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It’s hard to believe that jigsaw puzzles would be a defensible and big moneymaker in mobile and PC games. But that’s how ZiMad built its foundation as a mobile game developer and publisher. It started in 2009 and now has more than 300 employees in 20 countries.
How the company is in acquisition mode, said Aleksey Tishakov, chief marketing officer, in an interview with GamesBeat. The company is also hiring remote workers in the U.S. and Europe.
Based in Miami, the self-funded company’s most popular game is Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, which debuted in 2011 and has more than 100 million downloads. Founders Dmitry Belotserkovskiy and Oleg Muza started the company in 2009. All told, the company has had more than 200 million players across mobile, social networks and desktop PCs.
As a publisher, the company has had a variety of other hits, like My Museum Story, Dig Out, Domino Online, Magic Cross Stitch, Magic Color by Number and Magic Solitaire. Each title took off because they had new gaming experiences and mechanics and offered exclusive content to the genre.
The success has led to partnerships with Sony Pictures, Disney, National Geographic, Pixar, Marvel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, said Tishakov.
“We develop and publish our games and also we are deeply interested in making acquisitions direction right now,” Tishakov said. “So we’re observing the market and trying to find new projects and new studios which would be interesting for us.”
The CEO is Dmitry Bobrov, who is based in Miami. The company recently opened an office in Serbia, where Tishakov is based, and there are a number of positions open. Bobrov says having the right team with good experience is half the challenge of making a successful game.
Magic Jigsaw Puzzles took off because it was one of the pioneers in mobile gaming at the time, and it now has the largest collection of digital puzzles in the world, the company said. The title is free to play with in-app purchases.
Magic Jigsaw Puzzles has stayed on top because the company is constantly updating it with new content and adding new intellectual property, such as Disney’s Pixar content. The content also appeals to a different kind of gamer, around 50 years old, that aren’t targeted as much as other demographics.
“This helps us differentiate from the competitors and to give unique content for our players,” Tishakov said.
The company also spends a lot of time spotting new trends and doing market research, searching for niches and genres to add to its portfolio.
“We are always observing trends and markets. We have a product marketing division, which is responsible for observing the trends, to see what’s new is coming and to be really flexible,” Tishakov said.
With the coronavirus, people have been making a lot fewer purchases. Ad monetization is becoming challenging and so it has to be balanced with in-app monetization, Tishakov said. As for hypercasual, it feels like the market is dying now, he said.
“We never actually worked with hypercasual games because when the trend has started, we analyzed it and understood that it’s not for us because we were working on more deep products,” Tishakov said. “We work on projects people play for a long time, like Magic Jigsaw Puzzles. People play for years.”
And part of the answer, during a time of market weakness and heavy competition, is to focus on intellectual properties such as the partners like Disney the company is working with.
The company watched the hypercasual games market take off and then stagnate due to changes in the ad market (Apple’s focus on user privacy over targeted ads). Tishakov saw this as one of the biggest changes of 2021, as it “seriously changed the layouts in advertising monetization and the purchase of traffic on the platform.”
He added, “But that gave us a clear vision that we need to (do in merging) monetizations models.”
That big change underscored the importance of diversification across platforms in pursuit of casual gamers, as well as the need to look beyond advertising-based business models. That means in-app purchases or subscriptions. It is also developing expertise in stores beyond iOS and Google Play.
“I would also like to note the gradual pressure on the platforms, which leads to a decrease in commissions for in-app purchases and subscriptions, as well as the emergence of new opportunities for using third-party billing,” Tishakov said. “This increases the importance of purchases in the lifetime value structure (including in our niche of casual games). It is not difficult to predict that the pressure on the platforms in this context will increase, which should lead to other industry easings.”
As with all mobile game companies, finding revenue in a crowded market will be ZiMad’s challenge. It will face platform changes and challenges in user acquisition. And there is increasing concentration as consolidation through acquisitions continues at a rapid pace. The company is considering its own acquisitions, and it is expanding its publishing services across various stores.
Back in 2020, ZiMad was looking to acquire a casual game that would seamlessly fit into its portfolio of board games. It acquired Domino Online, and since that time it tripled Domino Online’s player count and increased its ad revenue fivefold.
It encourages developers to focus on designing games for a core audience as well as testing the game frequently. To find and hang on to users, it has to engage in app store optimization techniques, paid ad campaigns on all platforms, and re-targeting campaigns for better engagement. The company is starting to expand its network on TikTok.
All monetization methods are worked out ahead of time in game development. The company is implementing more monetization models in some products. It is actively testing the subscription model for applications such as puzzles and coloring books.
“Other things we love are the combination of the quality of the product, its uniqueness, the connection between its characteristics, and the interests and motivations of the players — making great games is always a good solution to any global problems – people love to play games of a good quality with their families, relief stress and feel more relaxed,” Tishakov said.
The company has about five products in the pipeline, a couple which may launch in casual gaming markets in 2022. As it works with internal and external teams, it emphasizes that decisions aren’t made by a single boss, but rather teams of specialists from a variety of key departments. Beyond purchasing a product, the company will consider co-financing of development, promotion and marketing services.
As for the recession, Tishakov said, “We are facing new challenges quite bravely, as we know that, year to year, we have collected a team of market professionals who could be agile and flexible to tackle any market changes.”