The Story of Peak: A Turkish Gaming Company's Journey to the Top
On July 8th, 2020, Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul hosted Ömer İnönü, Director of Strategy at Peak Games, for a live webinar titled "The Story of Peak: A Turkish Gaming Company's Journey to the Top." The event was moderated by İpek Cem Taha, Director of Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul, and in partnership with the Chazen Institute for Global Business Columbia Business School, the Columbia Alumni Association of Turkey, and the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of Istanbul.
Peak Games is an Istanbul-based leading mobile gaming company that was found in 2010. It has developed the highly successful gaming franchises Toon Blast and Toy Blast, which have ranked within the top 10 and top 20 U.S. iPhone grossing games for the past two years. In 2020, the social game developing company Zynga announced that it would be acquiring Peak Games for $1.8 billion - $900 million in cash, and $900 million in Zynga shares.
In this conversation, Ömer İnönü provided insight into Peak Games and its acquisition, in addition to talking about his own career path. Some highlights include the following:
Ömer started the conversation by explaining how he got involved with Peak Games. He spoke of his experience at Columbia Business School and revealed that he had regretted being too fixated on Investment Banking during his MBA. He explained that an essential part of the MBA experience is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Thus, after graduating and returning to Turkey, he decided to explore a career outside of the financial services sector. He sought to get into the tech industry and met Sidar Şahin, the Founder and CEO of Peak. In 2015, he joined Peak Games as the Director of Strategy.
When people think of the gaming industry and technology sector in general, Turkey is, unfortunately, not one of the first places that comes to mind. For Peak to have become so successful in such an environment could be regarded as unusual. Concerning this matter, Ömer explained that one of Peak's foundational principles was to show that an entrepreneurial, technology-based ecosystem can be created anywhere around the globe. Any success story that creates a global impact comes to life through years of hard work, experience, and persistence. Although Turkey is now known for its tech industry, Peak's founders believed that with a team of driven people from a multitude of different backgrounds, they could create one of the world's largest gaming companies.
Ömer highlighted how at Peak, they came to the conclusion that sometimes less can be more. In their third year of operation, Peak decided to create games in only two genres: puzzle games, and board and card games. During this time, they had to shut down many profitable games that they had developed, but focusing the team's efforts on a limited field allowed for Peak to perfect its products and maximize user experience and happiness. Ömer explained that at Peak, they aim to develop games that appeal to people of all ages, genders, and nationalities, reaching billions of people worldwide. The product team analyzes each and every user review and takes them into consideration in their product development.
One of the major trends in mobile gaming in 2020 has been the tremendous growth of hyper-casual games - easy-to-play games with minimalistic user interfaces. The reason behind this unprecedented growth is these games can be created very easily by a team of 4-5 developers in a short period of time. Although hyper-casual games are experiencing an upwards trend, these games usually have a meager retention rate, which is the number of users who still use the app a certain number of days after installation. Ömer explained that at Peak, they have not followed this trend because it is crucial for them to maintain high retention rates. They aim to create games that users will enjoy for many years to come.
Ömer also gave insight into Peak's talent acquisition strategy. Right now, Peak has around 100 people on its team working under one roof in Istanbul. Compared to the incredibly large user base that play Peak’s games, its team is relatively small. Ömer explained that having a small group was not by choice, but it occurred partially due to necessity. Since the gaming industry in Turkey is very limited, there are not many people looking to get hired in this sector. Most of the talent that Peak hires is made up of recent graduates. The young talents are very ambitious, and they learn how to work on a team and develop games at Peak. Ömer disclosed that one challenge with working with young talent is that they require more time to progress as a team. Fast changes are not ideal for Peak's ecosystem, but thanks to ambition and persistence, progress happens gradually.
Ömer also pointed out that being acquired by Zynga will not change how Peak operates in the foreseeable future. They are not planning on opening up other offices because Peak's team operates best when they are working closely and bouncing ideas off one another. Ömer also mentioned that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Peak's team performed from home almost as well as from the office. They were able to stick to their schedule of creating new content for users bi-weekly. While talking about the pandemic, Ömer said that Peak has been very lucky to be a part of the mobile gaming industry since they are one of the few businesses that did not get negatively affected.
When asked about what is next for Peak, Ömer explained that they are excited to partner with a leading social game developer like Zynga because it is as passionate as Peak when it comes to developing exceptional mobile games. Peak’s goal will be the same as before: to create great content for their user base, but it will now manage to pursue this at a higher level. Peak has already reached 500 million users, and it wants to expand its games into new geographies and reach new and different user bases.