Spotlight Interview: Loh Zi Hao from Mojo Forest

This might be the month of E3 and Steam Summer Sales, but we also have a new interview to share. Welcome to the stage: Loh Zi Hao from Mojo Forest! Based in sunny Singapore, Mojo Forest is a small tight-knitted development studio founded by three friends. Currently focused on developing games for iOS devices, the company is comprised of like-minded individuals with similar endeavors and a collective passion to create fun and addictive games. Let us see what the company has to say!

Check out their site – http://www.mojoforest.com/

 

Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself and your company. What is your role? What is your company about? What is your “origin” story?

Mojo Forest was founded around early 2011 by three co-founders, Morby & JianFei and me (Zi Hao). We are actually classmates from polytechnic. It was only after a few years that the three of us decided to quit our jobs to go full-time into game development ourselves.

 

Q: How does your company endure as a game studio in South-east Asia? What challenges did your company face when it first started?

When we first started, Facebook games were taking off in a big way. The mobile landscape was vastly different. Mobile games were mostly still Java games on feature phones but the iPhone was making its early inroads back then.

There weren’t any established methods of monetization for mobile then. Premium games were still common and largely viable. Rewarded ads didn’t exist then and in-app ad placements were simply banners and most of the time was encapsulated in a web canvas overlaid on top of the app itself. Pretty icky stuff.

Like most indie game developers, monetary issues are always present. We were fortunate to have funding from MDA for a few of our game projects, that definitely alleviated some of the financial issues we were experiencing.

 

A mobile game made by Mojo Forest for Singapore’s 50th birthday: Rickshaw Rush

 

Q: What are some of the common challenges your company face when developing or releasing a project? How are resources allocated or distributed?

As a small studio, we largely do everything ourselves so we have to know a little bit of everything: from development to analytics to marketing and more. Also, since we are low on headcount, we tend to focus on smaller scale games such as puzzle or arcade games. We simply couldn’t do a “Clash of Clans” styled game ourselves even if we wanted to; we’ll probably spend a long time working on it and the risk will be too large to consider.

 

Q: How does your company manage funding and recruitment?

We are entirely self-funded which is tricky because you don’t have a lot of cash to burn. As such we haven’t been actively looking to hire yet. However that hasn’t stopped us from working with freelancers or contractors for our games. So far it is largely with IMBA Interactive for our game audio. They’ve been very professional and the work that they’ve produced has been consistently top quality.

 

Q: How does your company conduct user testing?

We generally distribute our games via TestFlight and Google Play’s Beta Testing channels to our friends and a few of our more supportive fans. For our initial games, we had folks coming in to our premises for user testing, but found that it was ineffective and time-consuming. So far those platforms have served us well.

 

Q: How does your company handle marketing for your brand and your products?

We usually market via social media channels, primarily on Facebook. We also have a presence on Twitter and Instagram, but we aren’t as active as we’d hope to be on those channels.

Every once in a while, we try to organise some contests or activities via social networks. We recently concluded our ’12 Days of Giveaways’ during end December where we gave out Amazon gift cards daily for players to complete game-related tasks related to our games and share with their friends on Facebook.

But the one I remember most vividly is one event we did in 2013 at Manila for the build-up to the launch of 2Fuse Version 2.0. 2Fuse was already out about a year by then, and most of our players were from the Philippines. So we got a contact in the Philippines, provided him with a pre-release build, and had him make a stop around a few places in Metro Manila with a cameraman. Once we shared news about the event on Facebook, we were heartened to see our fans not only passionately sharing the news with others but also turning up to play and mingle with one another. Some fans even followed our crew throughout the entire trip. It was an eye-opening experience.

 

 Some of the games made by Mojo Forest (from left to right): 2Fuse, Beyond14, Groo and Clink.

 

Q: What is your company’s work environment like? Any quirks or interesting stories you would like to share?  

We’ve known each other since we were classmates back in polytechnic and each of us have an area of expertise so we’re pretty informal when we work. Every year, we try to organize a company overseas trip (but really, each of us just pay for our own share) and just went to Hong Kong last year. Usually we have some friends to ‘guest-join’ us for the boisterous trips, and we’ll always come back with some interesting tales!

 

Q: What are your views on the local game industry?

The local scene is getting more and more vibrant. I’m also seeing more new indie developers springing up. Generally, everyone is friendly and willing to share which is always nice to see. There’s quite a sense of camaraderie around the industry. I’m also glad that we have the big boys (Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, Koei Tecmo etc.) here locally to further add credibility and diversity to the local game industry.

 

Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to enter the local game industry?

Jumping in to game development is now much more easier than ever, but that also means that the competition is much more than ever before. You’ve spent all your effort and time on a game only to find out no one is playing it, simply because no one knows about it.

There really isn’t a one-size-fit-all magical solution to get downloads or purchases, unless you have lots of money to spend on user acquisition. Otherwise, it is really about creating a polished and gratifying gameplay experience and getting in touch with players. If you’re working on mobile platforms, following the platforms’ recommended guidelines and maintaining a high rating gives you a higher chance to be featured. And even if you failed, at least you’ve learnt something from that experience that can be carried over to your next game.

Also game development isn’t easy. Playing games and making games are worlds apart. I’ve seen many game projects fail to finish, most of the time because the process was longer and tougher than the creators expect it to be. The old adage is true: The last 10% of the project accounts for 90% of development time. You have to be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. If you’ve not done coding before, pick up some coding. Likewise, try to pick up Photoshop if you’re unfamiliar with it.

 

Q: If you have anything more that you would like to talk about, feel free to add them here.

Check out our FB page at http://www.facebook.com/mojoforest to find out more about our games!

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