The taipan of virtual street food

Gabby Dizon
The recipe for success of "Streetfood Tycoon," the popular, all-Filipino mobile game

Gabby DizonHe was an overnight success, a dozen years in the making.

In a world where there are more than 1 billion smartphones, game developers big and small alike are rushing to make riches from mobile games. The big difference today is that Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store gives developers from all over the world an even chance of being played by gamers globally, giving rise to independent creators who can create a global hit from the comfort of their own homes.

Kuyi Mobile, the one-man company of Erick Garayblas took the Philippine media by storm when the mobile game “Streetfood Tycoon” was released in 2012. Suddenly this unassuming game made for iOS and Android devices was the talk of the town. Noontime show host Vice Ganda made a reference to it during the noontime show “It’s Showtime,” beauty queen Megan Young tweeted how much she was addicted to the game, and downloads – and more importantly, sales – were pouring in from all over the world. It was the kind of success any creator dreams of.

Business simulation games have been around since the 1980s. Known to players as “tycoon” games – these are games where you have to manage a business, make decisions about growth, find a way to make a profit, and 'PABILI PO' A screenshot of the highly-popular "Streetfood Tycoon" mobile game.figure out how to allocate the finite resources of a company. Some most successful games use the word “tycoon” in the title – such as “Railroad Tycoon,” “Rollercoaster Tycoon,” and even “Lemonade Tycoon.” So perhaps it’s inevitable that a Filipino indie game developer would use a theme that’s close to every Pinoy’s heart, street food.

Erick got his start developing games way back in 2000 when he released “The Fly” for PocketPC handhelds. It didn’t make much money, but he has been able to sustain himself from independent game development over the years, making games for Palm Pilots and PC before setting up Kuyi Mobile in 2009 to cash in on Apple’s newly announced iPhone App Store.

It wasn’t easy going – in August 2011, Erick shared on his blog how he was still barely surviving after releasing 7 apps on the iOS App Store. Already a parent to a baby daughter, he was still searching for financial success after more than a decade in the business. His passion however for making games for the small screen kept him going.

In March 2012, Erick released Streetfood Tycoon. The game had very accessible mechanics – a customer showed up with a chat bubble of what kind of food she wanted, and you had to get the ingredients from your food stall and service it to the customer before she gets frustrated and leaves your stall. The game featured street food such as kikiam, kwek-kwek, and French fries, and customers like “Vince Danda” and “Pee Noy” who were recognizable caricatures of their real-life counterparts. Erick wisely added viral hooks so that players could easily share screenshots of the game on Instagram or Twitter. Players could also invite their Facebook friends to play the game. The game was an instant hit, and Erick monetized from the game with a combination of ads from within the game and in-app purchases of virtual currency to help players improve their streetfood stalls.

NEXT IN LINE. A screenshot of "Epic Paint Adventure," Garayblas' next game.Two years later, and the game’s success continues on. It spawned a sequel, “Streetfood Tycoon: World Tour” which was also very successful and contained more content and gameplay enhancements from the first game. Streetfood Tycoon has been downloaded more than 12 million times – and two years later, it is still getting hundreds of thousands of new downloads every month. Erick is also featured with the best mobile entrepreneurs around the world in Danielle Newham’s new book “Mad Men of Mobile: Leading Entrepreneurs and Innovators Share Their Stories, from SIRI to Shazam.”

What’s next for Erick? Unsurprisingly, releasing more mobile games. In 2013, he released an elevator management game called “Elevator Joe” and is now putting the finishing touches on his latest game called “Epic Paint Adventure.”

The game industry is a notoriously difficult business to survive in. The most popular mobile games such as Candy Crush and Hay Day make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars from a global audience in a single day. Because of this, companies with multimillion dollar development and marketing budgets are flooding the app stores with high quality titles designed to catch the fancy (and purchases) of the mobile gamer. However, with the right mix of ingenuity, perseverance, passion and a healthy dose of plain old good luck, there will be more creators like Erick who can realize their dreams of creative and financial success without having to work for a big company. – Rappler.com

Gabby Dizon has been making games since 2003 and is fascinated about entrepreneurship and game development, especially in Southeast Asia.