dipping their feet in the games market to test the waters meant biding a little time, to see what kind of games became popular and that they were interested in developing.
A couple of sidescroller action games followed – Jumpship Thrust Control and Seagull’s Revenge.
But it was not until they saw the success of games like Scrabble by EA, Draw Something, Words with Friends, Rumble and WordFeud, that they realised the type of game that they needed to develop and the idea for MindFeud started to crystalise.
It seemed to be the perfect kind of game for them – a very heavy, critical and advanced backend processing millions of requests per day, satisfying their techy brains; but also a board game that was fun and engaging for players, all combined with social element to help it spread rapidly and, if possible, virally.
MindFeud began to tick all the boxes so they became excited by the potential it could offer.
The Biggest Challenges along the Way
MindFeud is going very well – it is in the overall top lists in several countries, climbing steadily and gaining thousands of new users every day.
But that’s not to say it’s been plain sailing. Getting a game out there and seen is not easy and it’s been a big learning process for Haakon and Kim.
First you need the resources at hand; the game has taken 4000 hours to develop so far – including all work spent on both versions 1 and 2; they’ve already managed to outgrow three database servers!
Secondly you need to market the game to get it seen in the “jungle” of games and apps already out there and added to every hour of the day.
MindFeud is aided by the social element to the game – challenging friends on the network helps it to spread “organically”. That produced great numbers from day one – far higher than with their previous games.
But that wasn’t enough; they also knew that they needed a solid marketing strategy, to get their game seen over those of other indie developers; that’s when they really started to build momentum with the game.
They used radio promos, reviews, social networking, SMS campaigns and free upgrade campaigns, with the work spread across 4 different marketing companies (the best of which was AppVersal, according to Haakon.)
During this process they saw the benefits of using a good app marketing team which has helped improve all aspects of their promotional material.
The third major challenge was to make money from MindFeud. Haakon and Kim found that income from ads was minimal, but they became an important part of the monetising strategy because they are so annoying that players upgrade their freemium version to PREMIUM. This takes the ads away and allows unlimited games against ADAMA – the rather smart MindFeud bot.
The combination of the ad removal and unlimited games against ADAMA has produced a conversion rate of about 15% for upgrading and it is hoped that the addition of more PREMIUM content in MindFeud Version 2 will increase the rate.
A Bright Monkey Future
The success of MindFeud has allowed the guys to think more about a future where their games support them full-time, rather than needing contract work to “plug” the holes.
MindFeud Version 2 is awaiting release and that’s a complete rewrite of the game and the backend, which is hopefully going to help give a turbo boost to the game’s success!
Then, later in the summer, the team plans to release a new social board game based on the same platform they’ve created for MindFeud.
So, exciting times are ahead at Monkeybin. We’ll keep you updated with new developments every step of the way. Watch this space!