Our first game was called Gunshine.net. It was a real-time massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Remember, our original vision was to create cross-platform gaming services, so the idea was that one day players would be able to enter the world of Gunshine via desktop web, Facebook, tablet and mobile. That said, we had to start from somewhere, and the most logical place was the platform with the widest reach. And at that time, that platform was desktop web and Facebook, so we started to build the game on top of Flash technology.
We managed to launch the private beta version of Gunshine in February 2011, and the open beta launched a few months later. We also started to plan a mobile/tablet version of the game. At its peak in the summer of 2011, Gunshine had around half a million monthly players.
Unfortunately, we slowly started to realize that Gunshine just wasn’t delivering on our original product vision. There were three reasons why.
Most importantly, despite their initial excitement, players were getting bored with the game after a month or two. The sad truth was that this was not a game that anyone would play for years.
It was too hard to get into the game if you hadn’t played similar types of games before. This game would never become a mass-market phenomenon; a game that would have an impact on the lives of millions of people. Despite all our hard work, we realized Gunshine just wasn't going to be the game we had dreamed of.
Falling in love with mobile
When we started planning a mobile version of Gunshine, it quickly became clear that the experience wouldn't be great on the mobile platform. It was too hard to try to replicate the mouse/keyboard experience on touch screens. Also, we realized people play differently on desktop than they do on mobile. Mobile games have to be fun even if you only have a few minutes to play. Gunshine wasn’t.
It also became clear that our problem wasn’t just with Gunshine. We had a big problem with our product strategy, too.
One day, when playing around with some iPads we had ordered to the office, we noticed how all of us had fallen in love with this device. We started to call it “the ultimate games platform”. And we started to understand just how different this platform truly was; if we really wanted to create the best possible games for this platform we could focus on nothing else.
To make matters even more complicated, we had already begun developing the next wave of games, which were still aligned with our original cross-platform strategy.
The time had come to make some hard decisions. We decided to kill all ongoing productions for web and Facebook and bet the entire company on a strategy that we started to call “tablet first”. We started by perfecting the game for iPad. We would modify it later for smartphones. As time passed, we shifted our strategy to “mobile first” as smartphones have grown and it became increasingly difficult to distinguish them from tablets. Today it’s clear that this was the right decision, but in the fall of 2011 it was less obvious.
Probably the hardest decision at the time was killing a game with the codename Magic. We had a passionate five-member team working on that game day and night for nearly six months straight, and we were all really excited about it. It looked amazing, and it was a game that had never been seen before on Facebook. But in the end we killed it and started to work on something new for tablets. What makes this story a classic is that it was the Magic team that ultimately developed Clash of Clans, which, funnily enough, was also codenamed Magic before getting its official name.