Nearly nineteen million people in Poland identify as “gamers” — approximately half of the country’s population. And, with over 400 active gaming studios plugging away at hundreds of new titles, Poland’s video game and esports market will climb its way to a projected $850 million over the next four years (from $664 million in 2019).
As some in the industry would say, “it’s a secret to everybody” who has only been keeping an eye on the big names from China, Japan and the U.S, but things are already changing and fast.
Enter Michał Reczkowicz, CEO & Founder of Prime Bit Games, an indie creator and publisher of mobile, computer, and console games based in Rzeszów, Poland. To date, he over 30 titles under his belt and a slew of white label projects for major corporate names.
“Our whole team is ambitious, young, and skilled,” Michał says of his 16-person studio. “Some of the guys have already been working with me for 10 years.”
Two years ago, Prime Bit Games unlocked a major milestone by going public on NewConnect, a Polish alternative stock exchange developed specifically for “young, dynamic Polish companies that need equity to tap the potential of innovation.”
We recently Zoomed with Michał to find out how he built his company from scratch, his game development strategy, and where he thinks the mobile gaming market is going. Stay awhile and listen! Our conversation has been edited for length.
You started out doing game development on a contract basis for other companies and then branched out into creating your own titles. Tell us about that.
I built the company from scratch, and had no serious money at the beginning. It was really hard to get enough capital from investors to develop and scale any product. To be honest, I still sometimes think I don’t want to deal with outside funding.
Getting contracts was great because it gives you loads of experience and capital that you can then use to develop your own products. We’re getting more and more money from our own projects now, which makes us more self-sufficient, and which means we depend much less on our B2B clients.
My investors are me and my team but — most importantly — our clients. I place an emphasis on the thinking that we have to work alone for our success. If there’s a strategic investor who can help us, it will have to be someone with a very particular set of attributes and business skills.
What’s your strategy for developing your own games?
In past few years, we’ve created games that we thought were cool and should sell — we both failed and succeeded. We had games that were selling very well at first, and then often stopped for some reason.
Now we have a few products that sell but we’re still gaining experience and analyzing the market very thoroughly: How are users playing the game? Why do they like it? Why do they pay and why don’t they? The list goes on.
I would say that, in previous years, we developed more free-to-play games. Now we create fewer games, but they’re more premium. We have bigger budgets, and we’ve already done games for Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.
Currently we’re developing a game called Clash 2. The studio that created the original game 20 years ago went bust. We bought the license and found an investor for 1M PLN [$250K]. The game will be premium, and will be sold for $15. It’s a new quality for our studio and a big leap forward from what we were working on before. I honestly believe it will be a success — we just need 30 thousand games sold to break even. In the future, if the budgets are there, we’ll get involved in even bolder projects.
Do you think it’s better to go by way of paid games or micro-transactions?
The free-to-play mobile game market with micro-transactions is very tough and tight. Of course, you can create additional revenue from ads, but that’s not predominant. In reality, only a small number of apps or mobile games make good money.
There are a lot of games on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, but there’s just no way to get through. Even if you have a great product, they’re not going to promote you. You don’t have millions of downloads, reviews, or transactions, and you have to work for it yourself. It costs a terrifying amount of money — millions of dollars — and we cannot afford that at this time. That’s why we strategize in a different way.
What’s your most popular game to date?
I can’t talk about the games that we made under contract, but our biggest production so far — before the Clash 2 game that’s still in production — was the game Magic Nations. The ROI on this one is very high. It’s a multiplayer cross-platform game. You can play it on any device with users from around the globe.
We can also claim a certain level of success with our old game, Freddy Adventure, that won multiple competitions and broke even before it was published. All the prizes we got really pushed sales forward, but this was back in 2013–2014. When it comes to the game that made us the most money, it would definitely be Dark Tower. It’s 7 years old and still going strong.
Our most popular game that’s still being downloaded all the time is Caveman Chuck. Gamers made this game hype-driven by posting videos on YouTube. Those videos have thousands, sometimes millions, of views, and that’s reflected daily in the thousands of organic downloads. On the flip side, it doesn’t create a lot of revenue so, from time to time, we try to gently change the financial model.
Where are your clients?
On mobile, and Android mostly. Physically our clients are in China, India, Brazil…I started with clients from there, but they don’t pay the best. We mostly create revenue in the US, the UK, and Germany. Russia and Turkey are recently on the rise. But, as I said before, the mobile game market is very tight. It’s better to develop for Nintendo Switch, which is very profitable, and Xbox and Steam — although Steam is getting crowded too.
Have you thought about creating a game specifically for the Polish market?
There are companies that specialize in just that, and we have just one project like this with a partner. It’s an adventure game called Weekendowe Przygody [Weekend Adventures], and it’s designed to help overcome alcohol addiction.
It’s been backed by the mayor of Rzeszów and local authorities in the city, and is designed for use in schools. Sales of the product slowed because of Covid-19, but we’ve already seen the numbers rebounding.
Are there any advantages to having your company located in southeastern Poland?
That’s a very interesting question. I studied and worked in Vienna, but then decided to come back to Rzeszów for various reasons, like the cheaper labor. What I mean by that is that compensation is adequate to the cost of living, which is significantly smaller compared to Warsaw or Vienna.
There are multiple grants and a lot of support you can get from the EU and government agencies. People here want to make it and I love that spirit. We have a good pool of talent and, as you already know, we also created it ourselves. Asseco is from here, and other big players have their branches. It’s also very green and calm. If people say that ‘there’s traffic,’ it means 30 minutes maximum.
What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make as a founder?
It’s always firing people. I’ve had to do it multiple times for different reasons but it’s definitely the most stressful.
What do you see happening to the future of the mobile game market?
Each year there are more users and games. The growing trend is now boosted by the pandemic. As long as there is no significant decrease in the population, there will be more and more demand, especially with the rising need for simulators that can teach us things like flying, driving, etc. Also, people like to impersonate someone they couldn’t be in real life, for example, a drug dealer [laughs]. Or they want to have a survival adventure. All of those will keep the industry very active, and it’ll thrive even more.
There was a time when all gaming was done on a PC. Then came the popularity of the mobile device. Now I see that people play on mobile occasionally but want to have a real ‘hardcore’ experience on the PC or console. It’s getting balanced again, but the question is: Where is the money? It all depends on what segment you want to find yourself in. When it comes to mobile, the competition is huge — it’s a fight for the client’s time.
When it comes to PC and consoles, it’s a bit better. As a client, when you feel the urge to play, you usually have a plan. Seeking great adventure, you buy a specific game that might take you as long as 160 hours to complete. For a good game, a client will pay from $10 to $100, and even more than that for a great fresh game.
As the market grows, the technology is changing. The recent premiere of Unreal Engine 5 gives the whole industry more possibilities that we really want to explore. I also see the market shifting more to real video games, like The Witcher or Tomb Raider.
Since you mentioned investors earlier, what kind of investor are you looking for and what would you do with the funding?
Primarily I would scale my business. I want our products to be sold all around the world, and more capital would allow me to enter Asian markets like Japan or China. Entering those markets is hard and expensive, but we’re already working on it. We’re also considering investors from the US because we want to establish our presence there.
We’ve always had our eye on the US and western Europe, places where I have much appreciation for how people do business. Most of the things we currently do are aimed at the US. I appreciate the investors from Poland, but some of them lack the experience. Raising capital is great, but right now for us, having business experience and a network are the most important. No money will ever give you what right person at the right time can do.
1. Fave takeout order: Kebab / gyro
2. First video games played: Pegasus (Mario Bros), Playstation Famicon (Final Fantasy VII), PC (Diablo, Settlers 3)
3. Most-prized hardware: Dell (Ultrabook)
4. Childhood pets: Szarik (dog) & Malina (cat)
5. iOS or Android: iOS
Caveman Chuck Adventure: All Bosses Gameplay for Android & iOS