Nikki Lannen got her start in tech working at Facebook as part of their Games Team. With five years’ experience under her belt, she took the brave decision that sets all entrepreneurs apart from us lesser mortals; she packed in the security of her whopper Facebook job and went it alone to set up her own games company: War Ducks. Fours years later, her company’s latest game RollerCoaster Legends just hit number four on the Playstation VR European Store. We chatted to Nikki to find out how she got those ducks in a row…
When Nikki joined Facebook in a sales and marketing role, they didn’t yet have a Games Team. One of her first clients was a games client and she decided to actively pursue more of them.
“I petitioned with a few other people to set up a Games Team,” explains Nikki, “We set it up, it became the Global Games Team, and then I ended up managing pretty much all the top games businesses within Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”
A casual gamer herself, four years in that role saw her soak up a lot of knowledge about the industry – working with developers, helping them scale, seeing what they were doing right, and crucially, what they were doing wrong.
“It’s very analytical. That’s what sucked me in. You have to look at what’s working, what isn’t working, where people are dropping off and what you can fix to stop that. We were looking at every aspect to try and help them grow.”
She loved the job, she was great at it, but eventually she got the itch. Having mentored a lot games studios within the Irish community and worked as an adviser to Enterprise Ireland, she was perfectly positioned to establish her own gaming startup. Partnering with two developers who were winding down their own startup, she launched War Ducks.
The first game they developed together four years ago is a spy game called Global Agents. Available on Facebook and mobile, it has had around 700,000 downloads to date and is still widely played. The game, which is updated every two weeks, is free to play but generates income through in-app purchases.
Nikki admits that Global Agents has had a great run for a game of this kind, “The people who play it are fanatical about it, so we’ll continue with it until it doesn’t makes sense to any more.”
That game was the focus for almost two years. Then Nikki had an ‘aha moment’ after trying a Virtual Reality platform in San Francisco, and decided that War Ducks needed to be in the VR business.
“We built a game called Sneaky Bears which is a fun shooter, where you’ve got a Nerf gun and there’s these little Teddy Bears coming for you!” she explains, “And that game went to number 27 in the Samsung Gear VR top selling games.”
They followed that up with a roller coaster game that took place within the Sneaky Bears world which went to number two, second only to the cultural phenomenon that is Minecraft. Then they decided to build out Sneaky Bears for the higher end VR platforms – Playstation, Oculus and HTC Vive.
And that’s when Lannen spotted a small but important gap in the VR market. The Playstation VR Store didn’t have any roller coasters due to strict anti-nausea guidelines. So, War Ducks worked closely with Sony to build something that didn’t cause nausea. Having only launched on December 21st, RollerCoaster Legends quickly made it to the fourth biggest download for the entire month of December. Not too shabby.
RollerCoaster Legends has the feeling of a theme park roller coaster but an impossibly epic one that transports you to the world of Greek Mythology complete with skyscraper sized demons, a ride down the River Styx and a journey to the depths of Hades. The balance between thrilling visual experience and some roller coaster twists and turns (that don’t turn the stomach) is perfectly handled. War Ducks may have found its new calling.
As for what the future holds, Nikki has to remain somewhat tight lipped. She admits that they’ve already built an Augmented Reality version of Sneaky Bears. There’s a new VR roller coaster already in development (part two of three). While the global VR platform numbers are still small, several new low cost devices (from Oculus, Google and HTC Vive) are coming to market this year which are predicted to completely change the game.
It’s an exciting time to be on the front lines of VR, and these ducks are ready to go to war.