Palringo Takes Games and Messaging to the Next Level

While in my ways mobile in Africa is diametrically different to that in the West, not least in the way it has 'piggy-backed' on the West's experience, there are many aspects that are similar, not least how to make money out of mobile.

This week I was at the Mobile Web Africa conference in Johannesburg moderating panels, meeting African startups and listening about where mobile is in Africa and the challenges that it presents.

While in my ways mobile in Africa is diametrically different to that in the West, not least in the way it has 'piggy-backed' on the West's experience, there are many aspects that are similar, not least how to make money out of mobile.

The games sector is particularly interesting and there were many stories here from mobile veterans who talked about the earliest mobile games such as Snake embedded on Nokia handsets and SMS-based football games on premium messaging.

Fast forward two decades and the world has shifted on its axis, but while mobile games have become mainstream now that technology has caught up with the ideas, other channels are forming that in some ways resemble the earliest embedded and SMS-based games.

One company that is attempting to, er, change the game is UK company Palringo, especially interesting because its offices are not in the usual hubs of London, Silicon Valley, New York and Berlin, but in the more unfamiliar areas of Ipswich, Newcastle and Gothenberg (although it HAS just opened an office in Shoreditch).

Palringo's business began in 2006 and is an group messaging app for iOS and Android. Users of the platform can drop images and voice recordings into conversations and create/join large groups based on common interest.

Palringo now has an impressive 28 million users and offers a range of games along with more than 350,000 groups, some of which have up to 2,000 members.

But, with with such a strong installed base, the company sees a huge market for 'messages meets games'. To that end, earlier this year it acquired Swedish games company Free Lunch Design, who had previously worked with entertainment behemoths such as Disney, Paramount and Marvel.

While we may be in the early days of such a market and the technology and compression may resemble those of early mobile games such as Snake and SMS games, the notion that a messaging platform can meet game publishing is an interesting, even visionary, concept.

Magnus Alm is now CMO of Palringo after the Free Lunch Design acquisition and is convinced that the mobile games market is ripe for change and needs to, as gamers would surely recognise, to go to the next level.

"As app stores become increasingly competitive. the mobile games market has matured in a short space of time. Where it used to be a case of getting featured would be a ticket to the top of the charts, that rule don't apply anymore.

"Having a direct dialogue with the audience or a massive marketing budget, preferably both, is now needed to get to the top and stay there. There is still the odd Flappy bird every now and then, but overall it is a numbers game. Measuring ad spend, ROI and making sure that you grow in a sustainable way," he says.

This was not a shot in the dark for Palringo, it already had built a business for messaging-based games, but saw the unique skillset of Free Lunch Design as a way of accelerating this business. Instead of games developers merely bolting on messaging functions, the acquisition was a strategy to build on TOP of a platform; creating a new business model.

The challenges for Palringo in blazing such a trail are, as most mobile innovations tend to be, likely to be many and the age-old problem of mixing vision with technology will be omnipresent.

But we are not talking about a startup here trying to raise seed or Series A funding to fund such a business, this is an eight-year-old company with excellent revenues and that gives it a good chance to own the space and change the game.

"I truly believe that game publishers can reap benefits by becoming platform owners such as messaging apps, social networks and communities...or platform owners becoming game publishers. Loyal users being presented by relevant and appealing content within an environment they feel comfortable can be a method to strike gold in the app stores," concludes Palringo's Alm.

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