How I Hired My Friends And Launched A Lucrative Mobile Game
by Justin Beck
Four years after its launch, the mobile gaming app Parallel Kingdom (PK) is 1 million players strong and brings in just over $200,000 per month in in-app purchases. Maintaining and growing the title has taught our team a lot about about creating deep mobile games, allowing us to launch another location-based game, Parallel Mafia, which has already seen traction. But it all began in a 700-square-foot apartment.
Our dream for the product started simply. My PerBlue co-founder, Andrew Hanson, and I were bored with college homework one night around 4 a.m., so we decided to take a break and start a totally new project. We wanted to make a game with four goals in mind: it had to be played on phones, it had to be fun, it had to make money and — just for kicks — it would use the phone’s GPS. The iPhone had been released a few months earlier and the Android was just announced, so we wanted to take advantage of this new technology and gaming platform.
PerBlue was founded in the summer of 2008, while Andrew and I were both interning in Seattle. We both had really attractive job offers from Google and Microsoft, but we ultimately turned them down to pursue our own dream with PerBlue. The first year and half was spent bootstrapping, working for no pay and carrying few operating costs — with the exception of an occasional pizza or domain name.
Our team was built from our college friends from the University of Wisconsin, but the excitement of creating a location-based game for mobile phones was what really attracted them. PerBlue’s team was based out of my apartment in downtown Madison, and we occupied just about all 700 square feet of it. Since the entire original PerBlue team was attending college when PK was first being designed, we would go to class and part-time jobs during the day, and work on the game late into the night (sometimes until 5 or 6 a.m.).
Working in close quarters and for no pay required a lot of passion for the project, trust, and strong friendship. These things were the glue that held us together.
As the launch approached, we were working insane hours — sometimes 80 to 100 hours a week. At one point, one of our developers hadn’t gone to any of his classes for almost two weeks. Everyone was on their last nerve, but it was either now or never — so we decided to strip 95 percent of the game’s features and push it live, bugs and all. Within the first day we had over 6,000 downloads, and four years later, some of those early players are still active in the game community.
The third iteration of PK, which launched in November of 2009, first introduced our virtual goods revenue model to the game. At the time, earning revenue from virtual goods was still a relatively unproven business model. The night before we shipped this update, I remember telling myself, “If we don’t make any money tomorrow, we’ll shut the whole thing down and I will be very happy. This has been fun, and it was a great adventure.” We woke up the next morning to find that we had made over $5,000. That day marked an important turning point, and the rest is history.
Parallel Kingdom’s in-app purchases and subscription services have allowed PerBlue to monetize the game and grow as a company. Our game has some of the highest revenue per player in the industry, and growth at PerBlue has been largely fueled by the success of Parallel Kingdom. We’ve grown rapidly with three hiring bursts, from a team of five to over 35 employees today. Given the fast-paced nature of the mobile games industry, our team and products are quickly growing and changing — and we can’t wait to share what’s next.
Justin Beck is the Co-Founder and CEO of PerBlue, a mobile and social gaming company in Madison, WI. PerBlue is best known for its flagship product, Parallel Kingdom. The popular location-based massively multiplayer role playing game for mobile and web platforms has over one million players worldwide. Founded in 2008, PerBlue is now home to 40 full-time software developers, artists, and business specialists.