The resilience of a Canadian game developer that lost a founding product – that was resonating in Australia – to a blatant copycat serves as a valuable lesson of how to survive online.
XMG Studio is based in Toronto, Canada. Forged from the creative talents of a teenager and a few key players that saw the emerging potential of mobile gaming, the company’s first big hit was Drag Racer: Pro Tuner.
VP of game development Adam Telfer designed the game, which is now one of a suite that XMG develops. He’s currently in his mid-20s, but came up with the original design when he was 15.
Drag Racer struck a chord with gamers because it allowed them to tune their cars and update them, rather than simply selecting the best Ferrari available and flooring it.
Fifty per cent of the downloads for the original version of Drag Racer were generated in the US. Eleven per cent of them came from Australia, a figure the developer finds absolutely staggering considering the population difference.
Entering in the IP cheat codes
But suddenly their magic formula was hijacked by a company called Creative Media. They’re based in Tallin, Estonia, which is on the other side of the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki.
Creative Media now boasts that it’s incarnation of the game generated over a million downloads in its first week. Their progress is something XMG has watched very closely.
“Creative Mobile looked at our Drag Racer franchise, saw its performance, and altered the brand and the game slightly and launched as freemium,” Telfer tells Technology Spectator.
What the Estonians did was release ‘Drag Racing’ as opposed to ‘Drag Racer’. It’s effectively the same product with slightly slicker graphics, flappy paddles instead of a proper gear stick and launched it as a freemium product. Somehow, they also managed to launch it with the official brands of
Imitation is the best form of flattery, but sometimes it isn’t very satisfying.
XMG, for what it’s worth, has moved on. A new version of the game, Drag Racer World, was released internationally at the start of this month.
“We have adjusted quickly. With Drag Racer World, we have delivered a better product that will not just compete, but will leap frog all the competition,” says Tilfer, confidently.
“Our focus is bringing that multiplayer and community experience onto mobile that will make it exceptionally easy for players to race each other, compete to be better, and build race teams amongst like-minded drag racing fans.”
If this to-and-fro says anything about the digital age it’s that constant development, regardless of your industry, is crucial because good ideas can be so easily replicated and given a bit of extra gas.
The sentiment is perfectly encapsulated by a particular quote from the character of Mark Zuckerberg in the David Fincher movie The Social Network. Today, there are fewer barriers and protections afforded to developers and if someone sees a chink in their armour, there’s much more room to exploit it.
“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook,” said Jesse Einberg as Zuckerberg. The sentiment being that an unformed idea is not intellectual property and the race to win internet surfers over isn’t over until the winner says so.
The most crucial difference between this example and XMG is that they’d already brought a product to the floor that customers liked. Zuckerberg, at least according to the movie, pinched an idea that admittedly wasn’t his, but he had a much better idea of what to do with it than it’s inventors. Although it might also turn out to be that opting for a freemium model, while not excusing their unoriginal design, was a crucial move by Creative.
It's not Game Over yet...
The battle is not over between XMG and Creative and Australian users have been more loyal to XMG than others around the world. Aussie user retention for XMG’s game is 24 per cent above the global average. We also spend more money in the game than our international counterparts as well.
But reclaiming the ascendancy in the drag niche will be no easy task for the Canadians. Hence, the company is not fixated solely on the achievements that could be consigned to the past.
Perhaps its greatest prospect is the Fashion Star Boutique (FSB), released just before the international launch of Drag Racer World.
As the name might imply, the game allows players to run their own fashion boutique. You design the clothes based on a brief from the client and incentives are added along the way.
It’s obviously targeted at women, but therein lies the potential for its success.
The gaming world has historically struggled with the development of games that appeal to the fairer sex – the unfair sex is very well catered for.
Perhaps the greatest irony down the track for XMG might be hidden in the whole reason why men opt for real drag racing in the first place.
It’s to win the attention of women. XMG has decided to go after them with something they really want.