Developing for Japan from China: an interview with the makers of Gem Wizard
December 16, 2013
Games in Asia

Games in Asia:

Every day, Asian game companies release new games for iOS and Android into the market. Getting your game noticed and ranked becomes more challenging each day. I sat down with Samson Mow, who is the CEO and co-founder of Pixelmatic (a mobile app developer based in Shanghai that has released its debut game in the Japanese market). Mow comes from Canada but prior to founding his company, he worked for Ubisoft China in Chengdu and Shanghai. He just recently launched Gem Wizard in Japan and we wanted to have a short chat with him about the experience of being a mobile game developer in Asia.

FY: So what’s your game about?

SM: Gem Wizard is a match-3 game centered on “gem popping” blitz gameplay in 60 second rounds. Gem Wizard blends match-3 with traditional RPG item collection and crafting to give players a deeper experience. The setting is in a fantasy world of wizardry where players collect gems and magic weapons to help them master gem magic. Players can compete with their friends in a weekly battle tournament and also help each other by sending gifts.

FY: Who is the target of your game?

Gem Wizard is a casual-core title that appeals to people that love the match-3 genre and want something with a bit more depth. I believe match-3 skills are transferable, just like the skillset players hone in RTS or MOBA games, and that players who’ve reached a certain level of mastery in match-3 games will want to play more of them. It’s similar to how RTS players will keep on sticking to RTS games instead of jumping to FPS.

FY: Why as a Chinese based company did you release in Japan first?

There were two main reasons for launching in Japan first. Japan is the most mature gaming market in the world with very high expectations from players, so it’s a big bonus to launch in Japan and get local player feedback which we can iterate upon. The other reason is that Gem Wizard is not your typical casual game; it has some complex elements drawn from traditional core games such as item combining and upgrading. However, players in Japan are well familiarized with those kinds of systems in card battlers and games like Puzzle & Dragons.

FY: How did the launch go?

The launch went very well thanks to the support of 6waves and Mobage; 6waves did a great job of getting us coverage in the Japanese media. So far we’ve released one minor patch for some SDK updates, and have another one on the way with some balance adjustments to improve the crafting system.

FY: What games do you like?

Back in the day, I used to play StarCraft and Warcraft III semi-competitively, Unreal Tournament, and Lineage II. These days, I enjoy mobile games that can deliver deeper experiences on the go and preferably have a strong social element – currently I’m playing Gem Wizard, Clash of Clans, and Candy Crush Saga, while Kingdom Rush Frontiers on my to-do list.

FY: What’s challenging about being a developer?

For us, it’s finding the right people to join our team. We’re looking for a certain profile – someone that is very driven and devoted to doing quality work, has a T-shaped skill set, and is multilingual. That makes it harder for us to hire because we try to hit all three points.

FY: Biggest lessons learned?

Social mobile games are far more challenging to build than social web games; when I was with Ubisoft and produced The Smurfs & Co., it only took us 4 months to go from concept to launch. For mobile, there are a lot of systems you have to build in order to support the social experience, especially for cross platform games like Gem Wizard. On top of that, despite using Unity, there’s a great deal of native iOS and Android customization you end up having to handle in Objective-C and Java.

FY: Given resources and time, what kind of game would you like to build next and why?

If we had the resources, we’d like to go back to strategy games and create something closer to the mid-core side. Right now we’re concepting a 3D space combat strategy game with a directed narrative – so that means we give players directions and the story unfolds based on the outcome of how they fare in game. The scope is quite massive so we’re talking to some potential partners to see if we can make it happen. That aside, we have an interesting endless runner prototype that we want to explore further and bring to messaging platforms.

From: Francisco Yu