6 Waves is one of the most successful social game companies you may never have heard of, with over 40 – 50 million monthly average users (MAU’s) and hit social games such as Mall World, Critter Island, and Kingdoms of Camelot. We spoke to Jim Ying of 6Waves about their unique publishing model, global gaming trends, and the future of social games.

What is 6Waves and how did you get started?

While 6waves was founded in early 2008, we saw an opportunity to focus on publishing in 2009 and so we began partnering with game developers to grow quickly and monetize their games. Today, 6waves is the largest independent publisher of games on Facebook. We have published over 30 games in 15 languages and have a network of over 45-50 million MAU’s.

As a social games publisher, what is the value proposition and services you offer game developers instead of going it alone? Do you ever plan to develop your own games?

Most developers approach us initially to tap into our network of users, but we also help localize their games in up to 8 or 9 different languages, monetize through a range of global payment providers and host their games. In addition, we also spend a significant sum in Facebook advertising for our published titles since typically developers cannot put significant cash resources into marketing their games.

We have a couple of legacy games and viral apps, but we have fully shifted over to the publishing side of the social game ecosystem. That independent status is what makes us appealing to many developers because they can be confident that we will never clone their game. And speaking of cloning, every developer in the industry pretty much understands that if they come out with quality title, it’s only a matter of time before someone clones it. Therefore, it’s critically important that they get as many users as possible before clones enter the market. 6waves has the network size, ad budgets and expertise to help developers secure as much as the market as possible in a short amount of time. With Kingdoms of Camelot and Mall World, both were first in their genre to launch on Facebook. Since then, very similar games have been launched by big players, but these two games are still the market leaders in their genre because we helped them jump out to an early lead.

What do you look for when you pick games to publish?

We look to partner with the very best developers worldwide. We like to look at more niche games that are innovative and try something new. Because we partner with developers in sharing the risk, we don’t have to focus on the safe bets or clones of successful games. We published Kingdoms of Camelot when people didn’t think a ‘hardcore’ game wouldn’t work on Facebook. Also, when we published Mall World, it was one of the first games that specifically targeted the female demographic on Facebook.

Think of us as the Miramax of the social games space, publishing the Pulp Fiction’s and Clerk’s of the world (but without all the big egos and drama). We can take games that have uncertain futures and, through our marketing, distribution and targeting, help turn them into blockbusters.

Mall World has been your most popular game on Facebook to date. Can you give us any insights what has made Mall World so successful?

The success of Mall World was a combination of a great game targeting an untapped audience and our powerful publishing network. The developer really understood their target audience and built a game that was a pioneer in the social games space for focusing in on the female demographic. Partner that with our huge distribution network and localization capabilities and we were able to together grow it to the 4.5 million+ MAU game that it is today.

At the end of the day, for our published games to be successful in the long term, it needs to be a good game. We can drive all the traffic in the world to a game, but if it isn’t fun and doesn’t retain users, it’s not going to be grow. On the flip side, without the vast flow of users that we can funnel towards a game, a quality title can flounder without users because discoverability is a big challenge.

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We’ve noticed more traditional video game genres and themes coming to social games. Why do you this trend is happening?

As the quality bar for social games rises, studios are bringing on more experienced designers from traditional video games and those designers are bringing over the genres and themes that they are familiar with. Also, I think some of it is due to that fact that you have more of the traditional game developers and publishers looking at the social games space. They’ve seen the growth of the market and they are leveraging their previous experience and know-how to try and pivot into social games.

You localize and market games in over 15 languages and countries. Based on your experience, what are the most interesting and fastest growing markets worldwide?

The vast majority of games you see on Facebook are in English only, but there’s a large pool of users that either can’t or prefer not to play games in English. We help developers tap into those markets quickly and with minimal effort on their part. As to which languages are most interesting, that’s a fine balance of what languages have the largest user bases and which ones actually monetize. For example, Indonesia and Turkey are #3 and #4 in terms of user numbers on Facebook, but those are very challenging countries to monetize in.

You are personally focused on North America. What are your predictions for the social gaming market in North America and how does it differ from worldwide?

I am based in San Francisco, but because Facebook is a global platform, we don’t really focus too much on how North American gaming tastes differ from the rest of the world. Of course there are things like monetization rates and ad CPI’s that differ, but a quality game will attract users across the globe.

Being based in North America is more for the purposes of finding quality developers to partner with. While we have development partners from all over the world, we do find that North America, and in particular the San Francisco Bay area, has a deep pool of talented social game developers.

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What do you think about Disney’s recent purchase of Playdom? How important do you think brands will be in social gaming?

I think it’s great that the big media and distribution companies are investing in the space. It further validates the efforts and focus that everyone working in social gaming has made. More investment will hopefully lead to better games and better experiences for consumers.

To date, games have been successful in getting big without the help of brands, but increasingly, I think we’ll see brands start to play a larger role in social gaming. Similar to virality or ad spend, brands are just another way to attract new users to games. With the decrease in user virality and the increase in ad CPI’s, brands will be a good way for games to acquire users efficiently.

What is meaning behind name of 6Waves?

That’s a company secret. We only disclose that to employees and partner developers. Kind of like the Shaolin Kung Fu manuals.

What are your favorite games you are playing right now?

You mean besides all the ones that we publish? :)

I actually play a wide range of games. Since we are approached by so many developers with significantly different games, I end up playing a little bit of everything. I’ve played the first 5 minutes of so many games that I could probably design one hell of a 5-minute game.

That said, one game that we don’t publish that I finding myself going back to is Backyard Monsters. It’s a great looking game that has a surprising amount of replayability once you get to the higher levels and they keep coming out with creative content to keep the game fresh.

If you can look into a crystal ball, what predictions do you have for social gaming in the next year?

I think we’ll see further consolidation as smaller developers who have difficulty gaining traction for their games exit the market or get absorbed by bigger players. With the amount of investment coming into the space and greater development resources spent on new releases, we’ll also continue to see an increase in the quality of social games. The challenge is that with fewer players and larger game budgets, we may fall into the same trap that the console gaming business has fallen into, where the majority of releases are either sequels of existing IP’s or other safe bets.

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6Waves is headquartered in Hong Kong but you are based in San Francisco, 2 world-class cities. Which is your favorite city?

That’s a tough one. Both cities have great food and there’s always something going on. At this point in my life, I’d probably choose San Francisco since my wife and I just had a kid and it’s easier to get around San Francisco with a car and stroller (I can’t believe that’s my rationale‚Ķ). I’d definitely recommend spending some time in Hong Kong to anyone though. I lived there for two years and had a blast.