Mobile Gaming Is Hot, but Pocket Gems Won’t Sell Out

Pocket Gems, which routinely hits the top of the charts with its mobile games, says it isn’t for sale, even though it must be tempting right now.

Recently, Funzio sold to Japan’s Gree for $210 million, and Zynga acquired OMGPOP for $180 million; not too long before that, Electronic Arts paid $750 million for PopCap.

In an interview, Pocket Gem’s COO Ben Liu said that mobile game companies are hot commodities right now, but to sell is shortsighted.

“We feel like it’s the early days of mobile,” Liu said. “There’s a decade-long shift occurring from PC and the Web to mobile, and games is only the first vertical to take off. There’s so much opportunity. We need all of our attention on that to be successful.”

Liu would not disclose the company’s revenue, but said that it has been growing extremely fast. Over the past year and a half, the company has moved its offices five times to accommodate the growth of its staff — from 10 to 120 employees.

And as of a few months ago, the company recorded 60 million app downloads since its founding in 2009. Its hit title Tap Zoo generated 20 million downloads alone.

Pocket Gems’ games fall into the “casual” genre, and are focused on building products that have fairly addicting play; they attract a predominantly adult female audience. The games normally have “tap” in the name — Tap Zoo, Tap Pet Hotel and Tap Jungle allow players to build, respectively, their own zoo, pet hotel and mystical rain forest.

Last week, Pocket Gems released its first game exclusively for Android, called Tap Dragon Park, which allows players to train dragons to defend their kingdoms.

Pocket Gems has been able to rise in the rankings without having to tap investors too much. (Maybe their next game will be Tap Bank?) It has raised $5 million in capital from Sequoia Capital and a handful of angel investors, and is profitable.

Here are Liu’s thoughts on some of the issues facing the mobile games industry.

On making acquisitions versus being acquired:

Liu says Pocket Gems isn’t entertaining offers at this time, but will consider making acquisitions of its own. “We’ve been completely focused on organic expansion, but I think as we continue to grow, something we’ll look at is acquisitions, as well. We are focused on building a great team organically, and are opportunistic.”

How many games can you release in a year?

“Last year, we launched 10 games total. Some of them are new IP that requires a larger team and can be franchise-sustaining, and others are seasonal titles or extensions.”

Is there an issue with copycats in the space?

“Yes, all of our games have been cloned extensively by most of our competitors. But that’s one of the prices of success. We’ve always prided ourselves on being an innovator. The thing that is difficult to clone is creativity. … We have a saying: Pocket Gems is a leader and not a follower. And many of our competitors have a fast-follower strategy.”

What are your thoughts about third-party distribution platforms, like Gree and DeNA, which are trying to create mobile social networks?

“We haven’t opened our games to third parties. It’s in our interest to develop our own platform. Their businesses are really compelling, but there’s no winning platform yet in the mobile space. We have our own loyal community, which is a powerful game engine. We don’t want to be dependent on someone else’s platform. Our own great platform is a powerful source of marketing, and it is good at letting our users know about the games. That’s the most effective.”

Is summer a good time for people to play and discover new mobile games?

“It’s a good time. People are on vacation and in transit, and it’s a natural device to use during those times. And people have more downtime and free time. We’ve found historically for it to be good. Holidays are another.”

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