Our start-up of the week is Simteractive, a Dublin company specialising in SIM games.
Simteractive is developing a new game called Eden Isle: Resort Paradise, which lets players build and manage their dream holiday resort.
“In Eden Isle, you start with a small patch of land on a tropical island, where there are a few weeds and dusty buildings,” explained Simteractive CEO and founder Elaine Reynolds.
‘The next game fills a real gap in the mobile games market, especially when you think that over half of mobile gamers are women but women still make up a small percentage of game developers’
– ELAINE REYNOLDS
“All you can afford at the start are some Eco-Friendly Tents and a Huggable Tree but luckily, that’s enough to attract Treehuggers to your resort. Your guests have needs – hunger, thirst, fun, rest and shopping – and you need to unlock and build businesses to help fulfil their needs and keep them happy.
“Guests will also have special requests, like the first guest who arrives wants to propose to his girlfriend but doesn’t want to use just some ring, so he asks you to plant some wildflowers so he can make a flower necklace to propose with.
“As the player progresses through the game, they unlock more guest types, such as hipsters, glampers and selfie-lovers, each of whom have their own preferences and behaviours. Players can choose what’s most important to them and play the game the way they want, creating the resort they want to make. Some players want to make a beautiful resort whereas others don’t care about how the layout looks, just about optimising the layout to earn a five-star rating as fast as possible,” Reynolds explained.
Simply put, Simteractive is focused on a market opportunity of up to $5bn.
“As we’ve all seen, smartphones, tablets and the app store have seen huge growth in the last few years, with people playing games who never had any interest before. It’s no surprise that the mobile games market is huge and growing fast,” said Reynolds.
“Depending on who you listen to, it’s worth between $40bn to $50bn a year worldwide. The simulation game genre is worth around 10pc of that. There’s also been a huge shift to free-to-play, where the games are downloaded for free and players can make in-app purchases within the game.
“The highest-grossing mobile games are generating millions in revenue each day. The market has a long tail though, and it’s possible to carve out a niche and do very well even if you’re not Clash of Clans or Candy Crush.”
Reynolds has been a fan of SIM games since she was a kid.
“I would spend hours playing games like SimCity and Theme Park. The reason I got into the games industry was to work on SIM games. I’ve been developing games for ten years now.”
After completing her MSc in computer games technology, Reynolds moved to the UK to get experience in the big studios there.
“My first job was as a gameplay programmer at Traveller’s Tales, which was bought by Warner Bros. It’s famous for the Lego Star Wars games but I worked on The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. After that, I worked for four years as a game designer at Lionhead Studios in Guildford where I worked on the Fable franchise and a very interesting game called Milo & Kate.
“I was lucky enough to work alongside and learn from some of the developers who made some of my favourite SIM games, such as Peter Molyneux.”
Reynolds describes Simteractive as a content company rather than a technology company.
“For us, the focus is on creating amazing games; great gameplay, visuals, characters; a really good user experience with lots of personality and humour.
“We’re developing the game with Unity, a popular industry engine, and for our back-end, we’re using the GameSparks platform.
“GameSparks are another Irish company who offer backend-as-a-service. Using Unity and GameSparks allows us to compete with the major players even though our team is a fraction of the size. It’s a social game so players can visit each other’s resorts, where they can play a mini-game.
“They can also share gifts with one another and see how they’re doing against other players in the leaderboards. It’s also possible to play the game across multiple devices, which is great for people who want to play on their iPad at home but on their iPhone when they’re out and about.”
Reynolds said she would love to develop a number of SIM games that are commercial and critical hits, and loved by players.
“I’m really proud of Eden Isle and all the amazing work the team have put into it and the reception we’ve gotten from players so far. I’m also keen to work on something new and to apply everything we’ve learned from developing Eden Isle.
“I think Eden Isle can be a big success but our next game could do even better. There’s already a concept doc for the next game and some fantastic concept art, and it’s really exciting. The next game fills a real gap in the mobile games market, especially when you think that over half of mobile gamers are women but women still make up a small percentage of game developers.”
Testing the market
Eden Isle is in soft launch in Canada, which means Simteractive is testing it out before launching it in bigger markets such as the US.
“We’ve been reacting to player feedback, reviewing the analytics with a fine toothcomb, and making changes and improvements with each update.
“One of the big risks with free-to-play games is that you’ll release it for free and nobody will buy anything, but it’s already monetising very well, which I’m delighted about.
“It’s also great to see that all the work we put into playtesting our tutorial has paid off. From the start, our day-one retention was on target, so we’ve been able to focus on improving longer-term retention. We are looking for investment to scale up Eden Isle and for the next project.”
The next level
Reynolds describes the games business as challenging and exhilarating. “I’m under no illusions. The combination of having a low barrier to entry and the massive potential means there’s huge competition.”
She believes the Irish start-up scene has plenty of spirit.
“I love the positive, can-do attitude of the start-up scene. It’s great to see people creating their own opportunities and to see so much activity and so many supports for start-ups.
“Within my sector, the Irish game dev community is just brilliant. People are genuinely really supportive and friendly and help each other out, freely sharing knowledge and contacts.”
Her advice for fellow founders is to follow their dreams. “Do what you love because you will be doing it for longer than you think. Try to take a step back every so often to see the wood for the trees and focus your priorities.
“Look after yourself, try not to be stressed and remember to keep things in perspective. Get advice from people, but remember you are the one who has to decide what advice to act on, so process it with the knowledge you have of your business and your industry and with your own goals in mind.”