Chinese indie studio Veewo has a bit of a rocky history. Among the games they've developed is 1024, which they worked on believing they were iterating on the design of Threes!
Many consider it to be a clone.
After the release of blatant 1024 clone 2048 and its myriad copycats, however, they decided to take a different tack. Now the company is focused on the creation of original IPs for mobile, starting with the release of Just Get 10, followed by Super Phantom Cat early this year and moving on towards the release of Super Phantom Cat 2 next year.
"I'm going to tell you a story about 2048," says Jason Yeung, CEO of Veewo. "Back in February of 2014, Gabriele Cirulli (an Italian student) emailed us to ask if he could work on a school assignment based on our game, 1024. We agreed and let him study the 1024 codebase.
"The truth is that we never considered 1024 to be a commercial product," Yeung continues. "For us, 1024 was a test of sorts -- an attempt to play with the Threes! formula and find out if we could improve on it."
Veewo didn't get to celebrate what they considered to be a success, though, because Gabriele Cirulli put the code for his clone, 2048, in an open repository on GitHub. Ketchapp used that GitHub repository as a base for their version of 2048 and was only the first of many to clone it after that. Both 1024 and Threes! were subsequently accused of being clones of 2048.
Their next game, Just Get 10, was Veewo's attempt to prove that they were capable of original, high-quality design. With over one million downloads on Android alone, it was easily the studio's most popular game at the time. "I firmly believe that Just Get 10 would be big hit if it existed outside of the shadow of 2048," says Yeung.
That was when Veewo saw the popularity of number puzzle games starting to fade away. They decided to go in a new direction, making side-scrolling platformers for mobile. They lamented the fact that mobile game players had few platforming options and wanted to make something that hardcore gamers could really sink their teeth into.
"This was not an easy decision to make," explains Yeung. "We see branding as one of the major challenges behind mobile game development, so going into a new genre with a brand-new IP was quite risky. There was no other way: we had to spend a ton of time and resources doing research. To achieve a perfect market fit as a Chinese developer, we needed to somehow remind players of the kind of characters, environments, and storylines that they used to love when they were young.
"What if we came up with a unique storyline, invested in beautifully designed characters, and delivered the original game that audiences so desperately wanted?" Yeung asks. "This is the origin of Super Phantom Cat."
As of mid-September, Super Phantom Cat had almost one million installs across Android devices (including Android TV) and iOS. Veewo is now working on a sequel, Super Phantom Cat 2, which is due out in March 2017. Many of Super Phantom Cat's players are young and wanted to learn more about the game's characters, which has influenced the sequel's development.
"The first game is set in an abstract world filled with elements borrowed from science fiction, while Super Phantom Cat 2 will introduce a fairytale story -- although there will be a slight Eastern bent," says Yeung. "The game is shaping up to be a challenging adventure chock full of mystery and interesting creatures.
"We're introducing specific themes along with a more engaging storyline," Yeung says. "Like before, players will trigger relevant cutscenes and events though gameplay -- but the storyline and levels will be connected more tightly. There will also be new character powers and more elaborate gameplay systems."
Other improvements Veewo are making include new gameplay modes and a greater focus on exploration. "Exploration will be key," Yeung says, "with puzzles ranging from easy to truly difficult! Casual players can easily get their hands on cool things, while midcore players willing to spend more time exploring will be amply rewarded."
Although Super Phantom Cat has done a lot for Veewo, there are still some hurdles the studio must overcome simply by virtue of being located in China. Thanks to a long-standing ban on consoles in China, mobile devices became the primary gaming systems for most of its populace. Free to play is the reigning business model, though Chinese gamers are gradually showing greater willingness to pay for games.
The Chinese government is still a factor that indie developers in China must consider, though. "A few months ago, the Chinese government issued a new regulation that requires every mobile game to be approved by the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) prior to release," says Yeung. The advent of digital downloads has enabled Chinese indie studios like Veewo to prosper, but he's concerned about the effects these new, stricter requirements will have.
Yeung attributes Veewo's current growth to Super Phantom Cat's success. "Somehow, the 1024 situation drove us toward what would eventually become a very valuable original IP -- a game beloved by hundreds of thousands of gamers worldwide," he says. "We like to think that Super Phantom Cat will eventually be recognized as one of the first in a new generation of side-scrolling games -- perfectly suited for both touchscreens and more traditional gamepads."