Indie Spotlight – KANO/APPS Founder Interview (Part 1)
Posted by janhutchings
Facebook games are all the rage these days, and if you’ve ever played games like KANO/APPS’ Zombie Slayer, Mob Wars: La Cosa Nostra, Pirate Clan, then you know how addictive these games can be. They don’t have the most eye-popping graphics, but they’ve got the gameplay and huge (dedicated) communities behind them.
KANO/APPS is a mobile social gaming company based in my hometown of Victoria, Canada whose games have amassed hundreds of thousands of dedicated players from around the world. Their games foster communities and are some of the most addictive social/mobile games you’ll find around. I recently sat down with Tim Teh, one of the founding fathers of KANO/APPS to talk about the company, their games, and their choice on platforms.
Check out part 1 of our interview with Tim Teh after the break.
JTM Games: Hi Tim, could you tell us about KANO/Apps and the kinds of games you create?
Tim Teh: KANO/APPS is a social/mobile gaming company and we’ve been around since 2008. We’re headquartered in Victoria, British Columbia Canada, for four years now. It was founded by students of the Computer Science and Engineering program at UVIC (University of Victoria) so we’re all local. Our goal is to just grow a social gaming company and have a legacy behind a social gaming company in Victoria.
We’ve had the draw to move KANO/APPS to San Francisco and lots of people wanting to acquire us and move us there but it’s not in our interest to move. As a company we’re a bootstrap so we’re self-funded and we currently have five titles on the Facebook platform so our games are all browser-based titles. We’re also now moving into mobile games; so some of the games that we have available on Facebook are also available on Facebook Mobile.
As well, we have a new product called kanogames.com which is an online gaming portal. We currently have flash games there and we just released our first exclusive flash game called Run Robo Run which is a robot running game. We’re really excited about that product. In the next year, we’re working on what we call our “second generation social games” as well as some other mobile titles.
JTM Games: Could you talk about KANO/APPS’ company culture? It seems like a fun place to work!
Tim Teh: We have a really strong culture here; a gaming culture. I think we’re different from a lot of the Victoria companies in that we bring more of that start-up, high energy of a Bay Area company, where the culture is really fun and everybody is really behind making really cool products.
We make games, so it’s not that serious! (Laughs) We still have that beer Friday culture; and we do a lot of internal company “hacks” and a lot of team events to build the team together. I mean we see each other so much, we all really have to get along and work together.
JTM Games: Yourself, Eric Alpini, and Eric Haight started KANO/APPS together; why did you decide to start your own company instead of working at a big publisher like EA, Ubisoft, or Microsoft?
Tim Teh: We all met at university and after school we all went our separate ways and worked in different parts of the industry. We’ve always wanted to start our own thing together so while we were working in other companies, we were also moonlighting working on side web projects. When we had the opportunity to start KANO/APPS, we all jumped into it.
When we first started, we actually quit our jobs and we wrote a game engine, working out of each others condos. We went probably around six months with no revenue and not even sure if we were going to make any money doing this. We were lucky that we were able to be successful pretty quickly and grew from there.
We like the freedom of growing the direction of the company, not being a venture capital-funded company as well. It allows us to choose our own path. We have the ability to choose the direction for KANO/APPS and create the types of games and the types of experience that we want.
Our main purpose for creating KANO/APPS is to build a community around social gaming. A lot of companies focus on building a single product; we want to build many products that bring people together through gaming. We have single-player elements in our games, but what we’re really trying to do is build up friendships and social interactions through the games that we’ve created.
JTM Games: Why did you choose to be headquartered here in Victoria BC?
Tim Teh: A lot of us have lived in different places; one of my partners was living in Portland before starting KANO/APPS. We’ve been in Vancouver before as well. We all grew up up-island and we’ve been in Victoria on and off since we were in university. We just love it as a place to live; you have a city here with all the amenities but also in ten minutes you can be out biking, hiking up the mountains, snowboarding, kayaking, and lots of other activities. So for quality of life, Victoria presents such an interesting opportunity for us. And for us to be able to have a company here just makes it even better.
When we were in school, there weren’t that many choices to stay. For most people, after you finished school you try to find a job at a big company like Microsoft and move over to Seattle or get a job at Google in the Bay Area or something like that. But now, with technology as being the forefront of Victoria, there’s a lot more opportunities.
JTM Games: Given the state of the industry and where it’s heading, do you see more graduating students starting to work for independent companies like KANO/APPS rather than big publishers?
Tim Teh: Yeah, I think there’s definitely been a shift. With the rise of social and mobile gaming, you see a lot more indies. It’s more accessible to people and it doesn’t take these two-year cycles with muli-million dollar budgets to create console games.
Social gaming, to a point, is starting to move in that direction. Mobile gaming still has some problems around distribution; with getting your game actually seen because of the ranking of the app store. But we’re seeing a lot more smaller developers/indie developers creating games that are able to get traction, like us. We started out with only four of us, working out of a condo to build a game.
JTM Games: What classic and modern games have inspired the KANO/APPS team when creating your own games and universes?
Tim Teh: Lots of different games; we take inspiration from not only console games but pc games as well. Of course World of Warcraft. But we definitely look to board games; if you look at any of the KANO/APPs games, we don’t have high animation or crazy graphics, it’s really built around the social gameplay and the game mechanics. We spend a lot of time analyzing game mechanics, trying to figure out game play loops that people really enjoy and really get addicted to and that’s what we focus on.
As far as inspiration, there’s tons of different inspiration points that we look to; personally I play a lot of mobie/casual games and I’m a really big fan of simple but addictive games like Bejeweled Blitz, Scrabble, board and puzzle games.
JTM Games: Because of your focus on social gaming, was it an easy choice for you to go with Facebook as your main platform?
Tim Teh: Actually when we first started, most people were either targeting one of two social networks: that was Facebook and Myspace. When we released our first game, we created a game engine that allowed us to quickly port to both so when we released our first game we released it to both Facebook and Myspace as well as Hi-5 which is now defunct. So as far as platforms for social gaming go, Facebook is definitely the number one and if you’re a new developer that’s probably where you’d want to focus because that’s where all the eyeballs are right now.
There’s also a number of different social networks external to North America that are pretty big. But we’ve primarly targetted English-speaking countries, so North America, the UK, and Australia.
JTM Games; Do you see KANO/APPS porting your games to different platforms in the near future? Like mobile or even game consoles?
Tim Teh: Yeah we’re definitely interested on the mobile side. I was just at Casual to Connect, which is a big gaming conference, where I was talking to a lot of people and saw that a there’s a new push is to actually push gaming to TV sets. So there’s TV sets that have their own app stores that you can download games from and play right on your TV and I found that really interesting.
As far as us, we have the engineering and the framework to be able to port to a number of different platforms. We’re going to go where it makes sense for us; so where the eyeballs are. Right now, that is Facebook. Google Plus is definitely interesting, but I don’t think it’s quite there yet.
*END Part 1 of Interview*
In the next part of the interview, Tim will be discussing KANO/APPS’ recipe for making fun and successful games, the fremium and free-to-play models, and maybe even some projects that the company will be releasing in the near future.
If you’re interested in trying out KANO/APPS games, check out their game catalogue.
If you’re interested in working for this up and coming independent game studio, check out their job postings.