Mobile Fires Wooga to Profitability as it Launches 4 New Games

By David Knight |

Social games startup Wooga has announced the launch of four new games – while also surprisingly revealing that the company is already profitable. Journalists from across Europe were invited to the Wooga HQ in Berlin for the unveiling of Kingsbridge, Pocket Village and Pearl’s Peril, alongside an all-new mobile version of long-time success story Monster World.

The event was mirrored in San Francisco, where the startup is one of only a handful from Berlin to have a genuine presence. But it was the news that Wooga is cash-flow positive that most caught the eye, alongside the fact that half of its revenue now comes from mobile just 14 months after its first mobile game.

The four new releases hint towards the company’s efforts to cover different markets in the casual gaming space with bespoke products. Firstly, Monster World is being released as a mobile game after three years on Web browsers. It has been created, according to product lead Stephanie Kaiser, as a “completely redesigned game experience made for mobile.” The same basic gameplay is in force, with plenty of monsters and plants to grow – but they take less time (one hour instead of 12) to do so because on mobile, users spend less time on each visit but come back more frequently. It will be released on iPhone and iPad on March 21.

The first new game is a town attack and combat strategy title called Kingsbridge, which will be available on the Web from April. Set in a medieval village, it is Wooga’s first ‘mid-core‘ game; somewhere between the deep and involved gaming experience and a fully casual game.

Cutesy Berry Growers

Second up is Pocket Village. It’s the first mobile-only title to be released by the company, and features cutesy ‘Pocketeers’ which grow berries from which they make juice, syrup and jam. Users can sell and trade in order to gather coins which they can then use to build houses. It will be available for iPad and iPhone on April 11 and comes with the personal Wooga seal of approval – employees tested it out over the Christmas period and, as a game designed to be played in short sessions, the average usage was 20 times a day.

Finally, there is Pearl’s Peril. It’s a hidden object game with a strong focus on its ongoing, soap opera-like episodic storytelling, as penned by Steven-Elliot Altman. According to Wooga’s Sebastian Nuszbaum: “Hidden object games usually end, but casual games don’t.” The theme is a woman from 1920s New York who travels abroad to investigate the apparent suicide of her father, and there will be new content every week. It will be available on the Web from March 5 and on iOS in Q2.

All in all, it was an impressive display from one of Berlin’s startup superpowers. That four games were being announced at once packed a punch – Wooga CEO Jens Begemann told Silicon Allee that the timing was mostly down to coincidence with a dash of rivalry between the game development teams – but the revenue news was perhaps more significant. With users now numbering 50 million per month from all over the world, and in 20 different languages, revenue is split 50/50 between Web and mobile. It only released its first mobile game, Diamond Dash, 14 months ago.

The fact it is profitable is surprising given the admission on Begemann’s part that “the year 2012 was about laying the groundwork.” Yet it will in turn allow the company to “control our future; we’re not dependent on external forces, we can make bold investments into new titles. It’s really great to be growing and be growing faster than you would think you would.”

The Kingsbridge swords aloft over the game’s development team at Wooga

There are certainly plenty of smiles at Wooga – but will all this investment into Web games be worth it in the long run when mobile inevitably becomes more dominant? Is Wooga really just hedging its bets? Begemann agrees that touch control is the way of the future, but insists their policy is simply about meeting the needs of users.

“Consumers will stop using the PC as we know it today,” he said. “I think that the writing is on the wall. When we started working on mobile games two years ago, it was not so obvious, but I think now it’s a given. We’re prepared for that but it’s still a number of years ahead.

“But to me, this touch revolution is a revolution like the introduction of the keyboard and the mouse. … So this is really at least a decade that this new input method and this new interface will dominate how we use our computers.”

Begemann is a figure who dominates a room; not just by physically towering over everyone else, but through the sense of being calmly in control that he exudes. He is certainly an advertisement for earning your management wings before founding your own startup thanks to the time he spent at Jamba. And, while he acknowledges that Berlin as a tech scene still needs to prove itself, he remains a cheerleader for the German capital: “We do interviews with people from Silicon Valley who want to come to Berlin, they want to experience this city, they want to work here. And that’s amazing.”

Outlasting its Sell-By Date

It’s worth remembering, of course, that Wooga is still a relatively minor player and faces competition from the likes of Zynga. And it also faces the challenge of keeping users engaged in its games, especially when they are free to play – although Monster World in particular has far outlasted its original sell-by date.

Key partner Facebook is most definitely still on board. At Monday’s press evening, Facebook’s head of EMEA gaming partnerships, Julien Codorniou, was full of enthusiastic praise for Wooga, which he described as a “company of visionaries.” One day, Codorniou said, “I think people will talk of Wooga like they talk of SAP today.” Heady words indeed, and proof that their casual gaming relationship is a symbiotic one.

After the speeches there was time for a tour of the famous Wooga office, which constantly seems to be the subject of some sort of construction work. It is set to expand even more in the coming months. Already taking up most of two floors of Die Backfabrik, a 19th century former bakery complex behind Soho House, we were also shown around the third floor which is now under renovation to house the growing workforce, currently numbering 280 people from more than 40 countries.

And as a sign of the changing times in Berlin startups? The third floor used to house StudiVZ.

Check back tomorrow for the full interview with Wooga CEO Jens Begemann in which he reveals where he thinks Berlin is heading and what the future holds for gaming.

A screenshot from Pearl’s Peril