Eipix Entertainment, a global player

Posted in: News- Apr 10, 2017

Ahead of a new public call for the Mini and Matching Grants Program, we are presenting our beneficiaries from the previous calls, from 2012 to 2014. We hope that their successful stories may serve as an encouragement to innovative companies considering to apply for the Innovation Fund grants.

This week’s story is about Eipix Entertainment, a video game developer based in Novi Sad.

Eipix Entertainment, a global player

Eipix Entertainment, young gaming company from Novi Sad, received a EUR 70,880 grant from the Innovation Fund in 2014, as part of the Mini Grants Program, for its project „Creating Worlds“ Тhe grant was used to develop a new free to play (F2P) video game titled „Free the Witch“, which combines adventure game based on puzzles and hidden objects with rich interactive content, placed in a narrative environment.

Eipix was founded as a video games company. Its HOPA (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure) games earned it a good international reputation and stable cash flow. The game they designed during their first year of operations resulted in rapid growth, and an exclusive five-year contract with US partner Big Fish Games, a global leader in the domain of casual games. “We were producing one HOPA game each year, and two years ago we launched 22 games in just one year, thus becoming the world’s largest HOPA producer,” says Igor Zarol, Eipix CFO.

Once a gamer, always a gamer: Igor with one of the oldest exhibits in the in-house “Museum of consoles”, displaying video games-related objects that used to belong to Eipix employees.

Secure in this niche, they wanted to do something new, diversify their portfolio and move into new markets. They were a successful early development company with a staff of 50. The idea was to maintain a certain level of productivity in HOPA sector, while at the same time designing a product that will position the company on the more lucrative F2P (Free to Play) market. This entailed recruiting new people and expanding company capacity.

“At that time, the cooperation with the Fund was extremely important for us. The Mini Grants program enabled us to set up the right environment, get the equipment and hire people – 20 to be precise – to dedicate our full attention to the development of new games. People are our biggest asset, we don’t need elaborate machinery to make our product”, says Igor.

The funds received from the Fund were used to launch an entire department for the development of F2P games, which is operational still today. Igor explains that in the gaming industry each niche is very different, and the launch of a new department is a major logistical and HR challenge. IT specialists are a necessary but not sufficient requirement. They now make up about a third of a total of nearly 300 employees, while the majority of workforce are artists, illustrators, sound designers, writers … “All the beautiful profession no one else would hire”, says Igor, laughing.

The average age of the Company’s 300-strong staff is 31.

Although the F2P games are typically simple to develop, getting acquainted with the new genre and new markets, as well as learning from own mistakes, turned the development of Eipix’s first F2P game into a lengthy process. The end result of many months of hard work was Free the Witch, one of the first F2P games in Serbia. “We’ve designed an entire system of microeconomics within the game. This business model already existed, but as far as I know, it was little known in Serbia”, says Igor.

The game was completed during the project. It was released through Big Fish Games. It still hasn’t reached the mobile platforms, but its PC version has had solid player reviews. The knowledge gained during the making of the game has been invested in new projects. Igor proudly says that they are nearing the completion of two major F2P that will be the company’s hallmark products in the years to come. After Free the Witch, the company continued to develop and publish new titles. So far they have released three new games: Hoppy Land, Nom Nom and Spiny Core, and announced several new titles for global audiences in 2017.

Eipix’s “Free the Witch” was one of the first F2P games ever produced in Serbia – thanks to the Fund’s financial assistance.

Igor describes the cooperation with the Fund as pleasant and professional. “First of all, we had the assistance of the Fund’s throughout the application process. Their level of commitment is unprecedented.”

Igor mentions the enterprise training as one of the benefits during the cooperation with the Fund. The international experts taught them “some truly valuable stuff about how investors evaluate companies”. Coming for the gaming industry where IP is a complex issue, Igor has found this segment of the training extremely useful, too.

Many grants involve ineligible expenses or bulky application and reporting procedures, which may repel potential applicants. However, with the Innovation Fund, Eipix had the freedom to create a budget that suite their needs, Igor stresses.

His advice to future applicants: “I strongly recommend you should apply – if you have a clear vision of what you want to do. If you have a good idea with a sound business model behind it and a market to go to and no starting capital, then Fund has the right solution for you.”

The application process is simple, unlike with other programs. “You don’t need any extra knowledge to write the project. In addition, I really appreciated the composition of the jury that made the final decision about who gets the funding. I hope this evaluation process has remained the same, transparent and independent, and not subject to interference. Also, this selection process will be your opportunity to see if your idea makes sense.”

Another benefit of the cooperation with the Fund is the opportunity to meet other program beneficiaries. They maintain contact, meet at various gatherings and share experiences. Igor says that so far there were no opportunities for joint projects given the particularities of the gaming industry, but this may change. “The guys from mBrainTrain are true innovators and have a fantastic product, and I can easily imagine working with them in the future”, Igor says.

Looking back, Igor remarks that in a few years the market has changed greatly. Today producing the game is no problem, selling it is. “If today we applied for the Fund’s financing, the largest part of the budget go to the marketing activities following the production of the game. They account for the bulk of the budget and are the toughest part of the whole story”, he says.

Eipix has recently created has recently created and released several free-to-play games for the iTunes store while maintaining its HOPA production at a steady level. “In the area of HOPA games we remain the most productive developing team in the world, we have two big F2P project to be launched later this year. In addition, we are looking to position ourselves in the markets where we still limited presence”, Igor says. Eipix first VR game is currently in the final stage of development and may be released soon, thus becoming one of the first games of this type produced in this region.