Michael Kalkowski is co-founder and managing/creative director of GameDuell, one of the leading casual and social games providers in the Western markets. Michael is responsible for GameDuell’s games, website, player community and user experience; a universe of more than 80 million registered players.
As Creative Director, he spends most of his time interacting with GameDuell production teams and giving feedback on concepts. Any additional time he splits between connecting with users, benchmarking competitors and attending industry conferences like Casual Connect. As entrepreneur, he influences the overall strategy of the company while cultivating culture rich enough in energy to ensure smooth execution.
Culture of Personalities
Intrigued by the people aspect of teams, the entrepreneur in Michael is asking questions: What brings out the best in people? What makes us happy? Why do some individuals produce world-class results while most don’t? What are the habits and “inner game” of the most successful entrepreneurs and teams?
Michael is proud that GameDuell has attracted world-class talent and leveraged the answers he has found to maintain a positive and collaborative environment. The culture and the chemistry at GameDuell, he maintains, create smiles throughout the ranks at GameDuell — more than two hundred game enthusiasts — that trickles down to the community that plays their games.
In contrast, he dutifully admits to the challenges: finding the right ideas, getting startup capital in 2003, hiring and keeping a great team, pivoting and fine-tuning their models and becoming increasingly agile. But the greatest challenge was overcoming the “growing pains” as the company grew from the three founders in a living room to where it is at more than 200 people today. Each stage of progression had its own set of challenges. To meet them he relied on fellow entrepreneurs and mentors who worked through similar situations.
Michael tells us, “We organize regular internal and external workshops and collaborate with leading experts, especially from the technology field and open source community, who help us implement key innovations faster.” GameDuell allocates about 10 percent of its resources to researching and prototyping such new developments so that they can pivot based upon their findings.
At present, there are many interesting things happening, but Michael identifies four that he believes will have a significant impact: (1) the continuing migration of consumers toward new touch and mobile devices; (2) big data, real time analytics and predictives for performance marketing, CRM and better retention; (3) further advances in production technology, including HTML5, Unity and open GL, enabling more efficient cross-platform development; and, (4) their own high-traffic destination platform at GameDuell.com.
In five years, he sees an industry that looks quite different. He claims, “Consumers will use completely new input and output devices – think of gesture control without physical touch and Google Glass on steroids. Everything will be connected and usable for gaming. This opens up a whole new universe for game play.”
Michael emphasizes the importance of Asia in the game industry because it is the world’s largest region in terms of both players and revenue. He continues, “Many interesting innovations are coming out of the region, including titles like GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragon, so it is critical for non-Asian developers to follow what is happening here.