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Laying the foundations

Andrew Hughes, CEO and co-founder of AbZorba Games, discusses the social casino operator’s story so far in an interview for the Social Casino Intelligence magazine.

Social Casino Intelligence (SCi): Congratulations on celebrating Abzorba Games’ three-year anniversary. What have been some of the highlights during that period?

Andrew Hughes (AH): It’s difficult to pinpoint all the highlights. When we were a start-up, with the world collapsing around us in 2007, we decided to launch the company in Greece which itself was a highlight. Some called us stupid, some called us brave and some called us things you can never repeat, but we did it because the core technology and partners that we built AbZorba out of were based there originally and I’ve known my co-founding partners for many years.

Starting the company in Greece was a big challenge in perception more than anything else. The talent is there, the technology is there, it’s extremely competitive in terms of salaries and values, so for a start-up it was obvious to us to continue that. We raised angel funding out of London, six months out of launching, which was also a highlight for us because angel funding into Greece from London was non-existent at that stage.

SCi: How difficult was it to get the necessary funding to launch the company?

AH: It was surprisingly quick and consisted of a 10-minute conversation in a rainy car park with a brown envelope containing our business plan. Our seed funder came back in twice, extending his angel funding, as he saw the vision and respected me personally as he knew that this was my fourth mobile start-up. We only had one game at that point which was multiplayer blackjack on Android when everyone else was doing Facebook which was really quite something in those early days as there were very few companies doing anything on mobile.

We wanted to build the team and capitalise on our mobile-first strategy which has allowed the company to accelerate. Now everyone is piling into mobile and we’ve got a good head-start, particularly on Android on which we got a really high ranking in our first seven months. We’ve built the team out on Android, we’ve since built the team out on iOS and now all our games are on both operating systems. We’re heading very quickly to the five million mark for our install base but the highlight has been building out the business in a very meaningful and steady way while also being profitable for some time now.

SCi: Has iOS caught up to Android yet in terms of revenues?

AH: Android is very interesting because it monetises approximately twice as well but we are starting to see an even spread between Android and iOS these days. As we celebrate our three-year anniversary we have had an upgrade, we’re calling it the games 2.0, which is a long-term plan to launch new features within our game to monetise better and improve the KPIs. As a result of that we’re seeing month-on-month increases in revenues in the region of 25% and 30%. We’ve seen how we understand our gamers over that three-year period such as launching mini-games but also our unique avatar builder. With all those pieces put together we’re seeing a massive increase in all the KPIs which resulted in a huge July for AbZorba.

SCi: Do you have any plans to launch beyond the four core games in AbZorba’s portfolio?

AH: There are two areas we are working very strongly on now. Firstly, the upgrading and evolution of the games is an ongoing process for the next three to four months and every several weeks we are releasing updates, sometimes on a weekly basis. That’s going to greatly enhance, improve and expand what the games themselves are doing.

In addition, we have a partnership program with Tango which has proved very successful. It’s expanded from having just blackjack to taking all our games and we continue to enjoy a really strong relationship as we’ve worked together to bring all the advancements to their games as we have in ours.

SCi: Do you plan to sign more deals like this in the future?

AH: We just signed a deal with PlayPhone which is a distribution partner but less white label and co-branded than Tango. We’ve also signed with a Japanese distribution partner which is exactly like the Tango partnership. It’s very exciting because we will be using a Japanese local virtual currency in the game which is a great opportunity as we’ve already seen that the Japanese gamers within our ecosystem monetise very well and particularly enjoy playing games like roulette.

We’re speaking with a Chinese lottery company now, which we will be able to announce in the near future, who we are doing a JV and white-label agreement with. Asia has really come on strong both in terms of our games and partner potential. For downloads we’re seeing Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in particular record really strong numbers. We’re now looking at how we culturalise and localise our games.

SCi: Do you have any plans to launch on Facebook?

AH: We don’t have any games on Facebook currently but we plan to bring the Facebook canvas into play and we’re recruiting right now to do that. It’s very different to trying to build a mobile game once you’ve been on Facebook but I think it’s less of a challenge the other way around. We’ve also got some new games we are calling Project X to launch in Q1 next year which are not in the casino genre but will still appeal to those kind of players.

SCi: What trends are you currently seeing in the social casino space?

AH: There’s a lot of consolidation in the market at very different levels. The deals recently involving the likes of IGT, GTECH and Amaya are bringing some really interesting equations into play. I think that’s having ramifications on social casino as well and we’re seeing a rapid consolidation in the space. The chatter of whether social casino players convert to real-money has really died down as it’s become obvious that successful social games in the casino genre can bring in significant revenues on their own.

SCi: What impact is this increased consolidation having on the market?

AH: I think every profitable company is having goodconversations. The industry is consolidating because user acquisition costs are being driven up and if you aren’t able to have that retention factor and those KPIs that allow you to make money, you’re going to fall away and sadly we’ve already seen some of the early start-up operators disappear.

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