BizSpark Startup of the Day on Windows 8 - Mangatar
For today's featured startup, we go to Italy.
Mangatar. The Mangatar Project took shape in 2011, driven by the experiences the five founders gained in the field of digital entertainment. In March 2012, Mangatar became an s.r.l. company and some months later launched its first game, “Mangatar Saga”, that hit 60,000 users worldwide.
According to founder Raffaele Gaito, "2012 was definitely an amazing year, fostered by valuable experiences such as the numerous startup competitions as well as the constant contact with users, and last but not least, the seed investment from dPixel, a popular venture capital firm in Italy."
Accordingly, in 2013 Mangatar has accelerated its growth by creating Dengen Chronicles a mature product best representing the team’s ambitions and skills. The new game takes advantage of the latest web technologies and is a powerful work in progress, providing continuous releases of new features.
The enhancement of present-day game experience and the forward-looking efforts towards new experimentation and challenges make up Mangatar’s roadmap, aiming to get the team to compete with the main international players in the field.
A brief description of your Windows 8 or Azure Application:
Dengen Chronicles is the most engaging trading card game in the manga universe.
Four manga families are in war: ninja, fantasy, robot and school. Pick a side, join a family and start fighting! Play for free: create fully customized cards, evolve your deck and challenge your friends in one-to-one clashes or group missions.
The completeness of Dengen Chronicles lies in its specific complexity, which puts the game in a strategic position over competitors. The dynamics of Trading Card Games and Role Playing Games join together to create brilliant peculiarities:
- Clash. We developed a highly innovative fight mode which adopts the representation of fights in the form of manga comics and the chronological storage of all events within a custom album, in a sort of comics timeline.
- Customization. The players’ deck is not randomly chosen by the system, and each card can be customized in detail. The customization enables warriors to improve their own skills and evolve.
- Strategy. Unlike the pure Trading Card Games, Dengen Chronicles contains a very important part of strategy , which is pretty typical of Role Playing Games. A set of management and strategic features have been implemented so as to make the game experience even more engaging and long lasting.
- Sociability. The social dynamic is inherent in the complexity of the game. In the next major release, users will be introduced to “covens” and some group fight modes which are rarely seen in card games.
Microsoft technologies that you are using in conjunction with the development of your application (and if you’re using Windows Azure, please highlight that):
Windows Azure, Visual Studio, Azure Storage, Azure Virtual Machines, Azure CDN, MSDN
How did you get excited about Azure?
We got excited about Azure for many reasons but I just highlight three of them here: the richness of services available, the ease of use, the price.
As far as services are concerned, if you take a look at the website (or even read my previous answers) you’ll see that Azure offers all hardware/software solutions to meet your needs.
I have little to say about the ease of use. The 30-day demo proves to be convincing as each service can be activated and configured from a super user-friendly web interface.
The possibility to scale in real-time and adapt your infrastructure only when you really need to, reduces long-term costs. That way, you can handle traffic peaks without having to oversize it.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Mostly two features prompted me to build on Azure: customizable virtual machines and base support for any language.
In addition to offering pre-configured machines, Azure allows to fully customize them: you can choose your favorite OS and software tools and even decide the hardware configuration (RAM, CPU number, storage space size...)
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
I would answer point-blank , “for revenue, of course!” But I need to explain the matter just a little bit. For my part, I strongly believe in “revenue first”, which is a very crucial issue not to be overlooked. Worrying about scaling at the very first stage of a product development process could just be a limit. So you have to move carefully and manage both the software and hardware architecture in order to enable the product to scale rapidly. But if you don’t get revenues in the meanwhile, you possibly will experience some difficulty in facing the growing infrastructure costs.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
This is a good question as we actually experienced a sort of alternation. To put it plainly, we first make some predictions and then we test them out, as a consequence of having used the other approach in the past. During 2012 (and the first half of 2013) we had the opportunity to massively test our prototype “Mangatar Saga” which we had created exactly with that “lets’ start and see” attitude. Those eighteen months were really challenging, we had to pivot again and again until we found the right model to apply. And once we found it, we’ve applied it right away to Dengen Chronicles.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
There are so many challenges, indeed. Life is not easy, especially at the beginning of your startup career when your project is merely an idea and you don’t have revenues. You are being put in a critical position, in terms of family and social relationship.
People around you may not be able to understand your choices. More often than not, you are being looked at as a naive dreamer, aiming to change the world instead of getting a “real” job. As a matter of fact, this context affects relationships. What can you do? Just stay focused and keep your feet on the ground. That’s the only way to progress in life and save relationships as well.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
Someone in my family would say I was born with that entrepreneurial spark. Maybe this is true. When you grow up, you realize you have this set of “drivers” pushing you in certain directions. Namely, you love challenges, you are a kind of a risk taker halfway between a visionary and a pragmatist. Also, you do want to leave a mark, make something remarkable.
As far as startup definitions go, we could talk for hours as we all have different opinions. I personally think what makes a startup a startup is a mix of three factors:
- Focus on highly innovative products/ services;
- Need for risk capital;
- Plan for growth and scaling;
If one of these is missing, you are not a startup. We do possess all three:
- We try to innovate in the gaming field, even on models which have become less and less innovative;
- We got a seed fund and we’re looking for another big investment round;
- We aim to get a huge user base, in the range of millions;
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
We had different kind of relationships with Microsoft, in different stages of our life. After visiting their headquarters in Silicon Valley, we applied to join the BizSpark Program, renowned for supporting startups in so many ways. Once in, we were provided with Windows Azure servers and services at no charge for quite some time. Lowering the cost of infrastructure is crucial for a startup, especially in its very first stage. Later, we packed our bags for a striking 4-week accelerator camp run by AppCampus. What’s more, we also got a grant in order to port Dengen Chronicles to Windows Phone 8. Much to our delight, after releasing the app, our numbers increased considerably. One of the strengths of Dengen Chronicles is that it perfectly fits the screen of any device. What’s missing? Xbox of course, so that dengen gamers will be able to play on their TV ;)
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
As I mentioned above, the Microsoft ecosystem is a source of benefits for startups. The free access to the Windows Azure platform technologies enables to reduce costs, plus you are entitled to use excellent server products and full-featured software development tools. To top it all off, startups also get marketing support and visibility that can be so vital to success. As a matter of fact, BizSpark members can get the most of a number of platforms and stores, from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8, where they can promote their apps. Besides, Xbox One is creating new stunning opportunities for the gaming industry and the multimedia entertainment in general.
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
We avail ourselves of almost all Azure services. Our game is hosted on some virtual servers, working both as web servers and database servers. We do use in fact all Windows Azure storage services: tables, queues and blobs. Tables store data in a non-relational way, whereas queues ensure real-time communication with users, and blobs store images. Additionally, we also use the Azure CDN service which, in conjunction with Azure Cache Service, actually helps to boost our app performance.