This Filipino Game Developer Racked Up 50M Global Downloads In His First Breakout Mobile App
Life for this ordinary game developer was simple, until he got frustrated with only imagining what it’s like to manage a food cart business.
He then made an app, called Street Food Tycoon, that could “simulate” the experience of running his own business.
But little did he know that his app would soon become a worldwide phenomenon.
When Passion Pays
Erick Garayblas, the founder of this said app, started his journey in the gaming industry with the intent of only making it a hobby. And never did he imagine that his app would reach 50 million active users and become an incredible source of passive income.
“The moment I realised it was a viable decision was when I made money from home,” he said.
Before pursuing game development, Garayblas was formerly a cartoonist. Later in 2007, after his stint at making mobile games for a failed startup on Palm OS, (Microsoft) Pocket PC and Symbian platforms, he decided to venture out on his own and create Kuyi Mobile.
“Back then I considered it a hobby because I enjoyed playing video games, and was always curious about how games were made,” he said.
Armed with a background in programming, he leveraged his skills to perfect his apps and boost his success rate.
“As my passion grows, I eventually decided to leave my day job and venture into doing games full-time.”
To date, Garayblas has been in the gaming industry for about 17 years. Two of his biggest breakout apps are Pocket Arcade and Streetfood Tycoon, and both have gained multiple praises and millions of downloads worldwide.
The Early Stage
According to Garayblas, developing a game were especially difficult for low to middle-class earners as there weren’t any cheap or free third-party applications that they can tap on.
Every essential software for game developers are instead sold at the direct market for a premium price.
He added that during the late ’90s and the early ’00s in the Philippines, gaming did not have a huge traction.
Associations like GDAP (Game Developers Association of the Philippines) and IGDA Manila (International Game Developers Association Manila chapter) that could help the community in improving the gaming industry were lacking.
There also weren’t any schools that offer gaming-related courses, seminars, or even books about game development that could help him back then.
The local community was non-existent at the time and I had to rely on online forums so I can chat with foreign game developers and exchange knowledge.
After spending some time on in-depth research, Kuyi Mobile – the company that he solely built – was able to make their very first game.
Called ‘Card Drop’, this fast-paced solitaire game was designed to entertain people with low attention spans.
Since there were no free games at that time, Garayblas was encouraged to put a price on his app and market it online for profit.
The game debuted on the Apple Store in early 2008 at a price of $0.99.
For a newly-released product, the market responded very well to it, said Garayblas.
“This served as a motivation for me to up my skills and the quality of my games, and to eventually make more over the years,” he added.
Although it was a good start, it did not serve as a significant turning point for his company.
The Real Turning Point
But when he released Streetfood Tycoon, there was a huge fanfare over it and this really propelled him to worldwide recognition.
The mechanics of the game is actually really simple. The player acts as the manager of a food cart business, and you simply have to drag food around to complete orders, before collecting your pay.
But what stands out here is the “concept of urgency,” said Garayblas.
“In this game, you have to complete the orders of your customers as fast as you can or you will end up losing them. And this is what makes people so hooked to this game!”
This game has since been acknowledged by multiple gaming organisations, both locally and internationally, including Best Handheld/Mobile Game Award at the Philippines Game Development Festival Annual Awards in 2012.
“Making and releasing Streetfood Tycoon was a life-changing event for me,” said Garayblas.
“I never imagined this feeling would resonate with millions of players all over the globe and eventually become viral,” he added.
Thanks to this global success, he has since decided to make a sequel called ‘Streetfood Tycoon: World Tour”.
It has the same concept of the original game, but with an added bonus. Players now have the privilege of franchising their food cart business around the world, and they can also choose what type of street food they want to sell in their digital business cart.
Road to Gaming Superstardom
Despite the overwhelming success of Streetfood Tycoon, Garayblas still wasn’t satisfied.
Together with fellow game developer Allen Tan of Monstronauts, the two made another hit app called Pocket Arcade.
The two worked tirelessly to turn their vision into reality and early this year, the app was finally released on Google Play Store.
In less than a week it saw a million game downloads, and right now, the app has garnered over 3 million downloads.
“Pocket Arcade is very dear to me primarily because I really enjoyed playing at local physical arcades like Timezone and Tom’s World,” he said.
“I wouldn’t consider it successful because other games have plenty more downloads than Pocket Arcade. But it’s a good first step! Not too many developers get a chance to reach a million downloads these days because of the tough competition,” he added.
He reiterated that there are hundreds of applications released in the market every day. That said, being on top of the visibility range is no easy task, especially for solo developers such as himself.
In order not to drown in the sea of apps, Garayblas said being “unique” is key.
“[Developers] need to have a sense of innovation that can set them apart from everybody else. They also need to follow up with the latest trends in the industry, such as AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality).”
“We now have smartphones that can turn into a VR headset, enabling users to play realistically-themed mobile games. Pokemon Go is one example of a really popular mobile game that takes advantage of augmented reality, and this game is played by non-gamers too.”
Start Small, Dream Big
Although the cost of game development isn’t as expensive back when Garayblas started, he insists that newbie game developers should still continue to push through with their app idea.
They should always remember to start small, but dream big, he advised.
“Up till now, I still work in the comfort of my own home and collaborate with my team online,” he said.
“This setup has worked for us over the years and I still never considered growing my team or getting an office. Our system and process allow us to work more fluidly and constantly support each other. We rely heavily on milestones, and we make sure our prototypes are finished in a month or two, before validating it and moving forward from there.”
“We don’t do outsourcing or offer other services because we want to focus on making our own games at Kuyi Mobile.”
Commenting on the gaming landscape in the Philippines, Garayblas holds a very positive outlook.
I think the local game industry is still in its early stages but it’s growing fast. We’re getting more and more support from the government, third-party independent bodies, foreign investors and even schools.