Q&A: Behind The Scenes of a Global Mobile Hit: Let’s Fold
FiveThirty, Inc. is one of South Korea’s leading mobile gaming companies. The company recently imported its Korean origami app, Let’s Fold Origami Collection, to the U.S., with plans to expand into China and Japan in the near future. The adorably sleek puzzle-type game has been a success so far with its newfound Western audience, accruing thousands of positive ratings from customers on Google Play and iTunes.
By 2015, FiveThirty plans to launch a “world version” of Let’s Fold, which would allow users to create their own origami shapes and share with users across the globe. Sangwha Chung, a game developer and founder of FiveThirty, sat down with ALIST to discuss the company and its game, with the help of a translator.
ALIST Magazine: How long did it take you to develop Let’s Fold?
Sangwha Chung: We began to develop the Origami engine back in May 2013, and the prototype game was released in March 2014.
AM: How large is your team?
SC: Our team is composed of two to four team members, a design developer and one to two interns per person.
AM: How popular are mobile games in Korea?
SC: South Korea is one of the fastest developing countries in the world of mobile gaming. If you are anywhere, like in the subway or on the street, you can easily see who is playing mobile games. You can also see the popularity in the Google Play Store sales; we are number two or three around the world in the market.
AM: What was the idea behind bringing origami into a mobile app?
SC: It started when the two co-founders at were working together to develop a paper doll costume dress-up game. We saw that the paper doll costume game was growing globally and we enjoyed origami paper, so we evaluated the content and started creating it for the mobile environment.
AM: How long did it take you to finish creating the game?
SC: It took a year of trial and error to develop the content and we are continuing to do research and development to expand the game.
AM: On how many platforms is the game currently running, and how many downloads have there been?
SC: There are two versions, Let’s Fold and Let’s Fold: Adventure Collection, with approximately 1.5 million cumulative downloads.
AM: What was easier, starting your company or launching Let’s Fold?
SC: I think both were a really difficult challenge. For a start-up company, it means you quit a stable job, which would affect the family’s livelihood — a tough challenge from the perspective of responsibility. With the full support of my wife, I was able to run with it. Any product launched in the market is a challenge and it is not an easy process. But at the same time, it is exciting.
AM: The app was launched at SXSW in Austin; how was the experience?
SC: We participated in SXSW on behalf of South Korea, just after the release of the app. We received interest from the Angry Birds founders, Warner Bros. and Penguin Books and a variety of other sources. We also received feedback from a variety of local people about the actual product.
AM: Where do you think the trend of mobile games is going?
SC: If you look at the case of South Korea, the market in the early days was very light — enjoying casual games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga. Recently, mid-core genres, like traditional MMORPG games such as Clash of Clans, are gradually growing. Casual games and mid-core games seem to be gradually balancing.
AM: What advice would you give a game developer starting out today?
SC: There is tough competition but it is still attractive, and you need content. Create your own story and fun and aim for a good result.
AM: What are you most passionate about?
SC: I find pleasure in developing games for users of the world and for them to enjoy themselves, so that we get good feedback for future games.
AM: What are you working on now?
SC: The whole team is focused to launch a print shop that allows you to print directly from the Biarritz Fold Origami Characters app.
AM: Do you think developers are embracing the growing mobile gaming audience instead of the traditional console audience?
SC: South Korea has always mainly developed console games and PC games, which both still have an audience. But PC game developers are adapting to the casual mobile gaming environment because there are many opportunities there. As the online gaming market shrinks many developers feel the job is being phased out.
AM: What is your development process?
SC: 1. Start with looking for ideas.
2. Take a small idea and discuss whether it could be developed into something fun.
3. With enough fun and technical development, we will then start a prototype.
4. With a prototype of the game, we test it with a focus group for feedback.
5. Analyze the feedback from users and make changes to the product.
6. In the process of creating a product, it is really not an easy time, but eventually for the final product we will use all resources available to influence its success.
7. Product launch, prepare for the market.
8. After the initial reaction of users, assess the data (the percentage of visits and purchasing rate etc.) and continue to update.
AM: What are the biggest challenges in mobile development?
SC: You are in an ever-increasing market with so much cost-competitive content. There is insufficient funding of small and medium-sized developers. Also, encouraging continued visits and creating loyal users is not easy. The biggest challenge of having a brief sparkling success seems to be maintaining it.
AM: What is the most important factor in the Let’s Fold app development?
SC: The core of our app development is:
1. The implementation of an origami-folding engine with the feel of actual paper
2. To utilize a variety of shapes for the puzzles
3. Finally, the shape of the puzzle in the character design screen
AM: Did you enjoy playing games a child? What games did you play?
SC: I played Street Fighter at arcades with my friends as a child.
AM: What mobile games do you play?
SC: I am enjoying games like Candy Crush Saga — casual games.
AM: Do you think real origami is more fun than your mobile game version?
SC: Traditional origami folding is fun to go make something with real paper while looking at a book. Let’s Fold is game using your mind to solve the puzzle by folding paper. Of course, those who prefer traditional origami will also love our games.
(Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)