Whalekit’s George Airiyan Discusses Award-Winning 'Left to Survive' for Samsung
Sr. Marketing Mgr., Samsung Developer Relations
Jeanne Hsu, Senior Marketing Manager for Developer Relations at Samsung, chatted with George Airiyan, the Development Director of Whalekit (part of MY.GAMES). His job entails business development and execution of all external partnerships with the help of a small Research & Innovations department he manages.
Jeanne Hsu (JH): George tell us a little about you. What was your professional journey that led you to Whalekit?
George Airiyan (GA): I’ve been in the mobile games industry for 16 years. My background is IT and linguistics. While I was at the university, I started working as a programmer for IT companies, leading teams and managing small software projects.
Then I felt I was ready for my next move and was offered a job as a project manager/producer at a mobile games company. I really loved the people, the atmosphere, and being part of the creative process so I stayed in the gaming industry and have worked with some of my colleagues for more than 15 years.
JH: It sounds like the people were an important part in your journey into gaming.
GA: Yes. Some of those people I met in the gaming industry 15 years ago, are now part of the core team at Whalekit.
JH: Tell us about MY.GAMES.
GA: MY.GAMES is an international brand with 13 regional offices in Europe, the US and Asia, with more than 1,800 staff employees and 14 internal studios including Whalekit. MY.GAMES develops games for the PC, consoles and mobile devices. The company operates more than 80 titles with a total portfolio count of 150 games, including in-house made hits like War Robots, Hustle Castle, Rush Royale, Left to Survive, as well as Skyforge and Allods Online. There are more than 900 million players registered in MY.GAMES titles around the world. The company also has its own media portal, the MY.GAMES Store platform, investment division MGVC, and other assets.
JH: Tell us about Whalekit.
Whalekit is a team of professionals whose core members started making mobile games in 2004-2005. We have been making 2D and 3D games since the pre-smartphone era. With the adoption of smartphones, our business and operation models changed reflective of the industry: instead of “release and forget” paid titles, we shifted to games as services and free-to-play, regular live operations, social features and much more. We have always aimed at the highest possible quality level, and these days Left to Survive is also available on PC along with major mobile stores.
Whalekit is one of MY.GAMES’ largest studios with more than 120 employees. It specializes in developing hi-tech 3D-action mobile games. Among the games produced by this team over the years, there are hit titles like Deer Hunter, Contract Killer, and Frontline Commando. In 2018, we released zombie apocalypse shooter Left to Survive, which found millions of mobile fans. Whalekit’s vast mobile development experience allows the studio to keep trying something new, train its staff, as well as solve complex creative and technical issues.
JH: How did the relationship with Samsung first start?
GA: We had a meeting with Samsung representatives at GDC 2019 where we discussed the opportunities and agreed to work on the partnership.
JH: Congratulations on winning the 2021 Best of Galaxy Store Award-Best Action Game for Whalekit Left to Survive for Samsung. What does it mean to win this award?
GA: We are happy and honored to win this award. It’s a sign of appreciation for the whole team. Our specialty is action games; it's something we think we do the best. We know that the game is interesting, enjoyable, and addictive. But it's always great to be recognized by the industry.
JH: How did you come up with the concept for the Left to Survive game with players fighting the Zombies that have overrun the Earth?
GA: Our team has specialized in action and shooting titles, including zombie shooters, for a long time. We were thinking of how to take our games to the next level and realized that players wanted a deeper sense of progression and more variety in the gameplay modes. That’s how the traditional campaign mode got interconnected with base building, PvP and base raids. We noticed interesting demographic trends, with female players showing an inclination in zombie shooters as well. So we decided to take this theme and grow it. [PvP means Player versus Player, interactive games between human players.]
JH: What are future plans for the game?
GA: We know that players like our game, with many of them playing for months and even years. We are going to continue providing unique content and engaging mechanics, so more players will stay even longer.
Game Ideas, Discoverability, and Reach
JH: What games from MY.Games are on Galaxy Store?
GA: We have Left to Survive and Warface: Global Operations (both from the Whalekit studio), American Dad! Apocalypse Soon (from the Nord studio), Rush Royale for Samsung (from the ITT studio) and Storyngton Hall (from BIT.GAMES).
JH: Where do you get your game ideas?
GA: Everybody in the studio can come up with their own ideas. We don’t limit ourselves to a certain genre or theme. Naturally the overall potential is estimated by studio experts when we decide to proceed with a new idea.
JH: How does it mesh with your motto “free to create and ready to explore”?
GA: We sometimes have game jams. It's sort of a standard thing for the gaming industry, when a studio breaks down into several small teams, not the whole studio, just those who want to participate. They’ll spend one day, two days, or a three-day weekend, creating prototypes of the games that they think are fun. Then everybody in the studio looks at them, and votes for the top idea for the best implementation. Some of them even make it further to prototypes of real games that could be a potential future project. As for the idea of exploration, these game jams aren't limited to any theme or genre or scale. It could be anything.
JH: With all the competition for games, what has been your strategy for discoverability?
GA: Making a great game always comes first. While discoverability isn’t trivial, as long as the game has good metrics, our marketing team will do their best to advertise it on various channels. It's also important to optimize app pages and work closely with the stores.
JH: What platform do you use to develop your games?
GA: We use Unity 3D. It allows us to create high quality visuals on a wide variety of devices. We programmatically detect the hardware in terms of performance. For lower-end devices, we show optimized graphics, switching out some of the visual effects so people can still play it. The game is not as visually rich at the lower end, but it's still playable. But for higher-end devices, we switch on all the bells and whistles. We’re quite happy with what Unity allows us to do.
JH: On your website, it says MY.GAMES has $562M in annual revenue (2020 figures). That’s amazing. What has been your strategy for generating revenue?
GA: There are several factors at play here. Primarily it’s the company’s diversified portfolio with 150 titles across various genres for different audiences. Anyone can find what they’re looking for in the MY.GAMES catalog.
The second factor is that we are proactively developing our mobile projects as the mobile market is the biggest and fastest-developing sector and therefore more promising. 75% of our revenue accounts for it.
Finally, the third factor is our global focus. This is why international sales accounted for 77% of MY.GAMES revenue in Q3 2021, with the U.S., Germany and France as the top markets.
JH: Why is it important to offer your game on Galaxy Store?
GA: Galaxy Store is a great way to increase the player base in important territories. The biggest territory for gaming companies is the United States, of course. And we see quite good coverage in the U.S. for Galaxy Store. It’s been a very positive experience for us.
Marketing and User Acquisition
JH: Where can we find this best action game Left to Survive on Galaxy Store?
JH: What are some of the ways you promote Left to Survive?
GA: Here are our websites and channels:
- My.Games: https://my.games/
- Whalekit Studio: https://my.games/en/studios/7
- Left to Survive: https://lts.my.games/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeftToSurvive
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/WHALEKITGames/featured
JH: I noticed you have Left to Survive video trailers for your active Facebook community.
GA: We actually use some of these trailers for user acquisition. We have an in-house team to produce these video creatives. Some of them are really cool. Some of them are quite funny. This is something we pay quite a lot of attention to. Because nowadays, most of the user acquisition is done via advertising in other applications. It’s done with videos; every company does that as a standard way of looking for new users. You just show your ads in somebody else's application and people may click on it.
JH: I see the trailer for the game like a movie trailer at the theaters or online; if it looks interesting, I will make a mental note to go see it. Maybe after watching the trailer for Left to Survive, I’ll want to learn more about the game and try it. Very clever.
Diversity and Inclusion
JH: What is MY.GAMES doing related to diversity and inclusion?
GA:. MY.GAMES believes in equal opportunities for everyone. We never look at nationality, race, sex or beliefs. The ratio of women to men, for instance, is around 40% to 60% and growing. It’s quite common to see women in all positions, including management, engineering, marketing, game design, QA.
JH: What do you do for fun outside of work?
GA: I love playing beach volleyball. Even in winter, when there’s snow outside, there are indoor “beaches” where you can play beach volleyball.
JH: I’ve never heard of an indoor beach.
GA: Yeah, they bring in net posts and lots of sand. It’s a lot of fun.
JH: What else?
GA: I love sports as a whole. I used to play quite a lot of football (soccer).
I love travelling with my wife and three-year-old son. We’ll take a car and drive somewhere. Of course, with a small kid, it's not as easy. But now he's growing up and can handle longer journeys. We’ll do more of this again.
JH: Thank you for your time George. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and Whalekit. Congratulations again to your team!
GA: You’re welcome.