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Ironstar Helsinki is a Finnish game developer that has been previously developing a social game called Moipal, but changed course to developing Facebook games earlier last year. Tiina Zilliacus is the CEO of the company and joined it early 2010 to help the company build new traction. I did a short e-mail based interview with her to learn how 2010 has looked for the company and how they’ve managed to build their business forward. I had the idea of the interview after having a little chat with Tiina Zilliacus at a recent Christmas gathering in Helsinki. Their recent development has been impressive and is definitely worth covering for our community as well.

ArcticStartup: What has the recent year looked like for Ironstar Helsinki?

Tiina Zilliacus: I has been pretty exciting year for us as a team. In March 2010 we decided to put further Moipal development on hold, and to start development of a new Facebook game, Disco Empire. Disco Empire is a social management game where you prepare and serve drinks to customers. We launched Disco beta end of May, and in July started to see both player numbers and revenues rising.

During the fall we’ve put our efforts in learning as much as possible on how to utilize a Facebook game as a B2C sales platform for virtual goods. In mid December we have over 30 000 active daily players and 278 000 monthly active players in the Disco (AppData) so free drinks have literally been a success for us! Disco revenues are now over 25 000 euros a month (Ironstar share) which is covering our costs. So we’ve managed to do quite a turnaround in terms of revenues and user numbers for Ironstar Helsinki.

ArcticStartup: Disco Empire has been a phenomenal success, what did you learn from all this?

Tiina Zilliacus: Personally I’ve learned how to do a lot with very little! Seriously speaking, as a company we’ve learned how to go out quickly with a minimum viable product and how to integrate a business model gradually when core game logic has been verified to work with users. We’ve learned what players all over the world want in terms of virtual goods, more specifically speaking – functional items enhancing the gaming experience and performance. Facebook players in general are older than players traditionally in online virtual worlds, so goods and promotions we build need to be planned and targeted with a different audience in mind than teens.

Disco players also tell us nowadays if we’re doing a good job or not, which is pretty extraordinary asset to have in games business. Facebook keeps all of our developers nicely focused, keeping a close eye on how the platform changes almost every day, and how we should iterate accordingly. Especially in viral features and Facebook user acquisition mechanisms this is vitally important. In the end of the day, when you’re a small game developer (company), all the aspects of keeping the right focus, maintaining the daily execution and the right timing do matter.

ArcticStartup: What will 2011 have in store for you?

Tiina Zilliacus: 2011 will mean mainly two things, further growing Disco from where we are now and launching a new Facebook game with an even better virtual goods business model! Of course by utilizing the learning we now have captured, but not ignoring how market and player behavior is developing and changing.

Great news on social games market is that both the number of new players starting to play social games as well as how much all the players cumulatively spend within these products, continues to grow year after year. So there is plenty of market opportunity for growth and monetization for mid-sized developers like us to grasp. In my opinion, all consumer internet services need to take into account social gaming -like service elements from now on.

Social graph is so strongly present in people’s lives, as well as viral game mechanics introduced to tens of millions of people all over the world, that they just cannot be ignored in all of service design. So to sum it up, we want to continue to dig deeper into this competence, and be a strong European player in designing and marketing social games and viral functionalities for our player base.

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