FreshGames still going strong after 10 years in the online game development biz

It’s no secret that Central Ohio is home to many thriving technology-based companies, but it’s likely many people would be surprised to learn that one of those companies is an online game developer.

Launched in Columbus a decade ago, FreshGames was by founded by two industry gamers: Kevin McCann and Stephan Smith. Today, McCann serves as vice president of production and Smith is president, a role in which he oversees creative direction and business development.

Essentially, game ideas are created at FreshGames and farmed out to developers all over the world.

“Our core strengths are producing the games through the development cycle, coupled with global publishing and marketing across all platforms,” says Smith. “We have four other employees at our office who mainly focus on graphics, producing and [quality assurance]. We run a very tight ship that manages 20-plus external developers.”

Though Columbus isn’t a hotbed of game development activity, being based here hasn’t held FreshGames back.

“With the democratization of game distribution on Facebook and mobile platforms, anyone from anywhere can release a game, so you don’t really need to be located in San Francisco, Seattle, or L.A.,” Smith says, adding that one of the biggest advantages to being in Columbus is the cost of living.

On April 12, FreshGames released Cubis Creatures for iPhone and iPad. The company called the game “a refreshing take on a series that has been enjoyed by millions.”

Cubis was conceived back in 2002, when match-3 games (in which players match groups of three or more objects) were just starting to become popular.

“At that time, all match-3 games were front-facing, flat 2-D with a simple swapping mechanic,” Smith says. “Our thought was to do something a little different to stand out in the marketplace, while maintaining a simple match-3 games mechanic.”

The company’s initial concept called for a 3-D isometric game board and cubes.

“Adding to our idea, we wanted to have the user push, shoot and crack cubes to solve puzzles, going beyond typical gem swapping,” he says. “From there, we started to conceptualize special cubes that would add to the gameplay and visual excitement, hopefully keeping the player in a compulsion loop, wanting to play more and more levels.”

If the game’s popularity is any indication, FreshGames got its wish.

“From day one of the release, the game has been known for its appealing visuals and unique gameplay,” Smith says.

Through the years, knowing which bus to hop on and ride, so to speak, has been one of the biggest challenges for FreshGames.

“When we started, creating one game a year was normal and all genres were open for exploitation,” he says. “Then in 2006, Hidden Object games were just starting to build steam. Three years later, they dominated the market and still do, with a 75 percent market share in the PC download market.

“In 2009, Facebook games were all the rage and 2010 forward, mobile is the hotspot. With each new pivot in the casual games space, development times were shortened, quantity of games has increased, and new skillsets are required for development, design and, now, monetization. With the current mobile trend, if you’re developing games, you also need to be an analytics company, too.”

Smith says FreshGames’ ability to to consistently deliver quality products that exceed users’ expectations is the key to its longevity.

“We are also good at reading the market and understand trends,” he continues. “That said, we’ve had some big losses and massive winners. It’s a hit driven business that is very unpredictable and risky. The key is the know how to mitigate risk. I’m still learning!”

To learn more about FreshGames, visit FreshGames.com.