Interview: Embracing HTML5 With Pangalore
NOV. 25, 2011 • The launching of another social game company is not such a novel event in the waning weeks of 2011. What is novel is when that new developer, in this case Pangalore, launched totally committed to the HTML5 platform mere weeks after Adobe announced suspension of further development of its Flash environment for mobile applications.
Pangalore’s rationale is that they want to be the first universal social games developer where each one of their games can be played on any device that can support modern browsers and Facebook. With two titles released already, and several more to arrive before the end of 2011, Pangalore is not waiting for other developers to catch up.
The company was founded by chief executive Brian Kang, who once helmed Ragnarok Online’s Gravity Co. Ltd., and received Series A funding from the venture investment arm of South Korea’s dominant Internet conglomerate, NHN Corporation. Giving DFC the big picture overview of Pangalore is its co-founder and chief product officer, Doyon Kim. Kim’s previous endeavors include Dialpad Communications, Spotplex, and Opinity.
DFC: Tell us about Pangalore. What is special about this new social game company? How long have you been working up to your November launch? Who are the people behind the company and the games? How many employees do you have?
Doyon: We founded Pangalore as a multi-platform game company in May 2011. As of mid-November we had 24 employees. All of our games are designed and programmed to be able to be played on any device with an Internet browser: PC/Mac, iPhone, Android. Therefore, if you start one of our games on Facebook at home in the morning, then play from your smartphone during your commute, you will see the progress you made at home reflected in the game on your smartphone and likewise, if you play from the office during the day, you’ll see the progress made during your commute reflected, etc. Your progress with our games is automatically synched between all devices.
As our first games are being built on our HTML5 engine, we have both the game designers and web programmers on our team to best take advantage of HTML5. While some companies are looking at HTML5 and focusing on the issues the tech poses for gaming, we took an opposite approach and looked at the tech and what we could currently do with it and designed our games accordingly.
In addition to a team working to develop HTML5 games, two which we launched when we announced the company and an additional two before the end of the year, we also have a second team working on Unity 3D for a deeper strategy and role-playing game that we will be releasing in first quarter of 2012.
DFC: Where does the name Pangalore come from? What special meaning does it have for you?
Doyon: Pan plus Galore, which reflects our product strategy: pushing out wide variety of games that can be accessible from various devices.
DFC: Pangalore is based both in Seoul, South Korea and San Jose, California. What are both of these offices tasked with? Are games developed jointly between both offices?
Doyon: Game development is primarily done in Korea, marketing in the U.S. However, we are planning to move art and game design functions to the U.S. Customer support will be handled from our office in San Jose, Calif.
DFC: You are billing yourselves as the first universal games developer. What does that exactly mean?
Doyon: Our games are among the first commercial-ready HTML5 social games. They are not to be confused with proof-of-concept games which people in this industry have seen for so long. Universal play conveys the device agnostic nature of our games. Our games are built to be accessible from a single Facebook account that works across all devices: PC, smartphone and tablet.
DFC: Please give us an overview of your launch titles: WildWest Solitaire and ArtFit.
Doyon: WildWest Solitaire is an addictive TriPeak-style solitaire game that sets players on a card-playing journey along the historic Oregon Trail. They race against the clock, and their friends, to clear all the cards. ArtFit is an innovative puzzle block game where players must fit various size pieces into hundreds of forms to score points and advance through increasingly challenging levels.
DFC: How social are your social games in the gameplay department? How much in-game social interaction are you building in?
Doyon: Some of the social features we are building include sending or requesting gifts between friends, competing with friends, wall-posting of achievements, and inviting friends.
DFC: You intend to release three to four more titles by the end of 2011. That sounds rather ambitious for a new company. Can you pull it off?
Doyon: We developed this first batch of games with our rather aggressive development plan in mind. Most of elements of our games are fairly modular and reusable for the next games. Depending on types of games, now we can push out new games in two months.
DFC: What does HTML5 bring to the table in regards to game development? What are the virtues, and what are the downsides?
Doyon: For us, it is an enabling technology for multi-platform game development. HTML5 apps run on any device with an Internet browser. Thus, it helps developers reach a lot bigger audience with a single source. However, some of the older versions of browsers will not support HTML5 smoothly. Also, unlike Flash-based game developers, who have access to a wide variety of libraries and tools, HTML5 developers will get very limited help from third parties.
DFC: How fast is HTML5 compatibility increasing on all platforms worldwide?
Doyon: Most new browsers support HTML5. Among the wellused browsers, MS Internet Explorer is still lagging in this area, but they plan to support it with IE9.
DFC: In recent weeks Adobe has cancelled future development of Flash for mobile and other platforms. What kind of disruption will that cause in mobile game development?
Doyon: This was something most mobile developers should have expected. The decision was no surprise to us when Apple was not going to support Flash anyway.
DFC: Pangalore is also working with Unity 3D. Under what circumstances will you use Unity 3D instead of HTML5 to create games?
Doyon: We are building two teams within Pangalore, one team will work on HTML5 games, starting with casual social/mobile games and then pushing the technology for additional games to come in 2012. Our second team is working with Unity 3D that is allowing us to make a more graphic intensive and dynamic action-oriented 3D RPG game that we’ll be releasing in Q1 2012.
DFC: What will your first Unity 3D game be? Please tell us more about the project. We understand you have an interest in the RPG and strategy genres.
Doyon: Our first Unity 3D games will be a hybrid of social simulation and action RPG. We want to offer a bit more dynamic action elements to social games while maintaining familiar elements of social simulation games with their high virility and retention.
At the same time we do not want to lose some of the simple accessibility of social titles. Because we need to make the core gameplay for this game playable for people who will be playing across their PC’s with a mouse, then smartphones and tablets with touch screens, this presents an interesting design challenge!
DFC: Kabam has already staked out a niche in social strategy games. How do you expect Pangalore will be different, or similar, to what Kabam is releasing?
Doyon: Our games are not targeting hardcore gamers. We want to offer games that offer more varied gameplay then just simple simulation, but don’t want to go too extreme and make the games too time and labor intensive.
DFC: How deep does the association with Gravity Co. Ltd. go? How many of those working today at Pangalore used to work where Ragnarok Online was created?
Doyon: The co-founder and CEO Brian Kang was CEO of Gravity from 2008 to 2011, and has been able to attract some core developers of Ragnarok to Pangalore.
DFC: At the moment you are publishing exclusively through Facebook. Under what circumstances can we expect to see Pangalore expand to Google+ or other platforms?
Doyon: I see potential in Google+. It is just because we will be stretched too thin if we also support Google+.
DFC: Facebook is still growing users in places like South Korea. What kind of player base can you expect in South Korea compared to other markets where Facebook is stronger?
Doyon: We are focusing and tailoring our games for the US market where Facebook is extremely strong. The Korean market has not adopted social games as here, that audience prefers more hard-core MMORPG.
DFC: How many markets will your titles be localized in at launch, and how many languages will you support?
Doyon: At this time we are focusing exclusively on the U.S., although our systems are ready to support multiple languages.
DFC: Please give us a better understanding of your monetization model. What virtual items will you be selling to drive revenue, and how will they be priced?
Doyon: WildWest Solitaire will offer special cards that will enable players to clear all their cards, and ArtFit will offer hints for players as to which blocks go where. We benchmarked many other games in similar genres, but we know we have to keep optimizing it as we go. Our primary focus is how to make our game engaging enough, promote competition and create demand for those premium items.
DFC: What exactly does “accidental serial entrepreneur” mean?
Doyon: Even though I founded several startups and worked for startups exclusively pretty much throughout my whole career, I sometimes seek stability in life. I somehow keep bumping into right persons or right ideas and find myself doing something new again.
DFC: What has it been like birthing a new game company in 2011? What has been different with Pangalore’s venture capital incubation than other game start-ups you have been involved with in previous years?
Doyon: I would say we could get funded in fairly early stage compared to other fund seeking startups, partly because of Brian’s and my background and the fact we are starting with a group of proven developers. The game business being pretty hot in Korea and other Asian countries helped too.
We started with a very clear vision of multi-platform game development, and built our team around that vision. That was a key for us to come to market a lot quicker than most of other game companies.